Johnston, Britain’s winning-most trainer of all time, has already sent out 150 winners this season (up to 16th July) and recorded the highest-ever total of successes in a British season last term with 230 victories.
The Glasgow-born trainer is no stranger to success at the Qatar Goodwood Festival, with 78 winners, second to Sir Michael Stoute (80 winners) among current trainers at the five-day meeting.
Johnston has also captured the Qatar Goodwood Festival’s top trainer award on 12 occasions, including in four of the last five years. Overall, he is responsible 147 winners at Goodwood since his first one at the West Sussex course in 1991.
The handler’s squad for this year’s Qatar Goodwood Festival is headed by classy stayer Dee Ex Bee, who is set to renew his rivalry with G1 Gold Cup conqueror Stradivarius (John Gosden) in the £500,000 G1 Qatar Goodwood Cup over two miles on the opening day of the Qatar Goodwood Festival, Tuesday 30th July. The Qatar Goodwood Cup is part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
The four-year-old son of Farhh finished second in the 2018 renewal of the G1 Investec Derby at Epsom Downs and began this season with convincing victories in the G3 Sagaro Stakes and G3 Henry II Stakes, both run over two miles.
The front-running Dee Ex Bee was a length behind Stradivarius at Royal Ascot over two miles and four furlong, but Johnston is hoping the drop back in trip will not inconvenience his charge, who bids to give the trainer a sixth Qatar Goodwood Cup success following the record-breaking Double Trigger (1995, 1997, 1998), Royal Rebel (2000) and Darasim (2004).
Discussing his stable star, Johnston said: “Dee Ex Bee is in very good form and we have been happy with him since Royal Ascot. He hasn’t done any fast work, but he is looking really well. We know it is going to be a tall order taking on Stradivarius again and that it is not ideal dropping back in trip.
“Going into the Gold Cup, we weren’t sure if he was going to be suited by the extra half-mile, but he showed at Royal Ascot that he got every inch of the trip and he wouldn’t have minded a little bit more.
“There is absolutely nothing we can do about Stradivarius. We can’t belittle him and we are not sure if he has any chinks in his armour.
“You never run away from one horse. Maybe Dee Ex Bee has more stamina than him, but Stradivarius has won two Gold Cups! It would suit us if the Goodwood Cup is more of a test of stamina, but there is nothing we can do about that.
“In my opinion, tactics don’t win you races, they only get you beat. My opinion is whoever runs the two miles of the Goodwood Cup or the mile of the 2,000 Guineas fastest, wins. That has been the policy throughout my career. I worked that out before I was given a training licence and that is the policy I have adopted for 32 years.
“Tactics are sometimes forced on me by owners and employed by jockeys, but generally I never set out with a plan.
“It occurred to me at Royal Ascot that Stradivarius is the people’s horse. I was oblivious to it beforehand in the same way that I was oblivious to Double Trigger being the people’s horse, even more so than Stradivarius maybe because of his colour and longevity.
“I was asked recently what race stood out for me most emotionally and that was Double Trigger’s final Goodwood Cup (1998), where I was staggered by the amount of trainers, their husbands and wives who were running to the winner’s enclosure to see Double Trigger – that is something I have not seen before or since! I wouldn’t be doing it for Stradivarius!
“Other races to consider for Dee Ex Bee throughout the season are the Doncaster Cup and the Prix du Cadran, races which would not have Stradivarius in. The Prix du Cadran is usually run at a very slow pace, but that race on soft ground could suit him right down to the ground.
“I think Dee Ex Bee is still on an upward trajectory. We have learned more about him this year. He is clearly a horse that needs a test of stamina. Everybody thought his run at Goodwood last year in the Gordon Stakes [12f, second to subsequent G1 Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter] was a poor effort.
“Little did we know that Cross Counter would go on to win the Melbourne Cup. It just highlights that there is this tendency when a favourite gets beat that it is a poor performance! Sometimes it is never the poor performance that many people thought it was at the time.”
Above and top: Dee Ex Bee
Visinari was a striking three and a half-length winner on his debut in a six-furlong novice event at Newmarket in June and finished a close third in the G2 Tattersalls July Stakes over the same course and distance on 11th July.
The two-year-old son of Dark Angel holds a high reputation at home and will bid to give Johnston a fifth win in the seven-furlong Qatar Vintage Stakes on Tuesday 30th July following Mister Baileys (1993), Lucky Story (2003), Shamardal (2004) and Dark Vision (2018).
Reflecting on his third-placed effort last time out, Johnston said: “I was kicking myself after that race.
“We had a great debate beforehand which was probably influenced by talk of times and stride lengths. He made all in his novice race at Newmarket and never looked like getting beaten. On his first run, he was going away from the field and with hindsight, I should have stepped him up to seven furlongs and I didn’t. I made a mistake and the horse got beat as a result of it.
“However, I hope I won’t make the same mistake twice and he will be an even better horse over seven furlongs in the Qatar Vintage Stakes.”
The ultra-consistent Nyaleti will be the stable’s representative in the £600,000 G1 Qatar Nassau Stakes on Ladies’ Day, Thursday 1st August. The four-year-old daughter of Arch has not entered the winner’s enclosure since landing the 2018 G2 German 1,000 Guineas, but has run a string of fine races in defeat since, including placed efforts at G1 level. She was last seen when fourth in the G2 Lancashire Oaks (1m 4f) at Haydock Park on 6th July.
“Nyaleti runs in the Nassau Stakes”, said Johnston. “We took a chance at stepping her up to a mile and a half last time. I always think when you run a horse over too far, it is sometimes difficult to see if they didn’t get the trip as they may just have been one-paced and plugged on. However, I think at Haydock, it was very obvious she didn’t stay as three furlongs out she looked the likely winner.”
This year’s G2 German 1,000 Guineas scorer Main Edition could represent the yard in the seven-furlong £300,000 G2 Qatar Lennox Stakes (Tuesday 30th July), while Lake Volta (9st 3lb) and Blown By Wind (9st 1lb) are possible contenders for the £250,000 Unibet Stewards’ Cup Heritage Handicap on Saturday 3rd August, over six furlongs.
“Lake Volta could run in the Unibet Stewards’ Cup”, reported Johnston.
“Charlie [Johnston, son & assistant trainer] does not think he is a six-furlong horse and that there are some big prizes to be won over seven furlongs with him, but the Stewards’ Cup could be a possibility. Joe Fanning gets on very well with him.
“We were disappointed with Main Edition’s run at Newmarket last time out and she is not certain to run at Goodwood. We will make a decision closer to the meeting.”
Johnston has won the £150,000 Unibet Golden Mile (Friday 2nd August) on five occasions, most recently with Fulbright in 2012 and he has six entries for this year’s contest, Cardsharp (9st 10lb), Vale Of Kent (9st 1lb + 3lb penalty), Marie’s Diamond (8st 11lb), Ventura Knight (8st 11lb), Dark Vision (8st 10lb), Masham Star (8st 7lb) and Victory Command (8st 1lb + 3lb penalty).
Dark Vision lit up the 2018 Qatar Goodwood Festival with a last to first victory in the Qatar Vintage Stakes and he is a possible for the Unibet Golden Mile. Johnston commented: “Dark Vision has showed us that he still retains his ability. I think he will run in the Golden Mile. On the one hand you could say we have a horse who has been disappointing, but on the other hand, we have gone from a horse who was so precious to just saying he is just another Godolphin horse and not that unique. He will appreciate some more racing.
“We think headgear could also sharpen him up by keeping him in the race. I am not one to study sectional times and stride patterns and there was no doubt last year was not a strong renewal of the Vintage Stakes, but it was the manner of his victory which was impressive. At the bottom of the hill, he had no chance and next thing you know, he had won it anyway! Horses were stopping in front of him, but people got excited for how he finished.
“Marie’s Diamond runs at Haydock this week, Ventura Knight will also run between now and Goodwood, but they are all possibles. Running horses between now and Goodwood will not stop them going to Goodwood.”
Discussing the rest of his squad for the Qatar Goodwood Festival, the trainer commented: “Love Dreams could possibly go to Goodwood, he can be too keen and is a difficult ride. Making Miraclesis another possible for the stayers’ handicap (Unibet Goodwood Handicap, Wednesday 31st July) along with Lucky Deal.
“We will have a big team with a lot of horses who will also run between now and Goodwood. We have plenty of horses in the yard and hopefully we are heading for a very strong team at the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
“Matterhorn, Elarqam, Cardsharp and Baghdad will all not go to Goodwood.”
Revealing his affinity with the track, the trainer said: “We won races early on at Goodwood and that really started our relationship with the racecourse.
“Double Trigger’s three Goodwood Cup wins also helped. I have owners now who first decided to send me a horse after Double Trigger won at Goodwood. He probably played a big part in us sending a lot of horses to Goodwood.
“Interestingly though, I have never had a horse and thought they would not be suited to Goodwood. I think it is generally complicated tracks that we do well at because we don’t complicate our horses. If you don’t run your horses at complicated tracks, they don’t win and if you don’t run them, you don’t win.
“The Qatar Goodwood Festival along with Royal Ascot is a meeting that we plan for. We do a spreadsheet in advance and pencil in all the possible horses – they are the only two meetings we do that for. I wouldn’t know how many horses we will send down there at the moment, but it will be as many as possible.”
Johnston revealed that breaking his own record of 230 winners in one season is the target in 2019.
“We are always looking to break records,” continued the trainer. “We set targets at the beginning of the year. They are not written in stone, but we set a target by our numbers of runners as well as winners. You need to have a lot of runners to be able to have a chance of having more winners. You need to look at whether your strike-rate is high enough and you’re having enough runners. When we started this season, breaking that record of 230 winners was a target.”
He also revealed that Charlie Johnston, his son and assistant trainer will one day take over the reins at Middleham. Johnston said: “Charlie is playing a much bigger role these days. Although sometimes we are at loggerheads at the entry stage, we have two people in me and Charlie who are thinking about where they will run.
“He couldn’t wait for me to retire five years ago but if you ask him now, he is working here in his fourth year that the job is bigger than he thought. Charlie only focuses on racing, he doesn’t worry about getting a hedge cut, recruitment or other things, he just concentrates on racing.
“A huge part of when I retire will be down to the customers. There are already some owners who will talk to Charlie instead of me. In some ways, it is the astute owners who will talk to Charlie! I don’t want to wait too long before he takes over so that he takes over a stable in decline and I don’t want to be carried out in a box.
“He is the only person I want to break my record of British winners. I would like to retire at a point where there is no-one still training who is able to break my record except for Charlie Johnston.”
Preparations for the Qatar Goodwood Festival are well advanced.
Ed Arkell, Goodwood’s Clerk of the Course, said: “We are very happy with the condition of the track. Although it has been dry, it’s not been as dry and hot as it was last year. We had some rain at the start of June which was very helpful.
“The forecast is looking mostly dry until racing, but there is a suggestion that we will get some rain this Friday into Saturday. The boys have done a great job watering and we are very pleased with the course.
“Holding the Qatar Goodwood Cup on the first day of the meeting worked well last year and we are looking forward to that race again this year with Stradivarius.
“It is also fantastic that Too Darn Hot is being targeted at the £1-million G1 Qatar Sussex Stakes, whilst the G1 Qatar Nassau Stakes is also likely to have a strong field.
“It matters to have international runners and this year they include Japan (Deirdre), Singapore (Lim’s Cruiser) and America (Maven). Australian sprinter Houtzen is now based with Martyn Meade and also set to run.”
Born: September 10, 1959, Glasgow
Background: He became interested in racing through his father and, aged 14, knew he was destined to become a trainer.He qualified first as a veterinary surgeon from Glasgow University in 1983 and practiced in Cleveland, Essex and Northern Ireland, but also spent brief spells learning the art of training with John Winter and Tommy Craig in Britain, Charlie Millbank in France and John Russell in the US. He married childhood sweetheart, Deirdre, now assistant trainer, in 1985 and the following year bought his first training yard, in a remote part of Lincolnshire. Johnston began training in February, 1987, with just a handful of horses and sent out his first winner when Hinari Video scored at Carlisle on 1st July that year – the trainer’s sole success during the season.
He moved to Middleham in 1988, buying the Kingsley House yard and has purchased/built up two further yards in the North Yorkshire town, creating a major complex covering 300 acres to house his large string of around 250 racehorses. Has trained 100 plus winners for 26 consecutive seasons since 1994 (including this one) and became the first trainer to send out more than 200 winners in a British Flat season in 2009 – there have been more than 200 winners in seven other years, including the highest total of 230 in 2018.
On 23rd August 2018, Johnston became the most successful trainer of all time in Britain when sending out his 4,194th winner, a record previously held by Richard Hannon snr. He is on target (with 147 winners up to 15th July) to have his best-ever season in 2019.
Mark and Deirdre have two sons, Charlie and Angus. Charlie is a vet and assistant trainer. Mark flies his own light aircraft to race meetings around Britain and publishes a monthly magazine, the Kingsley Klarion. He has always had strong views about racing and has written for many publications such as The Sporting Life, Racing Post, The Times and Horse & Hound. He has been a director of the British Horseracing Authority and Hamilton Park Racecourse. The stable motto is ‘Always Trying’. He publishes his daily HIT fee (£78 now) and lists all the extras included in it.
British Classic wins (2): QIPCO 2,000 Guineas (1994 Mister Baileys), QIPCO 1,000 Guineas (2004 Attraction)
Irish Classic wins (2): Irish 2,000 Guineas (2004 Attraction), Irish St Leger (2011 Jukebox Jury)
Other major wins include: Cheveley Park Stakes (2015 Lumiere), Coronation Stakes (2004 Attraction), Dewhurst Stakes (2004 Shamardal), Dubai Sheema Classic (1999 Fruits Of Love), Falmouth Stakes (2008 Nahoodh), Gold Cup (1995 Double Trigger, 2001 & 2003 Royal Rebel), Matron Stakes (2005 Attraction), Middle Park Stakes (2009 Awzaan, 2016 The Last Lion), Phoenix Stakes (1997 Princely Heir), St James’s Palace Stakes (1996 Bijou D’Inde), Sun Chariot Stakes (2004 Attraction)
Goodwood record: Johnston has sent out 78 winners at the Qatar Goodwood Festival and captured that meeting’s top trainer award 12 times, including in four of the last five years. 2018 – 4*; 2017 – 4; 2016 – 4*; 2014 – 4; 2012 – 7; 2009 – 5; 2006 – 4; 2005 – 3*; 2003 – 3; 2002 – 5; 2000 – 4; 1998 – 3*. Among current trainers, only Sir Michael Stoute on 80 victories has enjoyed more success at the five-day Qatar Goodwood Festival. Annually, Johnston has been the leading trainer at Goodwood four times. 2018 (12); 2017 (8); 2012 (12) and 2001 (7=). His total career wins at Goodwood across all meetings stands at 147, with his first success at the West Sussex racecourse being with The Can Can Man in a handicap on May 23, 1991.
*There was a tie for the number of races won and 2nd/3rd places were therefore taken into account.
Major wins at Qatar Goodwood Festival:
Unibet Golden Mile Handicap (1997 Fly To The Stars, 2001 Riberac, 2009 Laa Rayb, 2010 Sea Lord, 2012 Fulbright)
Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes (2006 Prince Of Light, 2007 Dubai’s Touch)
Gordon Stakes (2002 Bandari, 2011 Namibian)
King George Qatar Stakes (1998 Land Of Dreams)
L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Glorious Stakes (2000 Murghem, 2002 Darasim, 2006 Crosspeace)
Markel Insurance Molecomb Stakes (2016 Yalta)
Qatar Goodwood Cup (1995, 1997 & 1998 Double Trigger, 2000 Royal Rebel, 2004 Darasim)
Qatar Lillie Langtry Stakes (2010 Eastern Aria)
Qatar Richmond Stakes (2001 Mister Cosmi, 2012 Heavy Metal)
Qatar Vintage Stakes (1993 Mister Baileys, 2003 Lucky Story, 2004 Shamardal, 2018 Dark Vision)