x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Mark Johnston: Godolphin's trusted eye for talent

Out of the top 10 leading trainers at Goodwood's Glorious meeting none live further away from the track than Mark Johnston.

Mark Johnston at his base in Middleham. The trainer is trusted with finding the stars of tomorrow for Godolphin.
Mark Johnston at his base in Middleham. The trainer is trusted with finding the stars of tomorrow for Godolphin.

GOODWOOD, ENGLAND // Out of the top 10 leading trainers at Goodwood's Glorious meeting none live further away from the track than Mark Johnston.

Having secured his pilot's licence in January, the Scotsman will travel the 482km from his base in Middleham by private plane for today's first of five days of racing. It cuts the journey time down to under two hours but the convenience makes winners no easier to come by along one of the most idiosyncratic tracks in the racing world.

Luckily, Johnston seems to have mastered the art of generating winners here as his record of seven top trainer titles testifies. This year he has assembled a customary large team, the bulk of which is made up of horses owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed.

Johnston trains around 65 horses for the Crown Prince of Dubai, down in numbers significantly since the arrangement began in 2008. Last season 136 horses raced in Britain in Sheikh Hamdan's green and red silks.

"The [Al] Maktoums keep me and British racing at the current level and I don't anticipate them leaving in the near future," Johnston told The National.

"Sheikh Hamdan gets daily updates on his horses and, when I meet him, he is always very knowledgeable. Sheikh Mohammed [bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and the Godolphin founder], his father, also takes a very close interest in the horses we have here. His support has been a huge boost for us."

Johnston has been tasked with the role of chief Godolphin sifter; to unearth potential diamonds from the horses that Darley and John Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock agent, send to him every season.

So far, the system has worked. Monterosso, who finished third in the Dubai World Cup in March, started his career under Johnston's gaze.

So did Mastery and Holberg, whose roles as international standard-bearers have assumed an increasing importance after the death of Rewilding on Saturday. Of course, no process is fool proof, as the subsequent exploits of Sea Lord for the Dubai-based operation have proved, but what the arrangement displays is that Johnston's methods have solid foundations. In terms of numbers, he is Britain's most successful trainer.

He has already secured a century of victories for 2011, the 18th consecutive season he has exceeded that level. If things progress along similar lines to last year he will collect 200 for the third consecutive time.

"I am always at pains to say that the number of winners is not the most important criteria for measuring the success of a trainer," Johnston said.

"It is our job to maximise the achievement of every individual horse and this should be measured by the quality, rather than the quantity, of races they win."

Johnston saddles Namibian today in the Gordon Stakes, a race which is seen as a stepping stone for the St Leger in September.

By his own admission, Namibian is Johnston's best chance of Group 1 success this season, and with a victory in the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot he has already exceeded the level shown by Mastery, who could only finish third in 2009 before going on to win the Leger and the Hong Kong Vase.

Nahoodh remains the only Group 1 winner for Sheikh Hamdan to be trained by Johnston.

Namibian may be the next to do so before he is expected to be transferred to the Godolphin ranks.

Johnston on the key Goodwood runners

Namibian – Gordon Stakes, today

“His best run was in the Queen’s Vase,” says Mark Johnston.“We go back in trip as a trial for the St Leger, but I was sorely tempted to run him in the Goodwood Cup later in the week. I’ve run two threeyearolds in that race before – Double Eclipse and Double Honour, but both finished second.”

Jutland – 2,375m handicap, today

“Although I’ve got Vocational and Guest Book involved in other races, Jutland would be one of my better chances of the day. The track and trip will suit him perfectly. If he gets better ground then all well and good.”

Elkhart - Vintage Stakes, tomorrow

“It is to some extent a shot in the dark. He’s not rated highly enough to win the race, but he won well last time at Beverley and the jockey, Darryl Holland, told me to run him in this race, so I’m obeying orders.”

Fox Hunt - Goodwood Cup, Thursday

“He is in very good form. This will be new territory trip-wise but you never know until you try these things. His breeding wouldn’t scream out this distance, but it will be an interesting run to say the least.”

Bannock – Richmond Stakes, Friday

“Bannock will probably be the Shiekh’s [Hamdan bin Mohammed] only runner on Friday. His Ascot win was a bit below par but he’s been pretty consistent all year. I think this race is ideal for him and six furlongs is perfect.”

sports@thenational.ae


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