Tag Archive for: Charlie Johnston

The Gatekeeper knocking on the door for Lincoln honours

Charlie Johnston is preparing Qipco Champions Day winner The Gatekeeper and his stablemate Dutch Decoy for the Pertemps Network Lincoln at Doncaster.

The Gatekeeper carried the Middleham Park Racing colours to four victories last season, also scoring at Newcastle, Newmarket and Goodwood, as well as finishing a close second in the lucrative Golden Mile at the latter venue in high summer.

He rounded off his campaign with a surprise success in the Balmoral Handicap at Ascot in October and will soon bid to add the season’s first major handicap to his CV, with Dutch Decoy another likely for his yard in the March 23 highlight.

“The Gatekeeper and Dutch Decoy both did their first proper piece of work together on Thursday and they’re our two with the Lincoln as their target,” said Middleham-based Johnston.

“The Gatekeeper will definitely run, Dutch Decoy was a little bit later coming back in and he’ll need everything to go smoothly for the next three weeks to make it, but at the moment the plan is to get them both there.

“The Gatekeeper had an unbelievable year really when you consider he’d been off for 625 days before he came back. He actually won at Newcastle on this weekend last year as his comeback and rounded off the year with a career-best on Champions Day.

“He’s gone up to 100 now, so life is going to be more difficult for him this year, but he was a real top-class handicapper last year and I’ve go no concerns about him going to Doncaster first time out.

“We learnt as last year went on he actually quite likes a bit of dig in the ground, which it would seem fairly certain we’ll get for the Lincoln at this stage, so I’m looking forward to running him.”

The Gatekeeper closes the door on Ascot rivals

Charlie Johnston saddled a winner with his only runner on Qipco British Champions Day as The Gatekeeper ground out a deserved victory in the Balmoral Handicap.

Owned by Middleham Park Racing, the 25-1 shot was always in the ideal spot, up with the pace and on the far side of the Ascot straight.

Ascot specialist Ropey Guest and the Hayley Turner-ridden Docklands tried their hardest to reel in soft-ground loving The Gatekeeper, but Joe Fanning had a willing partner and he kept on stoutly for a one-length triumph in the ultra-competitive finale to Champions Day.

“We knew he would like the ground, I don’t know that it’s key to him but we knew he would handle it,” said Johnston’s father, Mark.

“I couldn’t help but note that front-runners have done particularly well today, so Mike Prince (of Middleham Park) said to Joe, ‘jump and bowl along’, which is what we tend to do anyway.

“I think that’s probably it (for the year), the owner is talking about the Lincoln for next year.”

Sacred Angel makes all for Princess Margaret crown

Sacred Angel produced a dominant front-running performance to strike Group Three gold in the Bateaux London Princess Margaret Stakes at Ascot.

A field of 10 juvenile fillies went to post for the six-furlong contest, with Sacred Angel a 16-1 shot for trainer Charlie Johnston off the back of a maiden success at Newmarket a fortnight ago.

Jason Hart sent the grey daughter of Dark Angel straight to the lead and while the challengers were stacked up in behind, she kept finding more to kick a couple of lengths clear.

The well-fancied Pretty Crystal quickened smartly from the rear to emerge best of the rest, but could not get on terms with Sacred Angel, who passed the post with three lengths in hand.

The victory provides Johnston with a first Group-race winner since becoming the sole licence holder at his Middleham yard, with his father Mark also breaking his Group-race duck in the same race with Marina Park in 1992.

“It was a good way to start. She is improving dramatically – very much so,” said the trainer.

“Her first run at Pontefract, I thought she was the best horse on the day. She was quite green and got beat by two horses who’d had experience.

“If you told me then, within two starts we’d be at this level, I’d have thought, ‘I’m not so sure about that’, but she took a nice step forward at Newmarket and a step forward again.”

Charlie Johnston at his Middleham yard
Charlie Johnston at his Middleham yard (Danny Lawson/PA)

Sacred Angel was carrying the colours of Nurlan Bizakov for the first time, with the businessman having snapped her up after her Newmarket success from the Titanium Racing Club.

Considering future plans, Johnston added; “The owners obviously sponsor quite a high-profile race in France (Prix Morny) and on the back of that I would suspect they will want her to go there next.

“Possibly the Cheveley Park at the end of the year will be the obvious real highlight target.”

Richard Fahey was pleased with the performance of runner-up Pretty Crystal.

He said: “I thought it was a good run, but it just didn’t work out again for her. She’s been a bit unlucky. But she is quite a nice filly and she’ll definitely go for the Lowther at York.”

Gold Cup winner Subjectivist retired

Subjectivist, an impressive winner of the 2021 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, has been retired.

The six-year-old stormed to a five-length victory at the Berkshire track two years ago, supplementing previous successes in the Prix Royal-Oak at ParisLongchamp and a Dubai Gold Cup verdict at Meydan.

However, he suffered a career-threatening tendon injury after that success – an issue which kept him on the sidelines for 618 days before returning to action in Saudi Arabia back in February.

After finishing third in the Dubai Gold Cup, Subjectivist went on to fill the same position in the Gold Cup back at Ascot, in what transpired to be his final start after his old issue flared up again.

Initially trained by Mark Johnston before he transferred the licence to his son Charlie, who saddled him this term, Subjectivist retires as a six-times winner with over £890,000 banked in prize money.

Johnston senior, who is now assistant trainer to his son, said: “We have known this was coming, it’s been difficult keeping him going.

“I had slightly mixed feelings about his run at Royal Ascot as while he ran a good race, I didn’t think it was as good as his best of two years ago.

“The objective was to get him to Ascot and then we hoped we might get him to Goodwood, but it has always been there, rumbling away.

“His Gold Cup win was the highlight, but he won three races on the bounce, two at Group One level and one at Group Two, with his win in Dubai being very impressive – you could say that was his purple patch, those seven or eight months.”

Subjectivist is now set to embark on a stallion career and Johnston added: “We hope he will go to stud now.

“There were a couple of people interested after his Gold Cup win and one of those has kept in touch, so we will see what happens.”

Dubai Mile to drop back in trip with autumn aims on the horizon

Co-trainers Martyn and Freddie Meade will drop Dubai Mile back in distance and wait for soft ground in the autumn as they bid to secure his future as a stallion.

Having purchased a half-share in last year’s Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner from owner Ahmad Al Shaikh, the horse has left Charlie Johnston’s care to join the Meades’ Manton Park roster.

“He is here and the idea is clearly he has to do a bit more to be a stallion yet,” Martyn Meade confirmed.

Bought for €20,000 as a yearling by the Johnston team, he made swift progress as a juvenile and finished second in the Group Two Royal Lodge Stakes before taking a top-level victory in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud.

Fifth in the 2000 Guineas on his three-year-old bow, he did not appear to stay a mile and a half in the Derby, finishing ninth of 14 to Auguste Rodin.

He again flattered to deceive over the same trip in the King Edward VII at Royal Ascot, when beaten eight lengths by King Of Steel.

Meade said: “The idea is we will campaign him for the rest of the season and maybe even next season if we need to, because he preferably needs to win a couple more, at least one and maybe two Group Ones.

“That’s what we will be targeting him for, but at the moment we will be giving him a break.

“He’s had quite a tough sort of campaign, with three races at the top level and inevitably that takes it out of them. You can’t race in those Group Ones all the way through.”

Meade feels autumn targets may be ideal for Dubai Mile, who won his Group One on deep ground.

“The little I know about him, he will be pretty good on soft ground, as he showed in France,” he said.

“If we can campaign him towards the back end of the season, I think that would be our preference.

“It is all to do with distance. I don’t think he proved himself as well as he might have done over a mile and a half and our thoughts will be to drop him back.

“On the face of it, while we have to assess him, we are thinking of changing his trip, shortening it up. A mile and a quarter will be his trip.

“Hopefully we can get a bit of soft ground at the end of the year and find a suitable race for him.”

Martyn Meade will plot a back-end campaign for Dubai Mile
Martyn Meade will plot a back-end campaign for Dubai Mile (Adam Davy/PA)

Manton Park Stud currently stands Aclaim and Advertise, both of whom were Group One winners for Meade, with the trainer well aware Dubai Mile needs to enhance his page before embarking on a breeding career.

“It is lovely to have him, we’re very pleased,” added Meade. “He looks a nice horse.

“It is a strategic move as far as we are concerned and let’s see how we go, but he needs to put a bit more on his CV before we can stamp him.”

Johnston working towards Goodwood Cup goal with Subjectivist

Charlie Johnston will train Subjectivist towards the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup, providing he shows the right signs after his exertions at Royal Ascot.

Having raced keenly, the six-year-old finished a fine third in the Gold Cup on his first British start since winning the race in spectacular fashion two years ago.

Subjectivist was subsequently sidelined for 618 days with a career-threatening leg injury and on his return raced very keenly in a Group Three handicap in Saudi Arabia in February.

He moved on to Meydan in a bid to win a second Dubai Gold Cup and ran a pleasing race to finish third, beaten five lengths behind Broome, before his excellent effort at Ascot, when going down by four and a half lengths to Courage Mon Ami.

“He was a little bit fresh in some ways, because he is not doing any galloping at home because of his injury,” said Johnston.

“Every day is a judgement call as to how the legs feel and how much work he does. He hadn’t really had a real good blow into him at home, so I think that would have contributed to him being a little bit keen at Ascot.

“I thought this was very different to Saudi. He was manageable, whereas in Saudi, he was running away with Joe (Fanning), he wasn’t listening to him at all.

“It’s funny, when he came back in, Joe felt Ralph Beckett’s horse (Lone Eagle) had come to him quite early and got him racing early. As I watched it, coming out of Swinley Bottom, I was urging him just to send him.

“I’m sure Joe knows everything we’re going through at home and he was riding him with that in his mind a little bit.”

The Middleham handler is taking it gently, as not to over-exert Dr Jim Walker’s fragile warrior before deciding whether to race on following the horse’s tendon injury.

“It was a run of immense pride in the horse and the team for having got him there,” added Johnston.

“You couldn’t help but feel a little bit of what could have been. If this horse is able to finish third in an Ascot Gold Cup on three legs, then how many of these would we have won if we hadn’t had the setback we had? It was a good run, for sure.

“The plan is to go to Goodwood. He hasn’t been sat on yet, he’s just been swimming and on the water walker.

Charlie Johnston will try to get Subjectivist to the Goodwood Cup
Charlie Johnston will try to get Subjectivist to the Goodwood Cup (Danny Lawson/PA)

“The idea is for him to go back ridden on Tuesday, then trot for a week, then go back cantering the week after. To be honest, it is only at that point we will really find out what scars, if any, this run has left.

“He was sound in the legs post-race, but given his history, you don’t run two and a half miles at that level without some consequence.

“Hopefully he’ll be fine and we will do all we can to get him to Goodwood.”

Subjectivist Gold Cup effort delights Charlie Johnston

Charlie Johnston was brimming with pride after seeing Subjectivist run an admirable race in defeat in his bid for a second Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

The six-year-old was a spectacular winner when breaking Stradivarius’ stranglehold on the two-and-a-half-mile showpiece in 2021, but has suffered his fair share of injury woes since and at one stage looked more likely to retire than make it back to Berkshire.

He was well beaten on his return from the best part of two years off the track in Saudi Arabia in February, but looked more like his old self when third in the Dubai Gold Cup in March, giving connections hope that he could complete a fairytale comeback and regain his Gold Cup crown.

After going off a well backed 9-2 shot in the hands of his regular pilot Joe Fanning, Subjectivist set the fractions on the front end and refused to give in once passed by the eventual winner Courage Mon Ami and the gallant runner-up Coltrane late in the day.

In the end he was beaten four and a half lengths into third, but Johnston was nevertheless delighted to see his stable star prove he can still mix it at the highest level.

He said: “He’s run a great race. I was sort of expecting he would win, or we would be out with the washing!

“It’s been a long road and just being here is pretty special. Let’s hope he’s OK and we can go again.

“He has defied everything to be here. So we are delighted, but would always rather be there [on the winner’s podium].”

Joe Fanning after winning the Gold Cup on Subjectivist
Joe Fanning after winning the Gold Cup on Subjectivist (Steven Paston/PA)

Fanning added: “He ran a great race, he was just a little bit keen earlier than I wanted to be, but he kept quick and kept finding and he’s ran blinder.

“Given the issues he’s had to come back from it was a good run.”

Meanwhile, Oisin Murphy had no complaints after 11-4 favourite Coltrane lost little in defeat when claiming the silver medal.

He said: “He relaxed great and travelled round super, and I felt I could go and win the race.

“Frankie’s come with me and it was a good battle, and Frankie came out on top.”

Grand Prix de Paris plans for Dubai Mile following Derby

Dubai Mile will be aimed at the Grand Prix de Paris with the possibility of a run at Royal Ascot in between.

The Ahmad Al Shaikh-owned colt, a son of Roaring Lion, won twice last season – including in Group One company – and then finished an excellent fifth to Chaldean in the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on his three-year-old debut.

Sent off a 25-1 chance on Daniel Muscutt’s first Betfred Derby ride at Epsom on Saturday, he was prominent on the inside rail before fading into ninth once the pace quickened.

Trainer Charlie Johnston said: “I think it was a great position to have got into and saving ground.

“I didn’t think they were going that quick, so you have to be handyish – that is what I felt at the time. The winner (Auguste Rodin) and the second (King Of Steel) have come from a long way back.

“I could feel he was in a bit of trouble about six to five (furlongs) out, just as the pace started to lift.

“He wasn’t sitting there full of horse under him. He was hitting that flat spot he hits and whereas on other tracks you can hit a flat spot and get away with it, here you hit a flat spot and the race happens, then you run on when it is all over.

“The pacemaker couldn’t decide whether to go inside or outside and that didn’t help him, but only cost him a length or two – it wasn’t a significant reason for where he finished.

“Albeit we have had and have plenty of confidence in the horse, he was still a 25-1 shot in the Derby.”

Dubai Mile holds engagements in the Group Two King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 23 and also the Irish Derby at the Curragh on July 2.

However, Johnston is keen to head to ParisLongchamp for the Grand Prix de Paris, over the same mile-and-a-half trip on July 14.

“We will see about Ascot and I’ve always thought the Grand Prix de Paris was a race that would really suit him,” said Johnston. “I’d like to have that as part of his plans.

“Whether or not he goes to Ascot in between, we’ll see.

“If he did everything, it would be three weeks and three weeks – it is six weeks until Paris.”

Johnston dreaming of Derby delight with Dubai Mile

Charlie Johnston was always destined to take over from his record-breaking father Mark at their Middleham base. But to have a realistic Betfred Derby contender through Dubai Mile in his first year with just his name on the licence has certainly exceeded his expectations.

While Johnston senior went close at Epsom with Dee Ex Bee in 2018, finishing second to Masar, the blue riband event was one of only a handful of major races to elude him during a stellar career.

Charlie initially shared the licence with his father last season before Mark took his name off completely, sooner than many thought but done partly through paternal pride so that his son would get the credit he felt he deserved.

Now, with Dubai Mile having won a Group One over 10 furlongs at two in France and run perfectly well in the 2000 Guineas when fifth, Charlie has a real shot at putting the Johnston name on the illustrious Epsom roll of honour.

“I wouldn’t be singing from the roof if he wins having done so in my name, in fact I’d be a bit embarrassed after dad had been trying for 30 years and we won it for the first time without his name on the licence!” said Johnston.

“There’s still no greater race for a trainer to win, I think.

“There’s no race I can win this year that would give me greater assurances that when I go to the yearling sales, people will want to fill this barn again next year and try to find the next one.

“This game is a cycle and you always want people to invest in you, by winning the Derby there is no greater advertisement.”

Dubai Mile is owned by Ahmad Al Shaikh, who himself has had two of his horses finish second at huge prices in recent years – Khalifa Sat at 50-1 behind Serpentine in 2020 and Hoo Ya Mal at 150-1 to Desert Crown last year.

Johnston said: “He’s gone close twice in the Derby at huge prices, so I’m sure he’s going there with huge expectations and he’s great fun to train for.

“He flew a team from his favourite restaurant in London up here and we had a huge lunch with all the staff while watching the (Saint-Cloud) race and he gave prizes out and I don’t think the team has ever felt closer or more involved than he made them.”

Having only cost €20,000 at the Goffs Orby Sale, despite being by Roaring Lion and out of Beach Bunny, who was beaten just a short head by Dar Re Mi in the 2009 Pretty Polly, Johnston has shown he can look beyond the obvious – and feels others may have been put off by Dubai Mile’s big white face.

“We thought we’d got a bargain at £20,000. To us he’s a very good looking horse, but bizarrely a lot of people would be put off by his markings for a start. He’s got so much white about him and he must have had a fight with a fence at some point as a foal as when you take the saddle off, he’s got white marks all over his withers,” said Johnston.

“His pedigree, as is always the case, put us on to him. We’ve been fortunate to have horses for Lady O’Reilly (Beach Bunny’s owner), so would always pay close attention to her horses. Another factor was probably the fact that his stallion was sadly dead at the time, which meant he was never going to get the same support as most first-season sires and he was a weak, backward yearling.

“I’m not going to say we knew right away (he was good) as we buy 70 every year in that price bracket, but am I confident that out of 20 every year we’d find one good one? Yes, but was I confident he was the one? Probably not until he ran in the Royal Lodge, if I’m honest.

“The Royal Lodge (second to The Foxes) looked ambitious at the time, because of his price he’d been astutely placed to win two restricted novices, but I think the handicapper would have said he had no chance going into the Royal Lodge, as did the market. But it was a small field and it was a race we always like to target which led us to roll the dice.

“We’ll be taking the winner on again and a lot of water has gone under the bridge for both since the Royal Lodge. I got the impression up until York they thought he (The Foxes) was a 10-furlong horse and there was talk of the French Derby, whereas we’ve always known where we were going.

“Ahmad was always keen to go for the Guineas and, in hindsight, it was clearly the right decision because there’s been a hell of a lot more interest in him since then than before it. People take him a lot more seriously now.

“I said if he finished in the first six and hit the line strong I’d be delighted and that is exactly what he did. He’d have been fourth in another stride which would have been lovely but knowing he wants further, we couldn’t have wished for much more.”

Dubai Mile exercising in Middleham
Dubai Mile exercising in Middleham (Danny Lawson/PA)

Since the Guineas, John and Thady Gosden’s Arrest has won the Chester Vase on soft ground. His first run since being beaten a head by Dubai Mile in France and yet Dubai Mile is available at a much bigger price.

“A lot has been made of our form with Arrest and interestingly he’s about a quarter of the price we are. It’s probably not surprising given John Gosden’s Derby record and ours, but the weather forecast means it should be a good to firm Derby, whether it is or not we’ll wait and see,” said Johnston.

“I’m sure Arrest’s camp are a lot more worried about that than us. We might have won a Group One on heavy, but we’d rather it was quicker as it might inconvenience a few others.”

Of the others, he said: “I have a lot of respect for the (Jessica) Harrington horse (Sprewell), he looks overlooked in the market simply because Aidan (O’Brien) doesn’t get beaten in that (Leopardstown) trial and if you do beat him, you must have a good one.

“It’s been a bit different this spring as the two trials you’d expect Aidan to win he’s been beaten in, with the (John) Murphy horse (White Birch) winning the other (Ballysax) – and he ran a nice race at York (second to The Foxes).

“It should always be the best test of a three-year-old and all the ones who deserve to be there will be there. Does 14-1 represent our chance? It probably does, it might underestimate him a little.

“There’s no horse in this race that we know is better than ours, on ratings we’re right there with them all. He’s a Group One winner who ran a good trial over an inadequate trip in the Guineas, so in that sense I think we’ve got a rock-solid profile.

“The fact he was a €20,000 yearling and a bit more unfashionable probably explains why he’s 14-1 rather than 4-1. There’s nothing in there that scares me or we have 7lb to find with. If he improves for the trip, which we all expect he will, then he goes there with a good chance.

“I don’t feel it has added any pressure, it’s great to have a horse like this, you need them any time but to have one the first year the licence is in my name is great.”

Dear My Friend to break new ground for Middleham Park in Derby

Middleham Park Racing will have their first Betfred Derby runner as Dear My Friend bids to do his owners proud this weekend.

The chestnut is one of 16 possibles for the Epsom Classic on Saturday and will mark a significant milestone when he carries the syndicate’s familiar pale blue and orange silks in the revered Group One.

The colt’s route to the Derby included the Dante at York earlier in the month, an established trial in which he finished eighth, and a win in the Listed Burradon Stakes on Newcastle’s all-weather track in early April.

Those efforts, added to two successes and a handful of Listed and Group performances as a juvenile, have left him on a rating of 104 ahead of the Derby – for which he is currently a 100-1 shot for trainer Charlie Johnston.

“It’s our first ever runner in the race, we’re going into it with eyes wide open,” said Mike Prince of Middleham Park.

“He was well beaten in the Dante but we think the step up in trip will suit him. There’ll be a few horses in the race who don’t say, there’ll be a few horses in the race who don’t handle the track and there’ll be a few horses in the race who don’t handle the occasion – hopefully we’ll be there trying to pick up some of the pieces.

“He’ll need to take a step up in his form, he’s a notch below the favourites at the moment but we’re hoping that step up in trip will lead to some improvement from him. He’s got a lovely, long stride and a slow cadence.”

Though likely to be an outsider with the market favouring Group winners such as Auguste Rodin and Derby Trial winner Military Order, it is not unheard of that a horse at a big price should go well and there are recent examples in Hoo Ya Mal, who was second at 150-1 last year, and 50-1 chance Mojo Star who came second the year before.

Dear My Friend (right) winning the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle
Dear My Friend (right) winning the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle (Richard Sellers/PA)

Prince said: “There have been some horses at big prices making up the placings in recent years, Hoo Ya Mal was 150-1 and I think the third and fourth that year were big enough prices (Westover at 25-1 and Masekela at 66-1).

“That’s one of the things we said to the owners when were deciding to enter, there’s good place money down to sixth and they’re all delighted that we’re rolling the dice.

“He is rated 104 so he is going there on his merits, it’s a race with a great sense of tradition and there’ll certainly be a good contingent there to support him and enjoy the occasion.”

Charlie Johnston sure Dubai Mile can go the Derby distance

Not many €20,000 purchases head to the Betfred Derby with leading claims – but that is certainly the case for Charlie Johnston’s Dubai Mile.

A Group One winner as a juvenile over 10 furlongs in France, he dropped back down in trip to finish a very respectable fifth in the 2000 Guineas behind Chaldean.

It is often said the best trial for the Derby is the Guineas, and in a year when the ante-post favourite, Auguste Rodin, finished 12th of 14 at Newmarket, Johnston has every right to be feeling bullish about the claims of his Roaring Lion colt on Saturday week.

Dubai Mile has struck up a good relationship with jockey Danny Muscutt – who celebrated his first Group One win when landing the Criterium de Saint-Cloud with him – and his availability on June 3 was the final piece of the preparation jigsaw once Canberra Legend’s Derby dreams ended at York.

“We did flirt with the idea of taking him to Epsom on Monday (for the gallops morning), but one of the determining factors for that was if Danny wasn’t going to be able to ride him, as going into the Dante there was a bit of a discussion,” said Johnston.

“If he wasn’t available it would have been a good opportunity to let a new jockey have a sit on the horse and get a feel for him, but given I was never going to push Danny into a decision he didn’t need to make until after the event, that has fallen by the wayside.

“Danny gets a tune out of him. It’s a twist of fate or whatever that this horse broke his maiden on a Sunday at Windsor. At the time I was just looking at jockeys available who had good stats at Windsor and that is how he ended up on the horse. We’re always keen to keep winning combinations together if we can.

“One of the most important factors we always feel is confidence and without a doubt he will have more confidence in this horse than anyone else we could get to ride him. Danny is doing a good job of putting himself on the map, but this horse is accelerating the process by giving him his first Group One winner and being a horse that has taken him into Classics.”

Charlie Johnston has a live Derby contender in his first season with the licence in his name only
Charlie Johnston has a live Derby contender in his first season with the licence in his name only Danny Lawson/PA)

Being able to stay 10 furlongs as a juvenile is usually a prerequisite to staying a mile and a half, if not further, at three, and it was for that reason Johnston needed to be persuaded by his record-breaking father Mark to run back over a mile in the Guineas.

“You shouldn’t get too ahead of yourself in thinking you will stay the trip when he’s untested, but we’ve always been very confident it would improve him if anything,” said Johnston, who this year holds the training licence solely in his name.

“After the event I can say I was never really that keen on going for the Guineas and had some strong debates with dad about it. I’d thought all winter he’d go Dante-Derby, the traditional trial and what we’d done with Gear Up who won the same Saint-Cloud race.

“But his gallop at Newmarket tilted us into thinking he wouldn’t be disgraced in the Guineas and if he could run into third it would be a game changer for him as a stallion.”

There have been well-publicised reports that animal rights protesters will be trying to disrupt Derby day, but Johnston, while worried for the potential bad publicity for the sport, feels he has a colt that will not be perturbed by a delay should it come to it, as it did with the Grand National.

Johnston said: “He’s a very relaxed colt, but it will be interesting to see what the day brings. It’s a concern for Epsom and for horse racing, but it’s not a specific concern for this horse as he’s been to lots of tracks and different countries and takes everything in his stride. Any delay for all horses isn’t ideal, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world for him.

“To be going to Epsom with a chance in the Derby is why you get hooked on racing at a young age. We just want to win – at every level. But winning at the highest level has the biggest repercussions for Johnston Racing going forward. We want this to be the norm, competing with the big boys week in and week out.

“There’s always a bit made of the north versus south thing, but we’re as big as anyone – dad’s record is there for all to see. I’m aware the north hasn’t won the Derby since Dante, and that wasn’t even at Epsom, so it would be great for the north and Middleham but that is not my concern – I’m here to win it for Johnston Racing and Ahmad Al Shaikh.”

Two-Year-Old Runners on Debut: Part 2

This is the second in a two-parter looking at two-year-old (2yo) debut runners, writes Dave Renham. The first part - which you can read here - looked at market factors, gender, sires and damsires. This concluding half hones in on a plethora of trainer data. I have collated data for UK flat racing for six full years from 2017 to 2022, and this includes both turf and all-weather. I have calculated profit and loss to Betfair SP (BSP), with commission of 5% taken into account.

 

Overall 2yo debut stats for trainers

I am going to start with a full table of trainers who have had at least 75 two-year old debut runners in the past six seasons. I think it is important to share as much raw trainer data as possible. I have ordered the trainers by win strike rate:

 

* C Johnston from 2023; ** Jack Channon from 2023

 

Any trainer from Eve Johnson Houghton upwards deserves credit, with ten of those eleven in profit as well as having a decent strike rate. Sticking with strike rate, Charlie Appleby stands head and shoulders above the rest and I will be digging deeper into his stats later in the piece.

 

2yo debutants in 5f races

I want to split the data by distance so I am looking at the minimum trip first. There are fewer 2yo races over 5f compared to six and seven furlongs, so that does need to be taken into account. Here are win strike rates for those trainers who have had at least 50 debut runners over 5f:

 

 

There are three trainers with excellent strike rates of over 20% (Archie Watson, Clive Cox and the Johnston stable); at the other end of the scale Tim Easterby is a pretty dismal 1 from 118. Not surprisingly Watson, Cox and Johnston have all made a blind profit with their runners to BSP. Having said that, I would personally be a little wary about Watson as the last three seasons have been less good than before with only three winners from 27 (admittedly he has had a few near misses).

Another trainer worth mentioning is Michael Bell. He did not have enough runners to qualify for the graph above, but of his 39 juvenile debutants over five furlongs, 10 won (SR 25.6%) for a BSP profit of £17.41 (ROI +44.6%).

 

2yo debutants in 6f races

Up an extra furlong now to three-quarters of a mile, or six furlongs if you prefer. Again, a trainer must have saddled a minimum of 50 qualifiers to appear in the table. Here are all the trainers who qualify, this time in tabular form:

 

 

As can be seen, the profit / loss figures are all over the place – you only have to look at the stats for Jamie Osborne to see that. Just one decent priced outsider winning can turn a very poor run of results into a profitable set.

Richard Hannon has comfortably secured the most winners, but he has had the most runners over this trip. Four of the six study years have actually turned a profit, with only one poor year which was 2020. Hannon's profits have come from maiden races rather than novice events and he has recorded a 19% win strike rate in the month of May. In fact his winning percentage when combining May, June and July results is almost double that of his August to December figure (13.9% versus 7.2%).

 

2yo debutants in 7f races

Onto to 7 furlongs now. The data is based on 50 runs minimum once more and the focus is on the trainers with the highest win percentages:

 

 

Charlie Appleby remains head and shoulders above the rest, but one other stat that stood out was for the Johnston stable. Their record in June in 7f races has been excellent with 14 debut winners from 49 (SR 28.6%) for a BSP profit of £40.41 (ROI +82.5%). Not only that, 12 further horses were placed. I am wondering if this is down to excellent race placement: June is the first full month of 2yo 7f races and many of the big juvenile stars of the future tend to be seen later in the season. Hence the standard of 7f races in June are likely to be weaker in quality compared with later in the year.

Before moving away from the June Johnston data, it is worth sharing that 12 of his winners figured in the top three in the betting from 32 runners returning an impressive over 90 pence in the £.

 

2yo debutants in 1m+ races

A look at the longest distances now. The furthest distance a two-year-old runs is 1 mile 3 furlongs and that has only occurred twice in the last six seasons. Just over 70% of races at 1 mile or more are actually raced at a mile.

Let’s look at the trainer splits (50 runs or more):

 

These are the only trainers to qualify, mainly because longer distance races for 2yos are less common. Indeed, there are nearly twice the number of 7f races compared to races of 1 mile and up.

Charlie Appleby again tops the table to make it a clean sweep at distances from six furlongs to a mile, so now it is time to dig deeper into his record with 2yos making their racecourse debut.

 

Charlie Appleby's 2yo Debutants

To begin with let us look at the yearly breakdown in terms of win percentage / strike rate:

 

 

As the graph shows he has struggled to maintain those staggeringly high figures from the first three years in the review window. However, the figures for 2020 to 2022 are still pretty darn good.

I want to look at jockey data now; William Buick and James Doyle are the two riders Appleby uses the most as the table shows:

 

 

As punters, these type of findings are clearly important. Buick and Doyle have scored twice as frequently when compared to all other jockeys that have ridden 2yo debutants for Appleby. Clearly we should focus our attention on the mounts of Buick and Doyle only.

In terms of price, most of Appleby’s runners are at, or near, the head of the market. I have split his results by different Industry SP price bands but with the results calculated once again to BSP.

 

 

The table suggests that the very shortest priced runners are poor value. From this past data it seems better to focus on horses that are likely to be priced between 13/8 and 7/1.

Here are some other Appleby stats I would like to share:

  1. 2yo debutants over 5f are rare which is why he did not appear in the 5f stats earlier. However, from his 20 5f runners, an amazing 13 won (SR 65%) for a BSP profit of £26.95 (ROI +134.8%).
  2. Appleby has a similar strike rate with male and female runners – male runners have won just over 28% of their starts, females just under 27%.
  3. He does not send that many runners out early in the season. However, if we combine April and May data he has secured 22 victories from only 51 first starters (SR 43.1%) for a profit of £26.48 (ROI +51.9%).
  4. He sends more debutants to turf courses (245 versus 99) but again has similar strike rates. On turf it is 28.6% and on the sand it 26.3%. The A/E indices are almost identical as well (0.91 and 0.92).

 

Trainers and 2yo debutants in the top three in the betting

Moving away from a specific focus on Charlie Appleby now, I want to examine trainer records when their debutants start in the top three in the betting. This avoids big-priced winners skewing the profit and loss figures. It also makes it a relatively fair comparison between the trainers. I have used 50 or more runs once again as my qualifying mark:

 

 

I find this type of table illuminating. Considering the prices (96% of all the qualifying runners were single figure prices), any trainer in profit has fared extremely well. The top five in terms of strike rate - Appleby, Charlton, Watson, Bell and Cox - have secured a profit, and I feel these trainers are worth noting this season when one of their runners is in the top three of the betting.

At the other end of the scale, Andrew Balding has a really poor record: of his 18 favourites just one has prevailed. In Balding's defence, the stable is very much known for horses improving through their early starts. His runners won just 8.2% on debut in the six-year study period, but that shot up to 17.4% on second start, 22% on third start and 26% on fourth start. Not strictly 'on topic' but worth noting.

The A/E indices are shown in the table but I think it worth graphing them as well to see which trainers have been the best ‘value’ according to this metric:

 

 

The seven trainers with the highest A/E indices are also the seven trainers with the highest strike rates (albeit not perfectly in the same order). The trainers with the lowest five A/E indices (all under 0.65) are the trainers that fill the bottom five places in the strike rate order. As a general rule, you would expect to see that type of correlation with strike rates and A/E indices, but it does not always happen like that.

 

Trainer Jockey combinations with 2yo debutants

Earlier we saw the importance of jockey booking when looking at Charlie Appleby debutants. Well, there are a couple of other trainers where we find similar stats. Firstly Archie Watson:

 

 

Oisin Murphy has not ridden for Watson for over a year due to his suspension, but it is clear from this data that if he, Danny Tudhope, or Hollie Doyle especially is on board then a good run is expected. The 11.1% figure for ‘All other jockeys’ is poor in comparison.

Likewise when we examine the Gosden stable we see a similar pattern. Robert Havlin has ridden 220 of the 512 2yo debutants and his win record far outstrips the rest:

 

 

There is a huge difference in A/E indices, too, with Havlin at an impressive 1.07 and all other jockeys combining to average out at 0.76. The final stat to mention here is that Havlin / Gosden runners have proved profitable over the 220 debut rides to the tune of 34p in the £ at Betfair SP.

 

Trainers and Courses for 2yo debutants

Data is a little limited here so I would not go headlong into backing every combo in the table. However, I still want to share the most impressive course stats for some trainers. The vast majority have produced a six year profit and all bar one have produced a strike rate of 20% or more. The one that did not was close to that mark (19.35%) and, due to a good sample size (62 runs), I thought it was worth including:

 

 

This table is a bit of a 2yo debut Trainer Track Stats, to use Matt's previous trainer-based report terminology. Personally, during this upcoming season, I will be taking note of any of these combinations that have secured a double figure number of wins – I will not back them blind, but I will look at the relevant runners in some detail in order to determine whether I would deem them to a potential bet or not. The Gosden / Yarmouth combo is one I will certainly look out for.

Before I finish, let me summarise some of the key stats this article has highlighted:

 

MAIN 2yo DEBUTANT PART 2 TAKEWAYS

  1. Charlie Appleby has by far the highest win percentage and he is consistent across all race distances. His 13 wins from 20 runners in 5f races is arguably the highlight despite the smaller sample size.
  2. In 5f races the stables of Archie Watson, Clive Cox and Charlie Johnston have the best strike rates of those with 50+ runners over the six-year period.
  3. Over 6f Charlie Appleby and the Crisford stable are the only ones to have secured strike rates in excess of 20%.
  4. The Johnston stable has had an excellent record in the month of June in 7f races.
  5. Over 1 mile+ Charlie Appleby, Ralph Beckett and the Gosden stable have the strongest looking stats.
  6. Charlie Appleby, Roger and Harry Charlton, Archie Watson, Michael Bell and Clive Cox are trainers who have secured good strike rates with 2yo debutants from the top three in the betting. In addition they have all secured individual profits.
  7. Saeed bin Suroor, Sir Michael Stoute, Charlie Hills and Andrew Balding have poor records with 2yo debut runners which start in the top three in the betting. All are famously patient trainers.
  8. Charlie Appleby does twice as well with juvenile debutants when either William Buick or James Doyle are on board when compared with all other jockeys.
  9. Archie Watson and Hollie Doyle, and the Gosden stable with Robert Havlin are positive trainer / jockey combos.
  10. There were 12 wins from 41 2yo debutants from the Gosden stable making their racecourse bow at Yarmouth. These runners have produced profits of over 92p in the £.

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I hope you have found the two articles on 2yo debutants useful. I certainly enjoyed uncovering these interesting angles. 2yo debutants will now take a back seat, editorially speaking, with my attention switching to 2yos on their second starts. That is next on the agenda for researching and next week I will be sharing my findings with Geegeez readers.

Until then...

- DR

Dear My Friend sparks Derby dream for Middleham Park Racing

Dear My Friend marked himself as a smart prospect by winning the talkSPORT Burradon Stakes, the opening event on All-Weather Championships Finals Day at Newcastle.

Trained by Charlie Johnston, the son of Pivotal won his first two outings at two before being highly tried in Pattern company in his final three starts of the campaign.

Placed efforts at Deauville and in Newmarket’s Zetland Stakes was enough to convince connections to add the colt to the Derby earlier this week and he justified that belief at Gosforth Park.

James Doyle was in no rush aboard the Middleham Park Racing-owned charge in the early stages, but came home with a flourish and his proven stamina saw him always holding Karl Burke’s runner-up Flight Plan inside the final furlong.

The winning rider said: “We got squashed at the start. It was a funny race, we dawdled and then one took off which opened the race up. We got sucked into the race nicely and I knew his stamina would come into play, he galloped out strong.

“You’d think he’d stay 10 furlongs fine but he’s quite a strong traveller so over 12 he would have to settle better, he was quite fresh today with it being his first run. He would need to relax a bit better but these Johnston horses do stay well.”

A 100-1 shot for Epsom prior to this Listed event, Paddy Power were suitably impressed with the performance and shortened Dear My Friend to 40-1 for the Classic on June 3.

Dear My Friend ridden by James Doyle (centre) wins the talkSPORT Burradon Stakes at Newcastle Racecourse
Dear My Friend ridden by James Doyle (centre) wins the talkSPORT Burradon Stakes at Newcastle Racecourse (Richard Sellers/PA)

He will now test his credentials for that assignment in a Derby trial, with Johnston nominating York’s Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes on May 18 as a next port of call.

“Fair play to Mike (Prince, of Middleham Park) as when I phoned him this week to say we were putting him in the Dante, he said let him have a think about the Derby and I’ll ring back. That was solely his idea,” said Johnston.

“Looking at that today, 10 furlongs looks perfect but 12 might be just too far. A lot went wrong today, he got flattened at the start, he was quite far back and had to make up a lot of ground through the middle of the race. I thought that might tell in the last 100 yards.

“Fair play to the horse, he knuckled down. The obvious thing would be to go to the Dante next but I’ll speak to Mike first.”

Prince, representing the owners, added: “He was always keen as a two-year-old but he had cover today. It was a messy race, they crawled and then sprinted but his stamina came into play. He’s got a lovely, long stride.

“We put him in the Dante and Derby this week and he’ll certainly go for a Derby trial and the plan is to go to Epsom, we think he’ll stay. I was worried he’d be too keen to stay but he showed today with cover he’s fine.

“We’ve never had a runner in the Derby so that would be a first for us, it would be a dream come true.

“We had a stellar season last year, our best ever, and we thought it might be tough to top that but we’ve started well.”

Subjectivist taking direct path to Ascot Gold Cup

Subjectivist will head straight to Royal Ascot as connections attempt to give the six-year-old the best possible chance of winning a second Gold Cup.

The son of Teofilo broke Stradivarius’ stranglehold on Ascot’s feature contest when storming to a five-length success in the Group One contest in 2021, but it was a long 618 days before he was seen on the track again having suffered a career-threatening injury.

He made his comeback in Saudi Arabia in February before moving on to Dubai last month in a bid to win a second Dubai Gold Cup and ran a pleasing race to finish third, beaten five lengths behind Broome.

Having come out of that race well, the six-time winner is enjoying a few easy weeks before being put through his paces again ahead of the Royal meeting, with trainer Charlie Johnston keen not to over-exert Dr Jim Walker’s fragile warrior away from the top staying contests.

“We’ve had a bit of debate about Sagaros and Yorkshire Cups and things, but the plan now for him, all being well and should we be able to get him there, is to go straight to Ascot,” said Johnston.

“With that in mind he’s just swimming and on the water walker at the moment and having an easy couple of weeks before we try to build him back up for the Gold Cup.

Joe Fanning riding Subjectivist celebrate winning the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 2021
Joe Fanning riding Subjectivist celebrate winning the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 2021 (Steven Paston/PA)

“We have a big, black cloud hanging over us every day now since his tendon injury and how long is a piece of string really, we don’t know how many bullets are left in the gun for us to fire and with that in mind we don’t really want to waste any in races like a Sagaro.

“He’s going to be campaigned in the three or four races that we really want to win and, touch wood, he has taken two races in a four-week window quite well.

“But once you’ve had a tendon injury, that is always something that is hanging over you to some degree and as a result we are only going to go into battle when it matters and the next time that will be, will be the Ascot Gold Cup.”

Dubai Mile could take in 2000 Guineas on the way to Epsom

Criterium de Saint-Cloud scorer Dubai Mile has been added to the list of Derby entries, with trainer Charlie Johnston revealing he will tune up for a potential tilt at the Epsom Classic in either the Qipco 2000 Guineas or York’s Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes.

Although beaten on debut as a juvenile, he won his next two starts in fine style before attempting to make all in the Royal Lodge over the Guineas track and trip, going down by half a length to Andrew Balding’s The Foxes.

That earned the son of Roaring Lion a shot at Group One glory in France and he thrived for the move up to 10 furlongs on that occasion, showing plenty of class and even more grit to hold off John and Thady Gosden’s Arrest by a head and highlight his Classic claims for the forthcoming campaign.

With connections opting to pay the £9,000 stake to add Dubai Mile to the race at the second entry stage, that campaign could be centred around a Derby bid as Johnston dreams of the colt becoming a standard-bearer for the yard during his first season as the sole licence holder at Kingsley Park.

“Any two-year-old that can win at Group One level leaves you dreaming over the winter about what they could achieve during their three-year-old campaign,” said Johnston.

“He’s obviously going to be a flagship horse for us this year and one we’re going to have realistic Classic ambitions with, so we’re very much looking forward to him.

Trainer Charlie Johnston has high hopes for Dubai Mile this season
Trainer Charlie Johnston has high hopes for Dubai Mile this season (Mike Egerton/PA)

“You need these horses to compete at the highest level to put you in people’s eyes and minds going forward and he’s a big flagship horse that we need and want a big year from – hopefully he can deliver.”

Despite Dubai Mile’s finest hour coming over 10 furlongs and holding an entry for the Dante on May 18, a return to the Rowley Mile and a crack at Newmarket’s opening Classic of the summer appears the preferred option of the colt’s owner Ahmad Al Shaikh.

“The Guineas is still on the table and Ahmad is quite keen for him to go there,” continued Johnston.

“For all the Dante is a significant race and the preeminent Derby trial, this horse has already won a Group One so his CV would be enhanced more by a placed effort in the Guineas than winning the Dante.

“He was only just touched off in the Royal Lodge over the Guineas course and distance and although I’m pretty certain he’s going to come into his own over middle-distances this year, I wouldn’t rule out his prep race being in the Guineas.

“They are the best two Derby trials and it will be one of the two races for him. Being a vanquished horse in the Guineas can often be the best Derby trial you can run.”