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 New Zealand Gallops News 
Monday, July 31 2017

In the quiet and unassuming manner that he brings to his daily life, this season’s National Premiership winning jockey Chris Johnson is relatively matter of fact about what he has achieved in the past 12 months.

Chris Johnson  - Trish Dunell

It is Johnson’s second premiership after first topping the ladder in the 1995-96 season.

While Johnson’s tally of 112 winners for the season fell short of the 139 he notched in his first title 21 years earlier, for the 53-year-old the season represented an opportunity to continue doing the job he adores, an endeavour that first started back in 1980 and has seen him amass more than 2200 winners.

“I’ve always loved racing, although when I first started riding I never thought I’d get to 1000 wins let alone over 2000,” he said.

“I have had some ups and downs along the way, but I’ve had the opportunity to ride some tremendous horses and have been lucky enough to win a number of big races.”

One of a small band of just seven riders who have reached the 2000-win milestone in New Zealand, Johnson has been fortunate enough to count top-line gallopers such as Tartan Tights, Loader and Tycoon Lil among his hit-list of standout performers.

Pressed to nominate his most memorable career milestone, he plumps for his victory aboard Sea Swift in the 1988 Auckland Cup.

“I think that win on Sea Swift was something quite special,” he said.

“It was a real South Island victory at racing headquarters in the north so it does stand out a bit for me.”

While he is quick to admit he has had several low periods throughout his career, even giving the game away for an extended stint between 1999 and 2006, Johnson credits some misfortune late last year as his motivation to achieve his second Premiership title.

“I’d started the season off pretty well and things were going okay when I copped a decent suspension around Christmas time,” he said.

“I hadn’t really come out and confirmed I was thinking about the premiership at that point, but when that happened I thought I might have really stuffed things up.”

Semi-retired barrister John Tannahill, a long-time friend and confidant who also manages Johnson’s North Island rides, admits he too thought the worst when an initial six-day suspension was extended by a further four days after an improper riding charge was reinstated following a special hearing by the Judicial Control Authority.

“Based on the rides Chris had booked or in the pipeline I think he missed out on 11 winners due to the suspension,” Tannahill said.

“That is a big hole to try and climb out of and I did say that he was no show, but as it turned out he went out and rode 22 winners in January and was back on track by the end of the month.”

It was also around that time that leading trainers such as Graeme and Debbie Rogerson announced they would be supporting Johnson in his bid for the title as he attempted to gun down the runaway leader at the time, Danielle Johnson.

The South Island based Johnson started to spend increasing periods of time in the north as Tannahill chased hard for rides and by mid-May the momentum had clearly shifted to the “Magic Man”.

“I think when he rode Let Her Rip to victory in the stakes race at Rotorua it was then we both thought he could do it and, after some pretty hard slog, he has,” Tannahill said.

“To have the support of trainers like Rogie, Shaune Ritchie and Donna Logan and Chris Gibbs along with his ardent South Island support base has been amazing and I know Chris is very appreciative of everyone who has helped him along the way.

“Personally, I think he is riding better than ever with his fitness level the best it has been in many years and pretty damn good for a 53-year-old.”.

Posted by: Race Desk AT 05:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email