The original punter’s pal has been hailed as a “champion, gentleman and good bloke” by the SA jockey who took over his unofficial title.
Australian Hall of Fame member and four-time Adelaide jockeys’ premiership winner Jim Johnson died yesterday, aged 92.
Johnson is one of the few jockeys to win the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate, after starting his illustrious career in Adelaide, in 1945, and eventually becoming a mentor for a young apprentice named Johnny Letts.
“He was actually known as ‘the punter’s pal’ in Adelaide,” Letts recalled.
“After he went to Melbourne he said ‘you took over my mantle’, but I always told him I had big shoes to fill.”
Johnson retired in 1976 after winning over 2150 races, including three Melbourne Cups (Gatum Gatum in 1963, Rain Lover in 1968 and 1969) and two Melbourne jockeys premierships, to go with his Adelaide quartet.
Letts – who eventually inherited the ‘punter’s pal’ nickname during his own illustrious career – was a 15-year-old apprentice when taken under Johnson’s wing.
“As a rider, he was someone who never wanted to be beaten,” Letts recalled.
“He was a very vigorous rider, but also a very good one.
“He was also a big part of that golden era of South Australian racing.”
Despite Johnson moving away from Adelaide, the duo remained firm friends, doing Melbourne Cup tours together and always staying in touch.
“Jimmy was my mentor right at the start of my career, but we kept close for all of these years,” Letts said.
“He’s always been a great friend and a great ambassador for racing, and he’ll be sorely, sorely missed.
“Everybody loved him. He was a gentleman and to describe him in really Australian terms, he was just a good bloke.
“I reckon the VRC (Victorian Racing Club) will name a race after him – and they should, because he deserves it.”