Tag Archive for: mark johnston

Attraction remains the last Classic angel of the north

It is 20 years ago since Attraction blazed a trail to 1000 Guineas glory at Newmarket – the last Classic winner trained in the north.

Trained by Mark Johnston and bred by her owner, the Duke of Roxburghe, out of his once-raced mare Flirtation and the sire Efisio, nobody could have predicted the heights she would go on to reach.

Especially when she began life as an early two-year-old at Nottingham in April, with perhaps the height of ambitions ending at Royal Ascot.

They would be achieved, via Thirsk and then the Hilary Needler at Beverley before she bolted up in the Queen Mary, winning by three lengths.

She only ran once more as a juvenile, when she was even more impressive in the Cherry Hinton, her first spin over six furlongs.

Kevin Darley with Attraction after the 1000 Guineas
Kevin Darley with Attraction after the 1000 Guineas (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Her season ended prematurely there and she was not sighted again until the Classic, via a racecourse gallop at Ripon which has almost gone down in folklore.

What made Attraction stand out from the rest – apart from her inherent ability – was her unusual action, with her legs seemingly heading off in all directions, but it certainly did not slow her down.

The man who rode her in all but the first three of her runs was Kevin Darley, who said: “I only rode her once that year before the Guineas and that was when she had her racecourse gallop at Ripon.

“When you rode her, she actually felt balanced, it just felt right, but you could obviously see one leg flicking out to the right and the other to the left.

“Looking at her, you wouldn’t have thought she’d want quick ground, but the one time she ran on soft in France, she couldn’t handle it at all, she was happy just feeling herself on a sound surface.”

Attraction (centre, green sleeves) made every yard of the running
Attraction (centre, green sleeves) made every yard of the running (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Sent off second favourite in the Guineas behind Sir Michael Stoute’s Fillies’ Mile winner Red Bloom, despite tackling a trip two furlongs further than she had attempted before, Darley was positive from the outset and never saw another rival.

“I think she caught a few by surprise in the Guineas because a lot of people thought she was all speed and that she would be vulnerable over a mile,” recalled the rider.

“Speed was her forte, there’s no doubt about that, but when she had to dig deep, she did – and that was credit to her, she never gave in really.

“When she won the Queen Mary, we weren’t thinking of her in terms of a Guineas horse, but after she won a Cherry Hinton by five lengths, we started to think maybe she could get a mile.

“Leading up to the Guineas, she’d had one or two niggly problems and when she went to Ripon, she wasn’t working with a superstar and to be fair, she didn’t work that brilliant, to be honest.

“But I think what had happened was, she was getting a bit complacent at home and that trip to Ripon set her alight. She went there with a hairy coat and didn’t look right at all but as soon as she did that gallop, the lights came on again.”

For the first half of the season against her own generation, she simply had no peers, adding an Irish Guineas and the Coronation Stakes, taking her unbeaten run to eight.

“After Newmarket, Mark sent her over for the Irish Guineas, when she was good again in beating Alexander Goldrun, who turned out very good, and then she won the Coronation,” Darley went on.

“That really suited her there (Ascot), there were concerns, as it was her first time round a bend, but it actually helped her, as she was able to fill herself up and give herself a breather – and she was able to go again. She was looking unbeatable at that point.

“She found it tougher against the older fillies in the second half of the season and finished second to Soviet Song twice either side of her run in France, but all credit to her that she ended the year with a win in the Sun Chariot.”

Kept in training at four, am ambitious trip to Hong Kong was not rewarded and she looked a fraction off her former self when beaten in the Hungerford at Newbury, so it was all credit to her again when her career ended with victory in the Matron Stakes in Ireland.

Darley said: “The year after, she ran disappointing in Hong Kong, it was probably the wrong thing to do sending her there, in hindsight.

“After that, she had her niggles but it was very nice she was able to go out with a win in Ireland, it showed what a true equine athlete she was, all she wanted to do was race and win and please you.

“She hasn’t been too bad as a broodmare either, Elarqam was a nice horse for Mark.

“She’s bang up there with the best I rode. I’ve always said ability-wise, the best I rode was High Chaparral, as he went on and became a dual Derby winner and won two Breeders’ Cup Turfs.

“She was the best I was associated with all the way through though – and without a doubt, she was the best filly I ever rode.

“I just can’t believe it is 20 years ago!”

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Subjectivist to stand at Alne Park Stud

Gold Cup hero Subjectivist will stand at the Skelton family’s Alne Park Stud next year.

The six-year-old was a brilliant winner of the Royal Ascot showpiece in 2021, adding to his previous big-race victories in the Prix Royal-Oak and Dubai Gold Cup.

A career-threatening tendon injury sidelined Subjectivist for the best part of two years following his Gold Cup heroics, but he did finish an honourable third in his bid for a second victory in the two-and-a-half-mile contest this summer before being retired.

He will now be readied for a stallion career in Warwickshire in 2024 with a stud fee of £4,000.

Alne Park Stud director Grace Skelton, wife of leading National Hunt trainer Dan, said: “The addition of Subjectivist to our stallion roster is a huge leap forward for Alne Park Stud. To stand a stallion of this calibre is an immense honour.

“He will stand at an introductory fee of £4,000. We firmly believe that keeping this exceptional stallion in the UK is a real boost to British breeders and we hope that he will see plenty of support in his debut season.”

Subjectivist was initially trained by Mark Johnston, before his son Charlie took over the licence, and he added: “I always say that, when placing horses, the opposition trumps all other factors. But, very rarely, you come across a horse where the opposition isn’t a factor at all. Subjectivist was such a horse.

“In 2021, I truly believed that there wasn’t a horse in the world that could beat him at two miles or more, in any ground.

“There is less and less need for British NH (National Hunt) breeders to travel to Ireland and, with the incentives on offer in the UK, perhaps the Irish breeders will be thinking of coming over here!”

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Holland recollects fan favourite Trigger firing home in Goodwood Cup

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Double Trigger’s third Goodwood Cup win – and the man on board that afternoon, Darryll Holland, remembers it as one of his favourites in the saddle.

Few horses in the modern era had a following as large as Mark Johnston’s chestnut, who built up an amazing record.

From winning on his debut at Redcar by 10 lengths, he went on to win the Sagaro Stakes twice, the Henry II Stakes twice, the Doncaster Cup three times and the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

By the time Holland’s association with him began, Trigger’s star was on the wane. Well beaten in the Sagaro and Henry II Stakes when going for a third win in both, he was sent off an unconsidered 25-1 shot for the 1998 Gold Cup.

Holland was riding freelance at the time and picking up a lot of rides for Johnston as something of second string, with Jason Weaver required elsewhere. Weaver himself had enjoyed some great days on Double Trigger, but later in his career connections felt a change of jockey now and again just perked him up.

Michael Roberts took over from Weaver to win Trigger his second Goodwood Cup in 1997, but when it appeared the now seven-year-old had grown tired of him, up stepped Holland.

It was so famously nearly the perfect start for the combination too, beaten just a neck by Kayf Tara in the Gold Cup before their popular Goodwood success.

“Teaming up with Double Trigger was just unreal because he’d lost his way a bit,” said Holland.

“Jason Weaver had been brilliant on him, but I’d just started to ride for Mark and everything I was getting on at the time seemed to win. Jason was going to the bigger meetings where it was harder to win and I was picking up the spares and having loads of winners.

“Mark and Ron Huggins (owner) decided Trigger needed a change of hands, so I got on him in the Gold Cup when Frankie (Dettori) collared me right on the line, but he ran a great race.

Kayf Tara got up late to deny Darryll Holland a dream first ride on Double Trigger at Ascot
Kayf Tara got up late to deny Darryll Holland a dream first ride on Double Trigger at Ascot (Michael Stephens/PA)

“At Goodwood he was going for his third win in the race. I didn’t normally hear the crowd in a race, but that day I did. It was unbelievable and the scenes coming back in – I’ll never forget that.

“There were a few reasons he was so popular – like Stradivarius he was flashy with his big white face and white socks, but he had this never-say-die attitude where he could get headed but come back and win. The crowds love that.

“We went on to win his third Doncaster Cup after, he was just unbelievable. At Donny it was never in doubt, I felt, but at Goodwood we got passed and I ended up in about sixth place and I was thinking we had a mountain to climb, but he kept persevering. We were a good combination that day.

“Looking back, that was one of those races that I’ll never ever forget.”

Double Trigger even had a train named in his honour, unveiled by the late John McCririck
Double Trigger even had a train named in his honour, unveiled by the late John McCririck (Michael Stephens/PA)

The most famous horses in history have all had something different about them, and Trigger certainly fell into that category.

“He was a character all right. When you get on a horse like him, on a big stage, it instils something in you. It gives you that extra push. Horses like him don’t come along often, I knew he was on for his third Goodwood Cup and that was a huge achievement,” said Holland, now making his name in the training ranks.

“I thought he could have had one more year given the way his last three races had gone with me, but he went off to stud.”

Five years later Holland was to partner another popular old character to a famous Goodwood victory, The Tatling in the King George Stakes.

Trained by the veteran Milton Bradley, who sadly died earlier this year, The Tatling was just beginning to make a name for himself as a sprinter and had won a Listed race at Sandown earlier in the month.

He was already with his third trainer though, and it is unusual for a six-year-old to find as much improvement as he did under Bradley.

However, his breakthrough Group success should never really have happened. Bradley wanted to run him in the Stewards’ Cup, the big handicap, but due to an administrative error he was forced into the then Group Three, over a furlong shorter.

“What I remember about that race was that I wore a jockey cam, so the footage of the race was shown on TV and it was surreal,” said Holland.

“I was riding him right out the back and I just weaved through horses, passing nearly the whole field, so everyone got the chance to see what it was like for a jockey.

“That was one of his most impressive victories with me as they went really quick. He loved Goodwood as he liked passing horses and they went very quick that day. Once he passed one, he passed the whole field.

“That win gave him a big confidence boost as he was second in the Nunthorpe next time. He was a bit of a character, you had to get on him on the track, you’d have to give him his head as if you took a hold he’d fly-leap down to the start.

“You had to give him a long rein and he’d carry his head on the floor – it was one of them, you were in the unknown for the first 200 yards and then he’d just hack down.

“We went on to win the King’s Stand the next year, 2004, yet I remember Hayley Turner winning on him years later (2011). Milton tried to retire him once, but he just wasn’t happy in a field so he had to bring him back. He even won two races at 14. Incredible.”

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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.”

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Subjectivist on retrieval mission in Dubai Gold Cup

Mark Johnston has placed Subjectivist among the best three horses he ever trained but confesses it is a “wing and a prayer job” as to whether he will ever return to his very best.

The 2021 Ascot Gold Cup winner will line up in Saturday’s Dubai Gold Cup, a race he won prior to his career highlight, but to repeat that success he will need to step up markedly on what he achieved in Saudi Arabia.

Making his first start for 618 days following a tendon injury, Subjectivist was understandably keen early on, giving himself no chance, and Johnston, who handed over the licence to his son Charlie recently, admits that following such a setback it may be difficult for him to return to his best.

He said: “He’s just gone round the training track once this morning with Joe Fanning on him. Since he’s come back from his injury he’s been a bit keen, as you may have seen at Saudi.

“He was too keen for his own good there, as he is on the gallops at home, so the main thing for us is to try and get him relaxed and settled. I don’t think we’ll work him on the grass at all as Charlie said he got very wound up in Saudi by being on the track every morning.

“It’s brilliant to have him back but it’s a wing and a prayer job. When you have a tendon injury like he did, you’re always thinking ‘when does the end come?’ – it will come at some point.

“As he was too keen on the night in Saudi and the event and build up proved to be a bit much for him, Charlie was keen to go to the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot and then the Gold Cup. We debated about it with John, our senior vet, and he said just to see really, who knows whether he’ll still be going come Ascot Gold Cup time so we thought we’d come here. The money is fantastic and makes a huge difference.”

Saturday’s contest is a strong one but rather than worry about the opposition, Johnston feels that Subjectivist will take all the beating if he can get back to the form he showed two seasons ago.

He went on: “It’s a very good race on Saturday, but there’s been no better staying races than the Ascot Gold Cup he won two years ago and it’s probably no better than the Gold Cup he won here. It’s down to whether he’s able to come back and perform as he used to.

“I put him in the category of our best three ever, because with the other two horses I never looked at the opposition. Those two horses were Shamardal and Attraction and it’s the same with this horse, we don’t look at the opposition.

“We look at whether he can run to his best and if he does that he’ll be tough to beat. We firmly believed that in 2021 he was the best stayer in the world and it’s just going to be whether he can get back to that.”

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Business as usual – Charlie Johnston off the mark as he aims high in first season

Charlie Johnston has ambitious plans for a double century in 2023 after saddling his first winner in his own name at Kempton.

Following a year with a joint-licence alongside his record-breaking father Mark, it was confirmed last week that Charlie would hold the licence outright from the new year.

And while Johnston jnr insists it is very much business as usual at his Middleham base, he admits it was a relief to see Asdaa get the job done as only his second runner on Wednesday.

Mark and Charlie Johnston at Goodwood
Mark and Charlie Johnston at Goodwood (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“As we’ve said all along, we’re not treating it as a huge change, but at the same time there was always going to be more eyes on those early runners than there would be ordinarily at this time of year, so it was good to get off the mark at just the second time of asking,” he said.

“With the change will come a greater scrutiny of results for the season ahead, so in that sense there is a bit of added pressure.

“Any dip in form or standards and people will attribute that to the change in control.”

Mark Johnston is the most successful trainer in the history of British racing in terms of numbers, having gone through the 5,000-winner barrier in the summer.

He also became the first trainer to saddle 200 winners in a calendar year in 2009, a feat a repeated on a further nine occasions, with his tally of 249 victories in 2019 his best.

With a joint-licence the Johnstons enjoyed 176 winners in Britain last year, as well as three on foreign soil, and Charlie is keen to ensure there is no slipping of standards.

He added: “As I jokingly said yesterday, one down, 4,999 to go – at least he hasn’t set the the bar too high!

“We’ll be setting out to better last year if at all possible and we’ve got one on the board. There’s a few to go still, though.

“As people probably know, we like to set targets. We set targets for each of our individual yard managers and then a target overall for the yard as a whole.

“It’s ambitious to beat the 179 winners from last year, but we’ll be targeting 200 winners again this year. That is the standard that we like to set ourselves and that’s what we’ll be aiming towards.

“We’re not all doing vastly different roles this week to what we were last week. A lot of the day-to-day management of things here at Kingsley Park in terms of what the horses are doing and what horses are galloping and such like, I’ve been planning the majority of that for a few years now, so in that sense no one’s role has really changed.

“No one is taking any feet off the pedal, that’s for sure – we’re all still full gas to achieve as much as we can in 2023.”

As far as Asdaa is concerned, there will be no chance to bask in the glory of becoming Charlie Johnston’s first winner, having been declared to run again at Kempton on Saturday.

Charlie Johnston has a lot to live up to
Charlie Johnston has a lot to live up to (Mike Egerton/PA)

Having also struck gold Newcastle on December 28, the seven-year-old will be bidding to complete a hat-trick in the space of 10 days, while Johnston also has high hopes for Star Mood on the same Kempton card.

He said: “Asdaa goes again over the same course and distance on Saturday. I think he’s effectively running off 71, but it will be his last chance to run in a 0-65 handicap so it seemed too good an opportunity to pass by when he’s obviously in very good fettle in himself.

“It will be a big ask for three wins in 10 days, but you’ve got to strike while the iron’s hot.

“Star Mood made a lovely debut at Kempton a few weeks ago and hopefully he’ll be able to go one better on Saturday.”

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Meeting Charlie Johnston

The most predictable thing about Mark Johnston is his unpredictability, writes Tony Stafford. When most Scotsmen would be thinking of First Footing on New Year’s Eve, his mind was set on Last Running as he let it be known publicly that his entries in conjunction with son Charlie at Wolverhampton on that Friday evening would be his last.

That left Charlie Johnston, 32, as the sole licence holder at Middleham’s Kingsley House Stables. That long-standing name nowadays more importantly incorporates the magnificent Kingsley Park with its independent gallops less than a mile from the High Street.

Middleham has a wide range of excellent existing work facilities available to the other trainers in the area, which Johnston used for the longest part of his 34 years in the town. But with the stable size swelling beyond 200 horses, it became clear there was a need to ensure continuity of exercise every day. As anyone who knows Newmarket will tell you, delays of getting onto the gallops if stuck in behind a big string can be frustrating for trainers and cause difficulties for horses with the potential for over-excitement.

Thus Kingsley Park was designed, and is organised in eight self-contained stable blocks, all with access to the most up-to-date swimming pools, water treadmills, and with the veterinary and farriery expertise needed to keep the massive show on the road. They are all within yards from stepping on to the various gallops, be they grass or artificial. Each yard has its own manager, reporting directly to the management team and several assistant trainers, the best-known being the admirable Jack Bennett.

Since qualifying as a vet, Charlie has been increasingly involved in the family business and he, his father, and mum Deirdre form the Board of Directors. It was at their quarterly Board Meeting on December 1st that the suggestion of a more immediate change-over was first mooted. Let Charlie explain.

“When we first applied to the BHA for the joint-licence, which began on January 1st last year, we all had it in our minds that it would probably be something which would continue for four or five years as a partnership. It quickly came down to more like two years as the transition had gone smoothly from the outset.

“Then at the last Board Meeting, Dad said: “What about January 1st?” We looked at each other and everyone seemed to like the idea. It had the obvious benefit of making for a tidy transition.”

The first step was to check with the BHA that it could be arranged in time. Then the owners had to be consulted. Charlie said: “As of January 3rd, none of the owners has disagreed with the new arrangement. Of course, Dad will be here every day as usual and all the planning processes that have been in place for decades to decide what and where we run will continue unchanged.

“Mum will, as ever, be riding out her two lots on racehorses every morning, then go across to look after her eventers. She will also continue travelling the country and the world watching eventers she has with other people. The only thing really that will change in the short term is that, when they go on holiday, the phone won’t be ringing non-stop.”

After initially training in Lincolnshire, Mark and Deirdre Johnston moved to Middleham in 1988 buying Kingsley House which, at one time a decade or so earlier, had a less reputable incumbent in Ken ("Window") Payne, the one-time selling-plate king who I knew originally in the days when he trained in the New Forest.

One of his most famous episodes at that time was when he saddled two horses in a four-runner seller, putting his own apprentice John Curant on the “trier” and Lester Piggott on the wrong one. They were the right one (for Ken) and the wrong one (for the betting public) as, Big Jake I seem to remember, strolled home from Mr Bojangles and the Long Fellow.

It was while at Middleham that Payne took charge of a syndicate horse I organised with fellow Daily Telegraph journalists and habituees of Coral’s betting shop in Fleet Street. These included, bizarrely, two punting band leaders in Mike Allen and Trevor Halling – father of boxing commentator, Nick Halling.

Halling senior incidentally got such a kick from that connection that he made a new career in racing journalism in the south-east and was a long-standing regular at Lingfield and all the Sussex tracks. My friend Keith Walton, who is a former boxer who trains professionals, also coaches several Northern jockeys in the skills of the noble art. Keith, a regular on the racecourse in the summer, has a top prospect in David Crawford, known locally as the Black Panther. He promises that when Crawford next appears on a televised bill, he will ask Nick Halling about his father’s health.

Returning to Payne, a horse called Princehood started for us with the remarkable veteran Louie Dingwall who trained on the beach at Sandbanks, in Dorset, where her shack, with its own petrol pump, would represent at least £1 million worth of real estate nowadays – ask Harry Redknapp! One day, aged 86, and with limited vision, she drove her horsebox all the way to the south of France and won the Grand Prix des Alpes-Maritime and £13 grand with Treason Trial, her own horse.

Princehood, a 300gns auction buy, did nothing while in Dorset, but, sent north, won a BBC televised sprint on a Saturday at Lanark just before it closed in October 1977. In typical Payne fashion, he had told us to back him two days earlier in a modest race at Doncaster where he ran a stinker. Nobody had the foresight to take the 14/1 as we watched with dismay during our work break in the King and Keys pub in Fleet Street that Saturday.

Payne’s time at Middleham had various controversies, one of which was the suggestion that as more owners were attracted to the stable, it outgrew its capacity and there were instances of multiple occupation of boxes, fine with a mare and foal, but less advisable with hard-trained racehorses. Also, his accounting was reputedly off course, with it often taking several more than four quarters in a horse to complete the ownership whole! After his wife had gone off with the singer Gilbert O’Sullivan, Payne reputedly went to live in America with his male hairdresser!

The Johnston days happily have been much more conventional. From the outset in 1988 and by October 2017, in saddling Dominating to win at Pontefract, Mark became only the third trainer to saddle 4,000 winners in the UK. Less than a year later, Poet’s Society (Frankie Dettori) won at York at 20/1 to make it a record 4,194 wins and then, in August last year, Johnston crossed the unconscionable milestone of 5,000 victories when Dubai Mile won at Kempton.

Thus, with just the 5,000 (and a few) to aim at, Charlie set off with a 33-1 fourth at Lingfield on Monday and has runners all week from today (Wednesday). Everyone will be wishing this personable young man all the best.

One thing that hasn’t yet taken much of his attention is the use of the family plane, which Mark flies all over Europe and which Charlie concedes is a massive help in the organisation of their time.

“No, flying the plane is probably something that might happen eventually. There is no doubt that it has been a great advantage to be able to supervise everything on the gallops for two-thirds of the morning and still be down at Ascot or Newmarket in time for the first race at 2 o’clock.

“I’m not sure that as well as handing over the licence, Dad will be too excited about being an unpaid pilot for me; but flying has helped keep us in touch with everything, and it would be a shame if it were no longer available to us” he said. It would also make that lovely grass runway just behind the barns a severe waste.

Mark Johnston is relatively young at 63, compared with other senior trainers like Sir Michael Stoute and John Gosden, the latter now named on a joint-licence with son Thady. But, as Charlie says, “He didn’t want to go on indefinitely. He and Mum have built all this up from nothing, and he never wanted it to just fritter away. I’ve no intention of that ever happening!”

Don’t worry   - it won’t!

- TS

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Trainers and Run Style: Part 3

This is the third article in a series in which I have been looking at run style bias in relation to trainers, writes Dave Renham. In this piece, I'll drill down looking specifically at trainer data from two-year-old (2yo) races. As with the previous articles (read them here and here) I have looked at 8 years' worth of data (1/1/14 to 31/12/21) and included both turf and all weather racing in the UK.

The focus is all race types (handicaps and non-handicaps) and all distances. I have not used a 'field size' restriction this time as around 95% of 2yo races had six or more (my usual cut off) runners anyway. I have explained the phrase 'run style' in the first two articles of the series but for new readers here is a very quick recap.

Run style is concerned with the position a horse takes up early on, usually within the first two furlongs of the race. Here on geegeez.co.uk run style is split into four categories as follows:

Led (4) – essentially those runners that get to the lead early
Prominent (3) – horses that track these early leader(s)
Mid Division (2) – horses that settle mid pack in the early stages
Held Up (1) – horses who begin their race near, or at the back of the field

The number in brackets is the run style score that is assigned to each section.

Run style is often linked with the word 'pace' because the early pace shown by horses in a race determines their early position. Hence, the words 'run style' and 'pace' are often used essentially meaning the same thing, though some commentators feel 'pace' is more associated with speed than racing position: this is why we differentiate. Each Geegeez racecard has the last four run style/pace figures for each runner within a table on the 'Pace' tab. That looks like this:


2yo horses may often have fewer data as some would not have run four times (indeed Clear Day in the example above has run only three times). This, hopefully, is where the trainer run style data shared below will prove its worth.

To help with this piece I have primarily used the Geegeez Query Tool – a tool that is available, and potentially game-changing, for all Gold subscribers. I then used my Excel knowledge to help crunch and interpret the data gathered.

Which trainers' two-year-olds led early most often?

To begin with, let us look at which trainers saw their 2yos take the early lead the most (in percentage terms). I have included trainers who have had at least 200 such runners over this 8-year period:



To offer some sort of comparison, the average percentage of all 2yo's that lead early stands at 14.6%. The trainers with the highest percentages are certainly worthy of further analysis.

(Charlie &) Mark Johnston

It is no surprise for regular readers to see Mark Johnston at the top of the pile, as we've previously discovered his modus operandi is typically to send horses forward. Nevertheless, it is an incredible statistic that more than 40% of his 2yos have led early. Mark is training with his son, Charlie, from the current season so it will be interesting to see if anything changes. I doubt it, but it is a good idea to keep an eye on such things. [Editor's note: at time of writing, the father/son Johnston team have led with 25 of 49 two-year-old runners, 51%, so little has changed at this stage]

Let's look at the Johnston stable breakdown in terms of percentage distribution across all four run styles:



Almost four out of every five of their 2yos either race prominently early or lead. To show how this bucks the general trend, compare Johnston’s stats to the overall 2yo run style stats for all trainers:



The real differences lie either end in the ‘led’ and ‘held up’ sections. This clearly illustrates how differently Johnston thinks about run style. If we look at individual years, we can see the percentage of his runners that lead has been consistent throughout:



The range, 36.1% to 46%, shows his methods have changed little over time.

In terms of race distance, we can see that in general it does not matter too much in terms of how likely a Johnston 2yo will lead. The breakdown is as follows:



It is only when we get to races beyond a mile that we see the percentage drop; even then, it is still very high when compared to other trainers.

The following table, sourced from the Pace Score section on the Query Tool, shows perhaps why the Johnston stable tend not to hold their 2yo (or indeed any age) runners up:



Hold up horses have been successful for the Johnston team just 5.5% of the time, with losses equating to just under 67 pence in every £1. That's not good for punters and, more materially from a training perspective, not good for owners. Meanwhile, early leaders won 26% of the time (incredible for owners) and would have made a profit if we had successfully decided upon which of his 2yos would actually lead (awesome for clairvoyant punters).

Archie Watson

Archie Watson is second in the standings when it comes to percentage of 2yos that took the early lead during the sample period. The most striking stats I found were when I looked at his record with 2yos that started favourite or second favourite (see below):



The differences are quite mind blowing. When we combine his 2yo's sent off in the top pair in the betting and that were held up or raced mid-division early, they produced just six winners between them from 62 runners; this equates to less than 1 in 10 winning. Watson's 2yos which led early and were top two in the betting won on average more than four times as often, at a 43% clip.

Which trainers' two-year-olds led early least often?

As we have seen earlier in this series, not all trainers are keen for their runners to take an early lead. Below is a list of the trainers with the lowest percentages in terms of horses that led early:



The eye is immediately drawn to James Fanshawe: just 1 of his 203 2yos have led early. It should be noted that Fanshawe has a relatively small crop of 2yos each year but, even so, this is remarkable. It is also worth noting that if a 2yo Fanshawe runner has raced prominently they have won 18% of the their races; compare this to the 4% win strike rate for his held up 2yos.

Some other well-known trainers appear in this table: the likes of Marcus Tregoning, Roger Varian and Roger (joined now by son Harry) Charlton to name but three. The Charlton data is worth expanding upon. Firstly let me breakdown his 2yo runners in terms of percentage of run style across all four run styles, as we saw earlier for Johnston:



A huge chunk of his 2yos tend to be held up, and nearly 65% of them have not been pushed up with or close to the pace early. Now look at the strike rates for each run style category:



It is the pattern we should all expect by now, but it begs the question why does Charlton hold up 43.8% of his 2yos when only 8.5% of them go on to win? Likewise why does he send just 8.4% of his 2yos out into an early lead when a huge 32.7% of them win? In general, it is likely to be that the Charlton runners may be incapable of getting to the front early, or that they are raced with at least one eye on the future; but the pattern is clear. Perhaps further schooling at the starting stalls might be beneficial.

Trainer run style averages

In order to give us a more complete picture, I have produced trainer run style averages, in exactly the same way that I did in the first article. To recap, I simply add up the Geegeez pace points for a particular trainer's two-year-olds and divide the total by the number of runners. The higher the average the more prominent the trainer’s horse tends to race. I have looked at overall pace averages rather than breaking down by handicap v non-handicap figures. The reason for this is that 79% of all 2yo races are non-handicaps. Also it saves some space!

For the record, the trainer run style average for all 2yos is 2.29. Have a look for your favourites below.



I have mentioned before that how you deploy these averages is personal choice. In 2yo races, especially when the horses have not run many times before, I believe the data can prove very useful. Let me give an example of a 2yo race run in April of this year.



As can be seen from the Geegeez PACE tab, only three of the horses had previously run and only once each. If we look at the trainer run style averages it looks likely that the Johnston runner will lead:



As the result below shows below, the Johnston runner Beautiful Eyes did lead, and also went onto win:



It is interesting to note that Karl Burke had the second highest number in the run style average table for this race, and his horse raced prominently and came second. Of course, the run style of all 2yo horses are not always going to correlate with the trainer averages. However, these averages can help us build up the most likely scenario of how the early stages of a race are going to be run even when horses have never raced before.

Here is a second example of a race from earlier this year, again it occurred in April:



Once again there was very limited run style/pace data from previous races to help form a picture of how the race may pan out in the early stages. The trainer run style averages for this contest were as follows:



Archie Watson comfortably had the highest run style average at 2.98, with David Evans earning the second highest. As it turns out the runners from these two trainers disputed the early lead and finished 1st and 2nd.



As I mentioned earlier this ‘prediction’ method won’t always work, but it is a useful starting point, particularly in 2yo races (or other race types where there is little no previous form).

Run style and market rank

To finish with I want to combine market rank with run style for the 2yo data from 2014 to 2021. The following graph looks at the percentage of runners that took the early lead in relation to their market rank:



What is clear from this strong correlation is that either market factors influence the running style of certain horses, or the running style of certain horses influences the market. Favourites led early in nearly 27% of all 2yo races in the eight year study period, almost double the average figure for early leaders of 14.6%. Horses occupying the next two places in the betting led in just over 20% of races but, as can be seen, once we get to horses outside of the top six in the betting, getting to the early lead was not easy for this group (less than 8% of them managed it).

This should come as no surprise. Less fancied horses in general are going to be slower than fancied horses, certainly over the full race distance; so it makes sense that this scenario is quite likely to occur early in the race as well as at the finish line. Of course, there will be occasions when an outsider is ahead of the favourite in the first furlong because trainer habits will have an effect or because the market has simply miscalculated the ability of a horse. Sometimes those horses will remain in front at the end of a race: shocks happen! But those are the exceptions.

Combining trainer run style data with market rank looks a potent combination. All Geegeez Gold users have the opportunity to dig even deeper than I have by looking at individual trainer run style statistics combined with market rank inside the Query Tool. To give you a taster, here are the top ten trainers in terms of percentage of runners which led early when sent off favourite (to qualify - 30 favourites minimum):



So Robert Cowell and (Charlie &) Mark Johnston favourites led more than half the time: that could be useful to know!

That's all for this episode. Please leave any comments, questions or thoughts below.

- DR

p.s. the next instalment of this series contains some of my most detailed research ever - stay tuned!

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Trainers and Run Style: Part 1

In this article I will be looking from a different angle at run style bias, which regular readers will know is an area of research in which I have a deep interest, writes Dave Renham. As I have discussed in previous articles on the subject, knowing how a race is likely to play out in terms of a potential running style angle is useful for us as punters. It might point us in the direction of a value bet or, just as importantly, help us swerve a losing bet that we would have otherwise backed had we not realised there was a negative in terms of run style.

I have written several run style articles to date on Geegeez covering numerous angles, but as yet I have not looked at trainers in any depth. This article, then, will start to address that omission as I will look at some general stats for trainer regarding the run styles of their horses.

The reason I have decided to look at trainer data is that a good proportion of handlers will tell their jockeys how they would like them to position their horses early in the race as part of their general instructions; hence past trainer run style data could be informative.

I have looked at eight calendar years' worth of data (2014 to 2021) including both turf and all weather racing in the UK. As a starting point I have looked at all races (handicaps and non handicaps) with six or more runners (all distances).

Before delving into the nitty gritty, for new readers especially, allow me to explain what is meant by run style. Essentially, run style is the position a horse takes up early on in the race, normally within the first furlong, which often defines its running preference. geegeez.co.uk has created some powerful resources to look at run style in the Tools tab. Specifically, either the Pace Analyser or the Query Tool can be used to do this type of research. Running style is often linked with pace because the early pace shown by horses in a race determines their early position. Thus, for many, the words run style and pace are synonymous.

The stats I am using for this piece are based on the site’s pace / run style data. These data on Geegeez are split into four sections – Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets is the run style score assigned to each section. These are really helpful as you can drill down into them to help build a picture of how important run style can be.

Below is a basic breakdown of which type of horse fits which type of run style profile:

Led – horses that lead early, horses that dispute the early lead. I refer to the early leader as the front runner;

Prominent – horses that lie up close to the pace just behind the leader(s);

Mid Division – horses that race mid pack or just behind the mid-point;

Held Up – horses that are held up at, or near the back of the field.


Which trainers' horses lead early the most?

As a starting point let us see which trainers saw their horses take the early lead the most (in % terms). I have included trainers who have had at least 200 runners over this 8-year period:



As a useful comparison, the average percentage of all horses that lead, or share the lead, early is around 13.2%. The trainers with the highest percentages are leading up to and more than twice as frequently as average and, as we've previously established, an early lead is a general advantage; so these men and women are definitely worthy of further investigation. Let's consider some of them.


Eric Alston

Eric Alston trains a smallish string near Preston, Lancashire. His breakdown in terms of percentage of run style across all four run styles looks like this:



We can see Alston is a big fan of horses running close to or up with the pace – over 70% of all his runners have either led or raced prominently. To show how unusual this is let us review Alston’s figures against the overall numbers for all trainers:



There is a clear disparity here, with only 20.3% of Alston's runners having been held up, compared with 36.6% for trainers generally.

Being handily placed is all well and good, but only if horses are capable of winning from there. Alston’s front runners have done well when fancied, generally if they have been in the top six in the betting. We might expect fancied runners to fare best, of course, as a general rule of thumb. Below is a breakdown of Alston's front running performance by odds rank:



As can be seen from the table above, just two wins from 96 runners were when his front runners have been ranked 7th or higher in the betting market.

The final Alston stat I wish to share in this article is his record with front runners in 5f races. He has an extremely good record as you can see:



More than one in four of Eric's five furlong front runners have won which is a very positive situation. Of course, we know that we cannot easily predict front runners pre-race but we also know that this trainer's horses typically run from the front - and, further, we have the excellent Geegeez Gold pace maps to show how much contention there might be for the early lead - so it's perfectly possible to find likely front runners most of the time. Racing, and betting on it, is an inexact science, as we all know.


Charlie & Mark Johnston

Mark Johnston now shares the licence with his son Charlie, a partnership which started on Jan 1st 2022. So, when using Geegeez’s Query Tool for races before 2022, you need to remember to include M Johnston. Firstly, in relation to this powerhouse yard, let's take a look at the breakdown in terms of percentage of runners across all four run styles:



There's a very similar profile to our first trainer, but with a slightly higher combined percentage for front runners and prominent racers as a single group. No fewer than 73% of all Johnston runners showed one of those two run styles in 6+ runner races over an eight year period! The following table, taken from the Pace Score section on the Query Tool, shows perhaps why the Johnston stable tend not to hold their runners up:



Hold up horses have been successful for the Johnston team just 6% of the time, with losses equating to a huge 60p in the £1. Returns drop steadily from top to bottom as you can see.

Below is a breakdown of front runner performance by track for the Johnstons. As can be seen, there is a big difference when we compare the courses at the top of the table with those at the bottom:



No surprises to see Ascot and Newcastle low down, with neither course particularly suiting front runners. Thirsk at the bottom is a surprise, however, although only 30 runners is a smallish sample and hence the figures may be skewed a little. There are some very strong figures at the top of the table: if a potential Johnston front runner appears at any of Beverley, Southwell, Brighton, Catterick and Carlisle we need to take note! [N.B. Southwell performance was based on the previous fibresand surface, so a degree of caution is advised on the new tapeta layout for now]


Tom Dascombe

A quarter of Tom Dascombe’s runners took the early lead in the study period and the first table to share illustrates the difference in success for these early leaders by gender:



In general male horses slightly outperform female ones when it comes to front running stats but the difference is marginal. However, this is a significant difference, which is hard to explain without knowing whether there are any idiosyncrasies when it comes to training fillies. The prices of the male runners were a bit shorter on average, but not enough to make such a big difference to the bottom line. It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues in the coming years, especially with Dascombe having relocated from his Cheshire yard and essentially restarted in Lambourn.

Looking at Dascombe front runners broken down by age we see something interesting when examining their strike rates:



2yos have the best strike rate by some margin. Considering how inexperienced 2yos are this is an impressive performance. When we analyse what would have happened if we had backed all Dascombe front runners, the 2yos would have produced the best returns across the age groups:



Find a Dascombe 2yo that will take the early lead and the stats are nicely in our favour, such runners having returned just over 38p in the £.

Before moving on, it is also worth noting that Dascombe’s front runners across all age groups have performed exceptionally well in sprints with a 23.2% win SR% for races from 5f to 6f; for 7f or further the win percentage diminishes to 14.8%. That's still pretty good considering the shorter the distance the easier it is to lead from pillar to post.


Which trainers' horses lead early the least?

Not all trainers are keen for their runners to take an early lead. Below is a list of the trainers with the lowest percentages in terms of horses that led early in UK flat races of six or more runners between 2014 and 2021:



If you are looking for a front runner, it is unlikely to come from any of these stables.


Trainer Run Style Averages

In order to give us a more complete picture, I have produced some trainer pace / run style averages, using exactly the same methodology that I have previously created course and jockey pace / run style averages in the past. I simply add up the Geegeez pace points for a particular trainer and divide it by the number of runners. The higher the average the more prominent the trainer’s horses tend to race. I have also not only given each trainer an overall pace average, but separate non-handicap and handicap averages, too. To qualify for the list, trainers needed to have had saddled at least at least 100 horses in non-handicaps and 150 in handicaps. As a baseline figure, it is worth knowing that the average pace / run style average for all trainers stands at 2.23.

Most trainers have similar figures but a few - such as Shaun Harris, Sir Mark Prescott, Ed De Giles, Mark Walford, Neil Mulholland, and Christine Dunnett - demonstrate quite a difference between the two. Go figure! 😉 The right hand column shows the difference in average run style score between non-handicap and handicap runners. A negative score implies trainers whose horses that are campaigned more forwardly in handicap races than non-handicaps (say, while working towards an opening rating, for example)...

The list below is extensive!



How, or indeed if, one uses the information in this article to aid personal betting is, naturally, down to the individual; for me, as someone who is often looking to predict the front runner in a race, this trainer run style data is extremely informative. Previous run style articles have noted that huge profits could be made at certain distances if you could consistently predict the horse that is going to take the early lead. Adding trainer data to other factors such as the recent run style profile of each horse, a longer term horse run style profile, the draw and the jockey will all assist in building up the best pace and positioning profile of a race that we can.

In the next article in this series I will delve deeper into trainer run style data. Until then, thanks for reading.

- DR

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Stat of the Day, 15th June 2020

Saturday's pick was...

1.15 Newbury : Singing Sheriff @ 5/1 BOG 6th at 3/1 (Awkwardly and lost ground start, held up in last pair, headway on far rail over 2f out, ridden and hung left 2f out, weakened final furlong)

Monday's pick runs in the...

3.25 Pontefract :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Currently, I'll identify and share the selection between 8.00am and 8.30am and I then add a more detailed write-up later within an hour or so of going "live".

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.


My Girl Maggie @ 11/4 BOG

...in a 7-runner, Class 5, Flat handicap for 3yo over 1m4f on Good ground worth £3,493 to the winner...


In my haste this morning to get out to my aunt's funeral, I inadvertently quoted Mark Johnston's Goodwood stats! So, much later than planned/usual (approaching 12.30pm!), here are the correct details for today...

Mark Johnston + Pontefract + Classes 2-5 + 1m2f and beyond + 9/1 max SP + 2016-20 = 16 from 55 (29.1% SR) for 10.03pts (+18.2% ROI), from which...

  • 10/27 (37%) for 10.23pts (+37.9%) were placed LTO
  • 7/18 (38.9%) for 7.09pts (+39.4%) with those with a run in the previous 10 days
  • 6/14 (42.9%) for 3.13pts (+22.4%) in 3yo contests
  • 4/13 (30.8%) for 10.05pts (+77.3%) with females
  • 4/11 (36.4%) for 2.18pts (+19.8%) in June
  • and 4/10 (40%) for 16.84pts (+168.4%) with Joe Fanning in the saddle

Plus from the unique Geegeez racecard pace/draw heatmap...

...which is why I placed...a 1pt win bet on My Girl Maggie @ 11/4 BOG as was widely available at 8.00am Monday, but as always please check your BOG status. To see what your preferred bookie is quoting...

...click here for the betting on the 3.25 Pontefract

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!


Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

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Monday Musings: Rapid Start Far From Flat

The two unbeaten favourites didn’t collect the first two Classics of the UK racing season as many, including the bookmakers, were expecting, writes Tony Stafford. Pinatubo was a slightly one-paced third as Kameko gave Andrew Balding a second UK Classic in the 2,000 Guineas, 17 years after Casual Look was his first in the Oaks. Yesterday, Love made it six 1,000 Guineas triumphs for Aidan O’Brien, four in the last six years, as the Roger Charlton filly Quadrilateral also had to be content with third place.

For quite a while in Saturday’s big event, staged behind closed doors of course, it looked as though O’Brien would be celebrating an 11th “2,000” – from back home in Ireland as he left on-course matters to be attended to by his accomplished satellite team. Wichita, turning around last October’s Dewhurst form both with Pinatubo and his lesser-fancied-on-the-day stable companion Arizona, went into what had looked a winning advantage under super-sub Frankie Dettori until close home when the Balding colt was produced fast, late and wide by Oisin Murphy.

The young Irishman might already be the champion jockey, but the first week of the new season, begun eight months after that initial coronation last autumn, suggests he has a new confidence and maturity built no doubt of his great winter success in Japan and elsewhere. A wide range of differing winning rides were showcased over the past few days and Messrs Dettori and Moore, Buick, Doyle and De Sousa clearly have an equal to contend with.

It was Dettori rather than Moore who rode Wichita, possibly because of the relative form in that Dewhurst when Wichita under Ryan got going too late. This time Arizona got his lines wrong and he had already been seen off when he seemed to get unbalanced in the last quarter-mile. Kameko will almost certainly turn up at Epsom now. Balding was keen to run Bangkok in the race last year despite that colt’s possible stamina deficiency. The way Kameko saw out the last uphill stages, he could indeed get the trip around Epsom a month from now.

The 2020 Guineas weekend follows closely the example of its immediate predecessor. Last year there was also a big team of O’Brien colts, including the winner Magna Grecia, and none was by their perennial Classic producer, Galileo. The following afternoon, the 14-1 winner Hermosa, was Galileo’s only representative in their quartet in the fillies’ race. This weekend, again there were four Ballydoyle colts in their race, and none by Galileo. Two, including Wichita, are sons of No Nay Never. As last year, there was a single daughter of Galileo in yesterday’s race, the winner Love. Her four and a quarter length margin must make it pretty much a formality that she will pitch up at Epsom next month.

Love was unusually O’Brien’s only representative yesterday which rather simplified Ryan Moore’s choice. It will surely be hard to prise her from him at Epsom whatever the other Coolmore-owned fillies show at The Curragh and elsewhere in the interim.

With Irish racing resuming at Naas this afternoon, attention will be switching immediately to the Irish Classics next weekend. What with those races, which Ryan will sit out under the 14-day regulations, the Coolmore owners and their trainer will have a clear course to formulate their Derby team and Oaks back-up squad. It would appear that the good weather enjoyed in the UK after which so many big stables, notably Messrs Johnston, Gosden and Balding, have made a flying start on the resumption, has also been kind to Irish trainers.

I know that sometimes in the spring the grass gallops at Ballydoyle have barely been usable by the time of the first month of action. The delayed and truncated first phase should continue to be to the benefit of the more powerful yards and maiden races, just as those in the UK, are already looking like virtual group races, especially on the big tracks.

Aidan O’Brien has 11 runners on today’s opening card, including four in the second event for juveniles, where Lippizaner, who managed a run in one of the Irish Flat meetings squeezed in before the shutdown, is sure to be well fancied. A son of Uncle Mo, he was beaten half a length first time out and the experience, which is his alone in the field, should not be lost on him.

The shutdown has been a contributor to a denial of one of my annual pleasures, a leisurely look at the Horses in Training book which I normally buy during the Cheltenham Festival but forgot to search for at this year’s meeting. The usual fall-back option of Tindalls bookshop in Newmarket High Street has also been ruled out, and inexplicably I waited until last week before thinking to order it on-line.

There are some notable absentees from the book and it has become a growing practice for some of the bigger trainers to follow the example of Richard Fahey who for some years has left out his two-year-olds. John Gosden has joined him in that regard otherwise they both would have revealed teams comfortably beyond 250.

Charlie Appleby, William Haggas, Mark Johnston, Richard Hannon and Andrew Balding all have strings of more than 200 and all five have been quick off the mark, each taking advantage of a one-off new rule instigated by the BHA. In late May trainers wishing to nominate two-year-olds they believed might be suitable to run at Royal Ascot, which begins a week tomorrow, could nominate them and thereby get priority status to avoid elimination with the inevitable over-subscription in the early fixtures.

In all, 163 horses were nominated with Johnston leading the way with 11; Charlie Appleby and Fahey had eight each; Hannon and Archie Watson seven and Haggas five. All those teams have been fast away in all regards but notably with juveniles. The plan, aimed at giving Ascot candidates racecourse experience in the limited time available, has clearly achieved its objective.

Among the trainers with a single nominated juvenile, Hughie Morrison took the chance to run his colt Rooster at Newmarket. Beforehand he was regretting that he hadn’t realised he could have taken him to a track when lockdown rules could apparently have been “legally bent” if not actually transgressed. Rooster should improve on his close seventh behind a clutch of other Ascot-bound youngsters when he reappears.

When I spoke to Hughie before the 1,000 Guineas he was adamant that the 200-1 shot Romsey “would outrun those odds”. In the event Romsey was the only other “finisher” in the 15-horse field apart from Love and, in getting to the line a rapidly-closing fifth, she was only a length and a half behind Quadrilateral. So fast was she moving at that stage, she would surely have passed the favourite in another half furlong. The Racing Post “analysis” which said she “lacked the pace of some but kept on for a good showing” was indeed damning with faint praise. Hughie also could be pleased yesterday with a promising revival for Telecaster, a close third behind Lord North and Elarqam in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Haydock despite getting very warm beforehand.

No doubt I’ll be returning to Horses in Training quite a lot in the coming weeks, but just as the long list of Galileo colts and fillies was dominant among the Ballydoyle juveniles for many years, the numerical power of Dubawi among Charlie Appleby’s team is now rivalling it. Last year, when I admit I didn’t really notice it, there were 40 Dubawi juveniles: this year the number has grown to an eye-opening 55. At the same time the yard has gone well past 200, reflecting his upward trajectory ever since taking over the main Godolphin job ten years ago. I’m sure Pinatubo has some more big wins in his locker.

I always look forward to seeing the team of Nicolas Clement, French Fifteen’s trainer, in the book, and he is there as usual with his middling-strength team. Nowadays much of what used to pass for free time for this greatly-admired man is taken up with his role as the head of the French trainers. He confessed that carrying out his duties over the weeks in lockdown and then the changes in the areas in France where racing could be allowed had been very demanding.

This weekend, Nicolas along with everyone in racing had a dreadful shock when his younger brother Christophe, who has been training with great success in the US for many years, suffered a terrible tragedy. On Saturday a Sallee company horsebox, transporting ten Clement horses from Florida to race in New York burst into flames on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing all ten animals. One report suggested that the horsebox had collided with a concrete stanchion. It added that the two drivers attempted to free the horses but were unable to do so.

At the top level, where both Clement brothers have been accustomed to operating on their respective sides of the pond, the rewards can be great. But as this incident graphically and starkly shows, there is often a downside for trainers and owners, though rarely one of quite this horrific finality.

- TS

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Monday Musings: Time Flying By

Logic told me time would pass slowly during lock-down. Five weeks in, it’s definitely speeded up, writes Tony Stafford. I spoke to my son twice last week, briefly on Sunday and then again for a few minutes more on Friday and I swore that there could only have been a couple of days between the two contacts.

Twin came around on BBC4 again on Saturday evening in my favourite 9 p.m. international drama slot and will already be finished by next weekend. Thankfully I’ve now joined BBC I-Player so I can have a second look on the confusing bits of that rapidly-evolving and brain-challenging eight-part (two each week) Norwegian epic when I get some time. I was very disappointed that Spiral, a series of series I most wanted to see and that motivated my joining, is not on the list.

The other evening it was still light when the Thursday 8 p.m. clapping reverberated from the flats all around. Racing fans in the UK, denied so much since the shut-down on March 18 and more so in Ireland, will have lost most markedly; along with the mainstream we all are aware of, the accelerating number of evening meetings, many of them over jumps, that bolster the normal spring racing menu have also been cancelled. Just to let you know, the days start getting shorter in nine weeks’ time!

The Racing Post’s online-only newspaper carries the cards, like Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay, that have kept racing going in Florida. Like everyone else, the Post included, I expected the Wesley Ward juveniles on show at Gulfstream on successive early evenings last week to do a Lady Aurelia and blow away the opposition.

But both on Thursday and Friday, first the 30-100 shot Lime, a daughter of Iqbaal, and then Golden Pal, 1-2 (by Uncle Mo), contrived to show the trademark Ward early pace only to succumb in almost identical fashion to a single stronger finisher even though their races were over only four and a half furlongs.

This pair was reportedly among the planned Ward annual contingent for Royal Ascot but first that spectator-free entity needs to be confirmed as does secondly that overseas runners may be accepted if it does. Should they come, I’m sure the traditional fear in which they are held by home trainers may have been a little diluted, although there’s plenty of time for Wesley to build some of that extra physical maturity that his juvenile challengers always seem to display.

I’ve been intrigued by the identity of today’s evening offering at Will Rogers Downs and thought it might justify a little investigating. I wasn’t at all prepared for what I readily discovered on the web. Will Rogers Downs is a gaming (principally, of course) and horse racing venue in Rogers County, close to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is operated by the Cherokee Nation.

That administrative area encompasses 14 counties in North-East Oklahoma and a local population of around 200,000 in one way or another descended mainly from Cherokee and two other Native American tribes.

If that wasn’t unusual enough, the jockeys and trainers will be totally unknown to most of us, unlike the stars who descend on Florida each winter and spring, especially with New York firmly shut down. For the record, Floyd Wethey, Jr. is the top rider so far in 2020 and Scott Young is leading trainer. Tonight’s 10-race card offers one quite valuable prize, a near £25k to the winner fillies and mares race. I won’t put forward a potential winner.

The gaming provides the prizemoney and the track keeps a chunk of all the race wagering. Gaming is also keeping the UK bookmaking companies going, and if the number of advertisements for casino betting that we see in the commercial breaks on most channels nowadays is indicative of betting levels in these odd times, gambling is probably going off the charts.

How the BHA must wish it could get its claws on even a small percentage of that massive cake, not that it would be right to do so (as we saw with the FOBT fiasco). Maybe they should ask Captain Tom to do a sponsored walking-frame-push around the Ascot paddock on his 100th birthday on Thursday next week while singing his chart-topping duet with Michael Ball of You’ll Never Walk Alone? The £23 million (probably more by the time you read this) by which his exploits will be aiding the NHS efforts exceeds the not-insignificant £22 million that the Levy Board is targeting to help racecourses and others through their troubled financial times.

Yesterday we went for a fourth walk of the lockdown, this time forsaking the Olympic Park, for the newly (at Easter) re-opened Victoria Park, which is in the opposite direction. The park had been closed for some time after that initial period when sunbathing and all the other indicators of holidays in good weather in the summertime caused a Government re-think. Everyone was doing the keep-out-of-the-way six-feet walk yesterday; there is no cycling and all the dogs including our Yorkie Josephina were on a lead.

What was obvious, though, was that while the ground is not yet showing any real suggestion of much new growth, the five weeks of drought, following hard on the months of near waterlogging, has already brought great cracks in the turf at some places.

Hughie Morrison has been kindly sending me a brief video every Friday of Ray Tooth’s big homebred and still unraced three-year-old Bogeyman going through his paces. Each week they have been working on the wonderful grass gallops, developed over many years by the Cundell family but now owned and managed by Sir James Dyson.

The Victoria Park phenomenon is extending into Berkshire as the colour of the terrain seems to be lightening week on week. How ironic, with barely a day’s racing after the turn of the year and before Cheltenham being staged on anything but soft or heavy ground, unless we get some rain soon, it will be firm or as near as makes no difference when we resume. Expect to see stand-pipes in the streets by July.

Finally, after hearing that he thinks racing should start as soon as possible – Nick Rust’s line at the weekend too – it was salutary that Mark Johnston has subsequently revealed he is in isolation at home after being quite ill after contracting Covid-19. It must be so frustrating, frightening even, with the Flat season still to start, for Britain’s winning-most trainer that the new norm is so alien. I’m sure that everyone in racing will be wishing Mark, wife Deirdre and their family and staff all the best in the coming trying days.

- TS

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Time for a Middleham Derby

The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman

The decision of trainer Mark Johnston and owner Sheikh Hamdan to stump up the £85k to supplement Permian for tomorrow's Derby opens the door to a rare event in racing: a Derby winner trained at Middleham, in the heart of Wensleydale. Indeed, so unusual would it be that I can assure you that none of you, your parents, or your grandparents would have been able to remember the previous occasion.

The 1840s was the decade when the first postage stamp, the Penny Black, was issued; the first Morse code transmission took place, and Jane Eyre was published. In 1843 Richard Wagner conducted the premiere of his opera, The Flying Dutchman, and in 1848 a horse of the same name began his racing career. Unbeaten in five races as a two year old, The Flying Dutchman faced a tough task in the Derby the following year, not least because it was his first race of the season and took place at an Epsom racecourse that had been drenched with three days of rain beforehand.

The Flying Dutchman went straight into the lead and continued in front for the first mile. Then he was to be tested. Hotspur was the strongest of his 26 (!) rivals, and appeared to have settled the race as he took over and pulled a length clear. It was time to see what the Dutchman was made of. He had never really been extended in his juvenile races, so when jockey Charlie Marlow picked up his whip, nobody could be sure how the horse would respond. Two taps showed the onlookers, and close to the finish The Flying Dutchman put his nose in front once more.

The Rubbing House

The Rubbing House

The most unusual feature of his success was the approach taken by trainer John Fobert. His stables, Spigot Lodge, where Karl Burke now trains, lay midway between the Low and High Moor gallops. Go to the High Moor now and you can see the Rubbing Houses, a block of five stalls, one now fallen down, where horses were subjected to the Yorkshire Sweats. An explanation of them can be seen on a panel close by.

"The main use of the Rubbing Houses was during the training of the horses and the method known as the Yorkshire Sweats. The horses would be well wrapped in blankets and galloped over long distances before returning to the Rubbing House to have sweat removed and blankets replaced.

In the 18th century horses did not run just one race on race day. They ran in heats. Rubbing Houses were used between the heats when the sweat was scrubbed off and horses were kept warm until the next heat.

The Rubbing Houses were used for this purpose for a very short period of time as the Yorkshire Sweats method of training fell into disfavour and was replaced by other more favourable training routines."

Running a horse in more than one race a day continued for many years, and The Flying Dutchman had won two of his juvenile races on the same day.

What of this year's Wensleydale contender, Permian? I have to own up to hoping he wins, as I was staying in Middleham barely 100 yards from Mark Johnston's base when Permian won the Dante the other week. It's a connection of the heart for sure, but there are good racing reasons to support him. He knows the track and has no bother with the expected good ground. It won't bother him if it firms up or if there's rain.

Permian is priced at 11/1, whereas Cracksman, who beat Permian by only a short head in the Epsom Derby Trial in April, is only 4/1. And Cracksman missed the Dante because of the soft ground, and so comes to Epsom after only one race last season and one this. I'm with Permian to join the likes of St Paddy, Shirley Heights, Reference Point and Golden Horn and complete the Dante/Derby double.

Oh, and by the way, if you are at Epsom, you can visit The Rubbing House for yourself. It's the pub on the inside of the track just beyond the winning post. Have one for me.

- Ian Sutherland

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