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Monday 14 September 2020

Johnston Closing In On Leading Trainer Status After Yet Another Stellar Campaign

It would be fair to say that, for many of us, 2020 has been a year of change and uncertainty. 

But for Mark Johnston, it has – in many ways – been business as usual as the Yorkshire handler has enjoyed yet another bumper season of winners on the flat. 

He has built a substantial lead on his nearest challenger, John Gosden, for leading trainer honours – at the time of writing, Johnston was 17 winners clear of Gosden and 31 ahead of Richard Hannon. 

It’s testament to the Middleham man’s work rate, as much as anything else. He has saddled more runners than any other trainer this term, and there are some who claim his success rate of 13.82% of winners should not lead to him being named top trainer – Gosden, by contrast, has won on 24.38% of occasions. 

But that does too much to diminish the hard work of a man who has raked in more than £17 million in prize money over the past five seasons, and who still has a number of horses at his yard capable of outstanding feats.

Nayef Road won the Sagaro Stakes earlier in the year, was second in the Ascot Gold Cup and gave Stradivarius an almighty scare in the Goodwood Cup. Subjectivist lived up to his short horse racing betting odds for Glorious Goodwood when winning the March Stakes, Dark Vision landed the Royal Hunt Cup while Marie’s Diamond pulled off something of an underdog victory at 14/1 in the Paradise Stakes. These are just the headline acts from another stellar campaign for the veteran.

There is still time for Gosden, and perhaps one or two others, to catch Johnston at the top of the flat trainer standings, but should the 60-year-old hang on it would be a thoroughly fitting way to end the season. 

Here’s a recap of Mark Johnston’s finest moments as a handler. 

Back in the 90s 

Johnston first started training racehorses in Lincoln back in 1987, and after enjoying some early successes that convinced him to set up his now-famous Middleham yard where he still resides to this day. 

And it wasn’t long before the major winners rolled in. Mister Baileys triumphed in the 2,000 Guineas in 1994, and a year later Johnston experienced every flat trainers’ dream – landing the Ascot Gold Cup courtesy of Double Trigger.

Further domestic success came via Bijou d’Inde in the St James’ Palace Stakes, before Johnston started notching winners overseas – Princely Heir won a quality Phoenix Stakes renewal at Curragh in 1997 before Fruits of Love landed the lucrative Dubai Sheema Classic in 1999. 

Millennium Man 

Those early years of the new millennium were amongst the most fruitful for Johnston, with three of his favourite horses all doing the business in majors. Royal Rebel won back-to-back editions of the Ascot Gold Cup in 2001 and 2002, while Shamardal – whom the trainer described as ‘the best racehorse of his generation’ – would win the Vintage Stakes and Dewhurst Stakes as a two-year-old before landing the St James’ Palace Stakes and the Prix de Jockey Club in an equally bumper season as a three-year-old. 

And then there was Attraction, an injury-hit horse who Johnston persevered with, landed the 1,000 Guineas, the Coronation Stakes and the Sun Chariot Stakes in a bumper 2004. No wonder the trainer has stated that Attraction is the ‘one I’m most proud of’.

Personal Milestones

When reflecting on their careers, many unassuming trainers like Johnston focus on the exploits of their horses, rather than their own achievements. 

But it is worth remembering a couple of personal milestones that he has racked up in recent times that have confirmed his status as one of the most successful trainers of all time.

Johnston enjoyed the 4,000th winner of his career – only the third flat or jumps trainer in history to achieve the feat – when the aptly-named Dominating triumphed in October 2017, before an astonishing 4,194th victor, making Johnston the most successful flat trainer of all-time, duly arrived in August 2018. 

And the bad news for every other flat trainer in racing is that you suspect many more are yet to follow.