He’s yet to capture a major prize so far this season, but there’s no doubting that Mark Johnston’s juveniles are firing on all cylinders.
Lumiere and Buratino were juvenile stars of 2015, and were expected to take high order as three-year-olds. Unfortunately, Buratino has failed to progress from two to three, and is yet to show anything like the form of his juvenile campaign, which brought two placed finishes in Group 1 events and a victory in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot. He’s yet to get his preferred fast ground, though it would take a leap of faith to believe that even that would bring about a return to winning ways.
Lumiere also flopped on her seasonal reappearance, when trailing home last in the 1000 Guineas. However, last year’s Cheveley Park winner bounced back to form with a stunning success at Newmarket last week. She has a couple of options at the end of the month including the Group 2 Qatar Lennox Stakes at Goodwood, though Johnston appears to favour the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville on July 31.
The trainer spoke of his classy filly on Monday, saying: “We'd like to go for a Group 1, and a Group 1 against fillies in France sounds ideal. She's in the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood and we'll look seriously at that.” Speaking of her long-term targets, he added: “She's not had a busy season and there's the Sun Chariot and Matron but, again, you're getting into soft-ground time. But we have our feet on the ground, last week's was a race she needed to win. Thankfully, she didn't just win it, she won it by six lengths and she won it in a very fast time that suggested she was at least back to her form of last year.”
Johnston has broken through the 200 winner barrier in six of the last seven campaigns. He currently lies on 107 and is just about on target to maintain his recent outstanding record. Big wins have yet to come his way this summer, but time is on his side, and he certainly has a group of classy youngsters, with the potential of making a mark at the highest level. He’s currently at an impressive 25% winning strike rate with his juveniles.
One such youngster is Love Dreams, a huge colt by Dream Ahead out of a King’s Theatre mare. He romped home at Pontefract last time and has lofty entries including the Gimcrack Stakes at York in August. He certainly has scope to progress and still looked pretty green last time. He’s a nice sort with a bright future.
Johnston has a progressive young filly on his hands in the form of Miss Infinity. She ran a cracker on debut behind next year’s Guineas favourite Fair Eva, before winning her next two in fine style. Her last win at Haydock, was on soft ground, and she’s bred to be a better horse on a sounder surface. By Rock Of Gibraltar out of a High Chaparral mare, she should also improve for a step up in trip. The trainer hinted at just a ‘small step’ up in class next time, with no doubt loftier targets on the radar.
Johnston also has a nice sort in Aardwolf, a colt by Cape Cross. He’s a stocky, solid built sort, who won impressively at Chester last time. He has an interesting pedigree, with a blend of speed on the sire’s side and a splash of stamina on the dam’s. Decent ground looks essential, and he could prove a nice long-term prospect.
I mentioned a lack of high profile winners, but Johnston came mighty close in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot, with The Last Lion looking a winner before being gunned down late on. He has since won a five furlong listed event at Sandown. He’s by the mighty Australian speedster Choisir, and looks an out and out sprinter. He holds an entry in the Gimcrack at York, though I fancy six furlongs would stretch him. Interestingly, he also holds an entry in the Nunthorpe.
There’s no doubting Mark Johnston’s ability as a trainer, and in Lumiere he may still get that ‘big win’ before the summer ends. He also has a battalion of youngsters waiting in the wings, many with the potential to compete at the highest level.