Mark Johnston Profile
|Born||Oct 10, 1959|
This proud Scotsman started out as a vet but went on to break the southern stranglehold on racing by becoming the most successful racehorse trainer in Britain.
In 2009 he became the first flat trainer to send out over 200 winners in a season and has achieved over 100 winners for 28 consecutive seasons and counting.
The trainer of over 4,200 winners since his first in 1987, Johnston has seen success in the 1000 & 2000 Guineas, four victories in the Ascot Gold Cup and a globe-trotting victory in the Dubai Sheema Classic.
Mark Johnston early years
Mark Johnston's achievements are all the more notable given he did not come from a family with formal racing connections.
His father Ronald had been a groom in the army and a young Johnston got the racing bug after accompanying his dad to the bookies on the East Kilbride council estate where they lived.
Legend has it that Johnston had decided upon a career as a trainer at just 14 years of age. "I could have done other things, but my father said to me, when I was quite small, 'there is money in muck as long as you know about muck'," Johnston said.
However, Johnston's mother Mary was less enamoured by his career choice and insisted that he first complete a degree as a vet to give him something to fall back on should his horse racing dreams fall flat.
After completing a five year degree course at Glasgow University, he spent three years in practice as a vet. However, that burning desire to try training himself never left and, after marrying childhood sweetheart Deirdre in 1985, set out in earnest to achieve his dreams.
Infamously warned by the Jockey Club that "just because you're a vet doesn't mean you can train a horse" Johnston was unperturbed and scraped together the cash to buy his first stables at North Somercotes in Lincolnshire with a £5000 loan from his father.
Johnston used to run his string of horses on the nearby Donna Nook beaches which the RAF used as a bombing range, meaning he had to keep on target in more ways than one.
Johnston's first win in July 1987 at Carlisle with Hinari Video was significant and the giddy Johnstons celebrated by watching the result on now defunct television text service Teletext, through the night. Hinari Video epitomised Johnston's enduring tactics of racing his runners often to keep them fit, running 128 times and winning twelve times.
That first season saw only one win, with only five following in 1988 but Johnston did make a momentous move that year to the Kingsley House yard at Middleham in the Yorkshire Dales, where he set about building a first-class 270 acre training facility.
Mark Johnston in the 90's, finding his way
The early 90's saw Johnston's win rate creep up, but by 1991 was still only at 31 in a season, earning connections a relatively paltry £173,094.
Yet, 1992 saw an uptick in form as Johnston won the Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes at Ascot with Marina Park before taking the Ebor Handicap at York via 16/1 shot Quick Ransom.
The 1993 season was momentous for Johnston as it saw the debut of two outstanding horses for the Scottish trainer in Mister Baileys and Double Trigger.
Mister Baileys' Royal Lodge Stakes win at Ascot in September 1993 was a mere warm-up for his tilt at 2000 Guineas glory in 1994. Starting an unfancied 16/1 under Jason Weaver, Johnston had Mister Baileys fit as a flea for the April classic at Newmarket, engaging in a battle with the Frankie Dettori steered Grand Lodge and prevailing by a short head.
Johnston had provided the first Northern based winner of a classic for 17 years, gaining a maiden classic for the Kingsley House team and announcing the Scottish trainer on the English racing scene.
Mister Baileys' 2000 Guineas win proved a lifesaver for the yard struggling to pay the bills.
"We had borrowed quite a lot of money from the bank and it was very, very tight. It doesn't seem like a fortune now with the scale of our business, but we owed something like approaching £20,000 in VAT and we didn't have any money to pay it. We were in serious trouble and that was the point we thought it was going to end" said Johnston about the period before Mister Baileys balanced the books.
Johnston broke through the 100 winner mark in 1994, the level at which his seasonal victories have never fallen below since.
Double Trigger's ten length victory in a nine furlong maiden at Redcar didn't perhaps reveal the true extent of his potential as a top stayer. The horse's success reflected the longevity of his trainer, winning consistently throughout the 90's and going on to take the Ascot Gold Cup and a trio of Goodwood Cups at marathon distances.
A Leger Italiano win for Double Trigger in 1994 in Turin, typified Johnston relying on a core of quality horses that would see the yard through the mid to late 90's. Double Trigger hit the target by taking the Ascot Gold Cup and the Goodwood Cup over the space of a month in 1995, while Bijou D'Inde chipped in with a St James's Palace Stakes win at Royal Ascot in 1996.
Love was in the air for Johnston via Spirit of Love who won the Cesarewitch under Olivier Peslier in 1998 and Fruits of Love who took both the Dubai Sheema Classic and the Hardwicke Stakes in 1999.
Mark Johnston, relentless in the noughties
The Johnston stable motto "always trying" was epitomised in the 2000's as the yard hit a thousand runners a season by the middle of the decade.
Johnston had great success with front-running horses, resisting the urge to rest his horses for long periods and citing National Hunt legend Martin Pipe as an inspiration.
"I'd be pretty sure he (Pipe) didn't set out to have a front-running style, he just applied the simple logic that there is nothing to be gained by giving away ground and that acceleration costs you huge energy so don't do it, don't push their heads off and don't put the brakes on. He ran them often, he ran them fit." said Johnston to yorkshirepost.co.uk
This emphasis on hard work should not cloud the talent in Johnston's rank as, once again. he uncovered a pair of useful individuals in Attraction and Shamardal that would help the yard to two million pounds seasonal earnings in 2004.
Both Attraction and Shamardal were unlikely champions, overcoming various physical ailments to achieve glory for Johnston. The filly Attraction had a problem with her crooked forelegs and was likened to a "demented haymaker wielding a scythe" when in full flow.
Johnston showed his ability in bringing on less than straightforward horses with Attraction winning her first five races, including the Cherry Hinton Stakes at Newmarket. Next was a game victory in the 1000 Guineas which gave Johnston his second classic as Attraction beat the Godolphin filly Sundrop by half a length in May 2004.
Attraction proved her pulling power by following up with the Irish 1000 Guineas at the Curragh with a comfortable length victory over the useful Jim Bolger trained Alexander Goldrun.
Shamardal, meanwhile, was a remarkable case of redemption after being earmarked for euthanasia at a young age after suffering a problem with his vertebrae know as the "wobbles".
The horse was leased to Abdulla Buhaleeba by the Maktoum family with Johnston again given the job of putting a horse with a difficult past onto the right track. Indeed, an eight length maiden win at Ayr in July 2004 suggested that Johnston had done the trick and a follow up victory in the Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes at Goodwood rubber-stamped the improvement.
Shamardal's stay with Johnston was short but sweet as Godolphin snapped up the improving colt but only after a Group 1 win at Newmarket in the Darley Dewhurst Stakes, upon which he was named Champion European Two Year-Old.
The 2009 campaign proved to be a landmark year as Johnston became the first trainer to send out more than 200 winners in a single season. The standout was at the Curragh for the Goffs Million Mile in September 2009 where Shakespearean prevailed to bring in a cool €985,000 prize.
Mark Johnston 2010-2020 a record breaking decade
Although never one of the most fashionable Flat trainers, Johnston is nothing if not prolific and a further glut of winners propelled him into the record books.
A dead-heat win for Jukebox Jury in the 2011 Irish St Leger ensured Johnston was on song for the start of the decade and the Scottish trainer never looked back.
As usual for Johnston, the crack talent in the mid 2010's came in pairs as Lumiere and The Last Lion lit up the scene. Lumiere was sired by stable favourite Shamardal and won a decent Group 1 at Newmarket in the Cheveley Park Stakes in September 2015. The Hamdam bin Mohammed Al Maktoum filly then went on to take the listed Henry Cecil Stakes At Newmarket in July 2016.
Star sprinter The Last Lion had backers purring by winning the Dragon Stakes at Sandown and the Sirenia Stakes at Kempton before taking a crack at the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket in September 2016.
Quoted at 25/1 for the step up to Group 1 company over six furlongs, The Last Lion put in a typical front-running performance and won bravely by three quarters of a length from the Godolphin speedster Blue Point.
Permian sprung a surprise in the Dante stakes at Johnston's local track York in May 2017. Under Franny Norton, the 10-1 outsider outfought the Goldolphin favourite Benbatl to win by three quarters of a length.
Permian, named after the geographic period that preceded the Triassic, showed that Johnston was no old fossil by picking up the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.
There was huge excitement in 2018 as Johnston approached the record of winning-most trainer in British racing. The Clipper Logistics Handicap at York wasn't perhaps the most heralded of races in which to break the record but it didn't matter as Frankie Dettori won on 20/1 shot Poet's Society to register the 4,194th win of Johnston's career, beating Richard Hannon Sr's previous best.
Another record tumbled in 2019 when Johnston sent Bavardages to Kempton for the Magical Fireworks Spectacular Here On Saturday Nursery Handicap. Johnston bought the bang with a record 236th win in a calendar year to beat the number shared by Hannon Sr and Richard Fahey.
Johnston topped out the decade with a smart overseas win in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud with Gear Up over one mile and two furlongs. More was to come over even longer distances.
Mark Johnston into the future with Ascot Gold cup hero Subjectivist
Few would have reckoned Subjectivist could go onto Ascot Gold Cup glory after the colt's second in a seven furlong novice stakes race at Haydock in June 2019.
But, slowly but surely, up went the trip and the performance levels as Johnston looked to eke more out of the horse with the staying power.
An August 2020 win in the one mile six furlong March Stakes at Goodwood suggested there was more in the tank for Subjectivist and he made his mark overseas.
One miles seven and a half furlongs on heavy going at Longchamp in Paris is the equivalent of two miles on good ground and so Subjectivist's staying on win in the Prix Royal-Oak boded well for further.
Johnston then sent the promising Subjectivist to Meydan in the UAE to challenge for the prestigious 2021 Dubai World Cup Turf. Favourite was the Godolphin Meydan specialist Secret Advisor but Subjectivist sprang to a three length lead with four furlongs to go and ran the opposition ragged, to win by a strong five and three quarter lengths.
Maybe many had missed the Meydan footage as Subjectivist was priced as large as 13/2 to try and dethrone Ascot Gold Cup legend Stradivarius in the 2021 Ascot Gold Cup.
The hat-trick chasing Stradivarius was considered one of the bankers of Royal Ascot 2021 but the betting public hadn't factored in a Subjectivist hitting his stride.
The 50-year-old jockey Joe Fanning eased Subjectivist into a two length lead at Royal Ascot round the final turn and only opened that into a five length victory with Stradivarius following in fourth.
Not only had Johnston beaten the great Stradivarius but he had reinforced his reputation as a trainer of top stayers, while adding a Gold Cup to a stellar career and with the four year-old Subjectivist still yet to hit top form.
Not that he will stop for breath, Johnston remains a prolific winner with a tremendous work-rate and enthusiasm for the game which dates back to his formative years watching racing with his father in Scotland.
Mark Johnston personal life
Mark Johnston married childhood sweetheart Deirdre in 1985. The couple have two sons Angus and Charlie.
Charlie Johnston has taken a more involved role in the Johnston yard and his pop has said that father and son will take out a joint-licence much like John and Thady Gosden.
Away from racing, Johnston is a qualified pilot, owning his own plane and landing strip to travel to races more quickly.
Mark Johnston News
- Oct 25, 2022
- Sep 22, 2022
- May 25, 2022