Predicting Mark Johnston Runners, Part 2

In the second part of this two part article, part one available here, Jon Shenton digs into Mark Johnston's performance record in search of profitable betting angles. Here he looks at older horses as well as Johnston's favourite course.

Older Horses

Roughly 70% of Johnston’s runners are 2- and 3-year-olds so perhaps there is less focus on his older horses. The vast majority of these more mature runners’ activity, as you might expect, is in handicaps (all bar 150 or so runs, which have a losing ROI of c.25% at SP). It makes sense, then, to concentrate on the journeyman handicapping cohort for further review.

Mark Johnston older horses (aged 4-9) in handicaps by race age restriction, from January 2013

Age restriction Runs Wins Win% P/L (SP) Place% ROI (SP) P/L (BF) ROI (BF) A/E
3yo+ 530 69 13.0 82.1 33.0 15.5 277.6 52.4 1.02
4yo+ 919 130 14.2 -218.4 32.5 -23.8 -136.4 -14.8 0.85


The table above shows the split of the runners in the two age groupings for eligible handicaps, and it is apparent that a Johnston 'older horse' in a 3yo+ handicap is worth a second look. In fact, if we split things down further by age of runner, we can see that the focus ought to be on 4- or 5-year-olds in 3yo+ handicaps. The table below illustrates the breakdown by age:

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Mark Johnston trained older horses in 3yo+ handicap by age of horse from January 2013

Horse Age Runs Wins Win% P/L (SP) Place% ROI (SP) P/L (BF) ROI (BF) A/E
4 382 56 14.7 135.2 32.2 35.4 319.1 83.5 1.12
5 82 12 14.6 8.9 32.9 10.9 20.2 24.6 1.11
6 31 0 0.0 -31.0 41.9 -100.0 -31.0 -100.0 0.00
7 17 0 0.0 -17.0 41.2 -100.0 -17.0 -100.0 0.00
8 17 1 5.9 -13.0 23.5 -76.5 -12.7 -74.5 0.69
9 1 0 0.0 -1.0 100.0 -100.0 -1.0 -100.0 0.00


Horses aged six and older have a record of 1 win from 66 races, losing 95p in the pound over time.  In fact, checking the record of Johnston 6-year-olds-plus in all handicap races (including the 4yo+ category) makes for ugly reading with just 13 wins from 155 runs, something of a red flag when seeing horses such as Final or Watersmeet taking their place in the stalls next time.

The 4/5-year-old performance also comes with a major health warning sadly, in that there are a couple of long odds winners buried in there - at 66/1 and a couple of 33/1 shots too - which are enough to inflate the profit level significantly without negating the angle entirely. Ordinarily these could and probably should be ignored: it is not generally good policy to rely on a few Hail Mary’s to land so I’d probably take these out of the equation.  That may be a risk averse mindset but I have a preference for higher strike rates, and more reliable data-driven wagering.

That extra reliability can be attained by trying to establish which may be the better quality horses within the data. In very general terms the higher the weight carried (or ranking of horses' official rating in the race) the greater the chance of that horse winning in a handicap.

If we analyse these 4/5-year-olds in terms of position in weights (excluding jockey claim) we get the following breakdown:

Mark Johnston 4/5-year-olds in 3yo+ handicaps by position in weights (excluding jockey claim), from January 2013

Pos in weights Runs Wins Win% P/L (SP) Place% ROI (SP) P/L (BF) ROI (BF) A/E
1 104 22 21.2 40.7 47.1 39.1 54.4 52.3 1.24
2 64 14 21.9 16.5 31.3 25.8 23.8 37.2 1.48
3 75 12 16.0 16.3 34.7 21.7 29.8 39.8 1.06
4 43 4 9.3 -14.5 25.6 -33.7 -10.7 -24.8 0.72
5 39 5 12.8 -11.8 25.6 -30.2 -6.2 -15.9 1.01
6 31 1 3.2 -18.0 25.8 -58.1 -14.7 -47.4 0.30
7 20 1 5.0 -10.0 10.0 -50.0 -7.6 -37.9 0.49
8 22 3 13.64 6 31.82 27.27 11.43 51.95 1.51


As can be seen, horses in the top three in the weights are worth closer scrutiny, and I suspect that Johnston, with his vast army of young horses, knows better than most how to place his slightly older fleet to maximise probability of a strong run.


Courses: Goodwood

Mark Johnston’s positive training record at Goodwood is well documented: 53 victories over the past six years from 355 runs, with a pretty healthy 14% profit if you backed every single one at SP.

There are some cautionary tones to heed, however: during 2018 we’ve seen the best strike rate (18%) but the worst wagering return since 2013, with losses of 19% at starting price. Few braindead simple approaches last very long, and perhaps the market has wised up and adjusted, or perhaps it is genuinely a case of the shorter priced horses landing (average price of winners in 2018 is approx. 5/2 compared to the overall 13/2 or thereabouts).  One to keep an eye on as usually Johnston's second- and third-string entries can be relied on to hit their mark during the season, and especially at the Glorious - sorry, Qatar Goodwood Festival - meeting.

Overall, there are not many Johnston horses that go to Goodwood at huge prices. Indeed, only 23 have gone off with an SP of 20/1 or bigger, and not a single one has even hit the frame. It seems sensible to be apprehensive of any horse at these prices, with the yard apparently knowing more about what is expected than many in the betting media and indeed public.

Another consideration when evaluating trainers is checking how their runners perform in relation to their layoff: how many days they have been off the track. The table below shows the breakdown of all Johnston's Goodwood runners split by the last time the horses stretched its legs in competitive action.

Mark Johnston Goodwood runners (20/1 or shorter) since January 2013, by days since last run

Days Off Runs Wins Win% P/L (SP) Place% ROI (SP) P/L (BF) ROI (BF) A/E
2 4 0 0.0 -4.0 50.0 -100.0 -4.0 -100.0 0.00
3 1 1 100.0 2.5 100.0 250.0 3.1 305.9 3.45
4-5 11 1 9.1 -3.0 18.2 -27.3 -1.2 -11.1 0.74
6-10 59 11 18.6 0.0 52.5 0.0 4.0 6.8 1.27
11-15 67 12 17.9 23.4 41.8 34.9 33.3 49.7 1.34
16-20 52 14 26.9 68.8 48.1 132.4 84.0 161.5 1.89
21-25 38 5 13.2 8.0 36.8 21.1 15.7 41.4 0.90
26-30 21 0 0 -21 23.81 -100 -21 -100 0.00
31-45 31 1 3.23 -21 12.9 -67.74 -20.28 -65.42 0.24


It could be argued that the data alludes to the fact that Johnston has a plan in mind when sending horses to this particular corner of the Sussex countryside, getting them there in peak condition through a relatively recent tuning run, 11-25 days looking optimal. Backing in line with this improves the strike rate to nearly 20% and a SP profit level of 64%.  Horses that haven’t run for more than 25 days have a rather lean record of three wins from 69 runs (not all data included in the table) so should be considered unsympathetically based on that evidence; evidence which is supported by the fact that Johnston famously keeps his horses fit on the racecourse rather than at home, so greater absences may be assumed to infer an issue of some sort.


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A fair amount of rummaging around the Johnston battalions since 2013 has kept me very busy, although it has still left a feeling that I’m just scratching the surface. Hopefully there are a few angles of interest, or at least some food for thought for development of your own approaches. As ever with analysis of this nature sample sizes can be small, but that’s the beauty and challenge of it all: trying to figure out if these snippets of data and patterns can be used as a basis to bet in the future, in this case to pinpoint some of Johnston’s next 4194 winners!


Possible angles and betting opportunities (from part one and two of this article)

  • Johnston First Time Out 2-year-old fillies over 5-6.5f, especially during the months of May to August
  • Previous 2yo winners in novice races if they have had a recent run throughout spring and summer
  • Winless 3yo runners with five or fewer career runs in 3yo handicaps
  • 4/5-year-old runners in 3yo+ handicap races, particularly if they are in the top 3 official ratings / weights
  • Goodwood runners shorter than 20/1 that have had a recent run (ideally 10-25 days)
  • Tread carefully with Johnston runners in nursery handicaps and any older horse (6+) running in a handicap.


- Jon Shenton


POST SCRIPT 3rd September 2018: My mate Ben Aitken has taken the Mark Johnston theme and run with it a little further, looking at performance by run style. Regular followers of Geegeez Gold pace content may be able to guess at the findings, but they're pretty striking all the same, and can be checked out here.

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13 replies
  1. sondrio2
    sondrio2 says:

    Great stuff, very interesting and informative, by heck youve put some effort into researching all that data. Looking forward to the next one.

  2. Rotund legend
    Rotund legend says:

    Is there any difference in regard to the distance travelled to the meeting? I would think not. Also is there any further profit to be made in regard to the jockey riding?

    Thanks for your efforts.

    • Jonny11
      Jonny11 says:

      Hi RL, no problem – love doing it. Did look at distance travelled a little bit but nothing major to report across all runners. There might be pockets around specific age groups etc but the data got a bit thin for making solid conclusions.
      Jockey’s – PJ McDonald positive until this year, when SDS teams up with MJ quite good over a large number of runners (6% loss to SP)..again, may be something worth looking at in time..

  3. rhcollins
    rhcollins says:

    If I ever put a horse with Mark Johnston, I’ll be sure to ask you first about it’s chances!

    • Jonny11
      Jonny11 says:

      So, Alan, yes, not exact (only had the quickest of quick looks) but I think 70ish horses moved from MJ to National Hunt from 2013, overall roi isn’t great (-44%) – two most prolific winners Sea Lord and Ravens Tower.

  4. Graham
    Graham says:

    Outstanding research Jon and I thank you for sharing it. Your article, I must say, is also well written. On a personal note, I do not back MJ horses ( except at Goodwood) as I could never figure out an edge. What I did notice was that if his horses in running, were not in the first 2/3, they never seemed to win that race. I will now apply what you have revealed and see how it goes. Great stuff and I do hope you submit further articles through Matt.

  5. Chud777
    Chud777 says:

    Hi Jon, hope this message notifies you! 🙂

    Can I ask, did you use query tool or an external database (e.g. horseracebase)? It’s just that I’m attempting to set up a QT angle on Geegeez and I’m struggling with one or two filters that aren’t available at the moment. For example the “First time out 2yo fillies” – there is no “Days since last run / number of runs / first time out” type filter. I know I can put everything else in, get the alert, then check if the horse is FTO, but I just wondered what your thoughts were or whether you had any suggestions. Cheers.

  6. Jonny11
    Jonny11 says:

    Hi Chud, fully notified! Yes I did use HRB for this article, generally I mix between QT and HRB. You’re right, think the best approach is to set up an QT angle to alert on the high level qualifiers and check the nuances manually. I suppose you could do something like adding a filter for Speed Rating = 0 as that’ll narrow down the alerts for FTO but manual checking will still be required as there are other reasons a horse may not have an SR.

    • Chud777
      Chud777 says:

      Ah yes, that’s the one, the SR=0 filter. I knew there was something in there that could possibly tighten things up (Obviously a further check will be required because as you say sometimes a horse has a zero for reasons other than FTO).

      Cheers Jon.

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