Jim Johnson Jockey
Jim Johnson First Won In South Australia, Adelaide In 1945
In what some might consider an unfortunate case of reality, there is really no clearly defined path toward stardom as a rider of thoroughbreds.
Many different paths are involved, not all of them straightforward, but contain twists and turns and years of anonymity prior to recognition.
This latter path would seem to best describe the riding career of one of the winning-est jockeys of all time, a gentleman who went by the name of Jim Johnson.
Johnson first won in South Australia, Adelaide specifically, in 1945. He was to spend the next twenty years there in relative obscurity, at least as far as the big racing scenes in Victoria and New South Wales were concerned.
4 Adelaide Jockey Premierships
During that time Jim Johnson accumulated four Adelaide jockeys’ premierships, but still failed to attract much, if any, attention from the major racing operations in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.
It took something of a serendipitous occasion to provide him with his first major opportunity to place him squarely in the sights of not just the important racing operations, but the entire country as well.
That occasion was his being chosen to ride a horse called Gatum Gatum in the 1963 Melbourne Cup.
Gatum Gatum had basically nothing of importance to his credit and basically not much of anything at all in his short racing career to indicate that he was anything other than a less than average stayer.
His lone significant win came as a three-year-old in the 1961 SAJC South Australian Derby. He was so lightly regarded in fact, that he went off in the 1963 Melbourne Cup with only 50 kg.
The pair did, however, win the Melbourne Cup, and while Gatum Gatum continued to be an underachiever as far as is known, Jim Johnson would use the win as a springboard to major accomplishments and major victories for the rest of his career.
Jim Johnson’s previous record and his win in the Cup earned him high quality mounts in the eastern states, so much so that by 1966/67, he had a Melbourne jockeys’ premiership to his name.
Association With High Calibre
That in turn led to associations with high calibre horses such as Tobin Bronze and Winfreux. Tobin Bronze supplied Jim Johnson with victories in the Caulfield Cup and an additional two wins in the W. S. Cox Plate. The attention these exploits brought him found him being chosen to ride Rain Lover in the 1968 Melbourne Cup, which the two won handily from a field of 26 on one of the relatively few occasions when the winning time was beneath 3:20.
Rain Lover and Jim Johnson would go on to duplicate their Melbourne Cup feat in 1969, this time leaving a gap equivalent to eight horses before the second place finisher arrived at the line, something that had not been done since Archer was winning the first two Cups over one hundred years previous.
That gave Jim Johnson his third Melbourne Cup victory, placing him behind only Bobby Lewis to precede him and Harry White to follow.
He then set out to explore his potential in Singapore, where he won two jockeys’ premierships in that major racing mecca. When he finally decided to call it a day in 1976, he had nearly 2,200 victories behind him.
Witnesses of Jim Johnson’s riding style considered him quite out of the ordinary. Smooth and compact were not the adjectives used to describe that style.
Rather, Johnson practically stood erect in the stirrups and was somewhat jerky to a degree that no one ever mistook him on the course for one of his chief rivals, Roy Higgins.
He seemed to take great delight in making many of his victories, with the exception of the 1969 Cup where he nearly lapped the field, narrow by any accounting.
He was seen by some stewards as being overly fond of the whip, something he did not categorically deny, but he was quick to claim that he never abused one of his mounts, but was nonetheless not reluctant to give them a flick across the ears if they were to display a lack of concentration.
He was also willing to shout or roar at his horse in order to supply motivation. He is on record after his retirement for expressing something less than complimentary to regarding rules that limit the use of the whip and from what materials it is made.
Jim Johnson was granted admission to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2009. He is proof positive that perseverance and determination are necessary attributes in addition to talent and that spending years beyond the spotlight is no disgrace.