Shock retirement announcement after Richard Johnson races at Newton Abbot

Richard Johnson in action on Feuille De Chene at Taunton Racecourse last November.

Richard Johnson in action on Feuille De Chene at Taunton Racecourse last November. - Credit: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

Chief executive Pat Masterson must have felt frustrated at the start of Saturday with his Easter meeting playing to a crowd restricted to owners and lacking the public who traditionally turn up in their thousands for the holiday fixture.

This frustration could only have increased as the blue sky dominated a bright if not entirely warm day.

Little did he know that in less than ten hours Newton Abbot would become the centre of the racing universe.

Much-loved and admired figure Richard Johnson shocked his sport by announcing his retirement after finishing third on Brother Tedd in the penultimate race on the card.

The impact was compounded by the additional fact that it was with immediate effect.

This was in total contrast to great friend and rival AP McCoy who, after announcing his retirement, had until the end of that 2015 season to bid his farewells.

This was not untypical of a jockey who although owning the second-best career statistics of all time, spent his racing life in the shadows of AP, being runner-up to him in the National Hunt jockey’s championship on 17 occasions before finally achieving his career goal by winning that championship four times after his great rival’s retirement.

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Richard, known across the industry as Dickie, was renowned for his modesty, honesty and decency.

The tributes that poured in for him were long and genuine and you could almost feel his embarrassment under this incessant praise.

Dickie was a particularly popular figure in the South West and at Newton Abbot.

Jockey Richard Johnson

Jockey Richard Johnson - Credit: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Jimmy Frost fondly recalls Richard as both a rival as a jockey but also as a big supporter during his training career.

When Richard turned professional in 1994 Jimmy bought his pony from him for his own son Hadden who later became a successful jockey.

Jimmy said: “Hats off to one of the nicest, toughest people you will ever meet. I remember on one occasion visiting him in hospital in Exeter after a particularly bad leg break and he was even then still smiling through the pain.

"During my training career I would book him whenever I could and he rode around 15 winners for us including memorable wins on stable favourites Longstone Lady and Critical Stage”

The racing itself on Saturday had to play second fiddle to this announcement but it was a good day for a man who intends to replace Richard as the South West’s leading rider.

Harry Cobden continued his quest for his first ever jockey’s championship with wins on Hell Red and Eritage for his main stable Paul Nichols with a bonus win for Nick Williams on Aimee de Sivola.

The racecourse opens next for another behind closed doors meeting on Tuesday, April 13. May be this one will be a little quieter.

NEXT WEEK: Newton Abbot Racecourse's Pat Masterson pays tribute to Richard 'Dickie' Johnson