Johnson determined to end his run of playing second fiddle to McCoy

IT has been another familiar day for Richard Johnson. Even though he is the second most successful jump jockey of all time, he has left the racecourse winnerless.

He was runner-up in successive races, beaten, on both occasions, by the great AP McCoy who continues to rewrite the record books with his power-packed riding.

"I'm used to it," jokes Johnson.

There is every chance history will repeat itself today. McCoy finds himself aboard Kauto Star, the red-hot favourite as this equine hero seeks an unprecedented fifth successive King George VI Chase; Johnson, on the other hand, takes his chance on the under-rated outsider Planet of Sound.

Even the weather gods are smiling on McCoy, the 15-time champion, who is only riding the great Kauto Star because the horse's regular rider Ruby Walsh is injured, and then 'substitute' jockey Noel Fehily injured his wrist.

This week's deluge at Kempton is expected to accentuate the jumping strengths of Kauto Star and lessen the chances of his principal rivals like the progressive Planet of Sound, last year's impressive Guinness Gold Cup winner at Punchestown, who would prefer sounder going.

The three-week delay, since the abandonment of the King George on Boxing Day because of snow and ice, has certainly not helped Johnson's cause – connections could wait until today to decide whether to run, depending on the forecast rain and whether the track drains sufficiently.

But he is not complaining. It is not in his nature to do so. More importantly, he says, it is impossible to begrudge McCoy's success or luck "because he is such a nice person".

This is, in many respects, a sporting rivalry like no other – two competitors, the best that their sport has witnessed, competing against each other on a daily basis in races, big and small, across the country with each recognising their opponent's unique attributes in the saddle and both showing a desire never to accept lost causes.

Take McCoy's recent tribute to his "colossal rival" – albeit one who stands at 5ft 6ins – when he complemented his Grand National win by landing the BBC Sport's Personality of the Year award.

"I promise you that having him (Dickie) as an adversary has, more than anyone else, spurred me on to ride more winners," the champion told the Yorkshire Post. "The threat of him beating me to the title has made me more driven.

"I couldn't live with myself if I wasn't champion, but I wouldn't begrudge him. Anyone who has a problem with Richard Johnson has a problem with themselves."

Johnson smiles politely as this quote is read to him as he leaves Towcester after being bridesmaid to McCoy in successive races before being powerless to stop the champion riding an imposing double at Doncaster on Wednesday.

"I'm not sure that's true," says Johnson.

"It's nice that he says nice things about me but he's just amazing and his Sports Personality win was very justified.

"We're all competitors, but he's the one who has set the high standards that we are all trying to work towards.

"He's also a fantastic role model for racing, he has a fantastic attitude, is very competitive but is also a very nice person.

"It's frustrating, yes it is, but it would be wrong to complain. For, without AP, the onus wouldn't be on myself, and the others, to keep improving."

What Johnson does not say, however, is that he has been runner-up to McCoy on 11 occasions in the jockeys' championship and is the only NH jockey, apart from his great rival, to have ridden in excess of 2,000 winners.

The closest Johnson came was in 2005-06 when just 11 winners separated these two horsemen.

Top conditional in 1995, the year after McCoy won that particular title before becoming his sport's 'No 1' the following season, he has grown accustomed to being in the champion's shadow.

And while McCoy was winning Cheltenham's Gold Cup in 1997 on the Noel Chance-trained Mr Mulligan, Johnson had to wait another three years until the injury-plagued Looks Like Trouble won the spoils for the same trainer.

However, Johnson, married to Chance's daughter Fiona, believes Planet of Sound has the credentials to become a future Gold Cup winner if today's stamina-sapping conditions do not wreck his career.

The caution in his voice is palpable, another mark of a man who believes it is his duty, as an ambassador, to be as straightforward as possible with racegoers and the media alike. Like McCoy, he is just a text message request away from voicing an opinion (unlike many of today's top-flight footballers, rugby players and cricketers).

Trained in Somerset by Philip Hobbs, Johnson's primary employer, Planet of Sound was third to Forpadydeplaster, one of today's rivals, and Ferdy Murphy's Kalahari King in the 2009 Arkle Chase before landing the Haldon Gold Cup in Exeter.

He then proved that he was a top-class chaser at Punchestown last April when the vanquished included Denman, the illustrious stablemate of the aforementioned Kauto Star.

"The ground is a worry today," says Johnson. "The trouble is there are so few options, and what do you do if it's heavy?

"Planet of Sound needed the comeback run at Haydock in November when we were third to Imperial Commander, the Gold Cup winner, and he will improve for that.

"But you can't get away from the fact that Kauto Star is officially rated 22lb higher than anything else in the field. We've all got a mountain to climb in a race he's made his own. He's 11 now and his powers will wane one day, but I didn't see any signs of deterioration when he won on his reappearance at Down Royal last month.

"I'd love to win, but I wouldn't begrudge Kauto another success. The buzz when he equalled Desert Orchid's record in the race last year was electric."

As Johnson considers the future, he does not consider it "unfortunate" that his career has coincided with McCoy's dominance. Quite the opposite. "It's a privilege," he says.

Their age difference, McCoy is three years older than his rival, means Johnson may have limited opportunities to usurp the champion as their respective careers enter racing's home straight.

Like McCoy, who ended his National jinx at the 15th attempt last year, Johnson hopes to end his Aintree hoodoo next year (he was second on What's Up Boys in 2002, overhauled on the run-in by Bindaree).

But, asked about his future ambitions, Johnson is straight and to the point. "I'd like to win the King George today, but it will be tough with AP and Kauto," says the rider whose best performance in the race came a decade ago when he was runner-up on Escartefigue. "And I'd like to be champion – even if it is just once."

No one would begrudge Richard Johnson either wish. Not even AP McCoy.

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