Johnston eyes Royal Ascot after another four-timer

Mark Johnston is in prime form ahead of next week’s Royal Ascot
Mark Johnston is in prime form ahead of next week’s Royal Ascot

No trainer is in a richer vein of form at present than Mark Johnston, who bagged yet another four-timer yesterday to take his tally for the year to 88.

While the Middleham, North Yorkshire, handler is well on his way to recording more than 100 British winners every season for a quarter of a century, he is also on pace to saddle over 200 winners in a season, which he has achieved in seven of the last nine years.

A Haydock double with New Winds and Sofia’s Rock was supplemented by the victories of I’ll Have Another at Chelmsford yesterday afternoon and Diviner at Hamilton last night.

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But it is not all about quantity for the Scot, who heads to Royal Ascot next week with plenty of quality.

Johnston and his wife Dierdre have sent out no fewer than 41 winners at the Royal meeting since Double Trigger and Diaghilef recorded a double at the Berkshire track in 1995. It is a meeting they prize above all others.

While many trainers meticulously chart a career path for their horses, Johnston relies on tried and trusted methods.

Featured in this year’s Royal Ascot Magazine, Johnston said: “I’m not a huge believer in long-term plans for horses – that’s part of the reason for our success. You make hay while the sun shines. If you wait for an event six weeks in advance, something can go wrong and you don’t make it.

“But there’s no doubt we think about Ascot differently from any other meeting in the year and we will miss races that might look more winnable to save horses for it.”

He added: “Ascot is not about strike-rate – nobody is measuring your percentages there – it’s about getting winners on the board. So, you have a go.”

Johnston, who qualified as a vet before becoming a trainer, teaches his horses to run from the front, a simple formula that has served him well.

He explained: “Horses get into habits. In breeding horses for 300 years, we have honed the flight instincts and the instinct to run in a herd. You have got leaders and followers, and when a horse gets into a habit of following the other ones around, is it really trying to get to the front?

I convinced myself a horse should go to the races and know every time that its job is to be in front.”

Johnston will have another strong team for next week’s Royal meeting, although Epsom Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee is likely to forego his Queen’s Vase entry in favour of a crack at the Irish Derby on June 30.

Johnston’s charge found only Godolphin’s Masar too strong at Epsom and with Charlie Appleby confirming yesterday that Masar is to sidestep the Irish Derby and instead aim for the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown on July 7, the likely move paves the way for Dee Ex Bee to head to the Curragh.

Dee Ex Bee carries the colours of Godolphin supremo Sheikh Mohammed’s son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum.

Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father, confirmed: “If Masar is going to the Eclipse, that would make Ireland a strong favourite for Dee Ex Bee.

“He is in great order and we could even have gone to Royal Ascot as he come out that race (Derby) that well.

“The Irish Derby and the Grand Prix De Paris were the two options on the table and if Masar is skipping Ireland, it makes us more likely to go there.”

While Johnston will likely firm up his Royal Ascot plans in the next 24 hours, for now there is the business of “making hay while the sun shines”.

He has five runners today, three at Haydock’s evening meeting, with perhaps the most intriguing being Pablo Escobarr (7.25).

A son of Galileo, who cost 200,000 euros as a yearling, has a nice blend of speed and stamina in his pedigree and makes his debut against seven rivals in a 7f novices’ race. With Johnston already saddling over 20 juvenile winners this season, and with Redcar scorer Certain Lad shouldering a penalty, Silvestre de Sousa’s mount could add to the tally for ‘Braveheart’.

Thursday’s Selections:

Newbury: 1.20 Multamis, 1.50 Solar Gold, 2.20 Scottish Jig, 2.55 Sea Of Class, 3.30 Dourado, 4.00 Maggie Jonks, 4.35 Pippin, 5.10 Hawridge Glory

Nottingham: 1.40 Finoah, 2.10 Midnight Meeting (nb), 2.40 Autumn War, 3.15 Spiritoftomintoul, 3.50 Dark Power, 4.20 Eponina, 4.55 Double Reflection, 5.30 Inflexiball

Yarmouth: 2.00 Displaying Amber, 2.30 Elsaabiqaat, 3.05 Marine One, 3.40 Brexitmeansbrexit, 4.10 Glencadam Master, 4.45 Ruby’s Gem, 5.20 Wild Acclaim

Uttoxeter: 6.10 Anndarrow, 6.40 Cabaret Queen, 7.15 L’Inganno Felice, 7.45 Whoshotwho, 8.15 Major Davis, 8.45 Intifadah, 9.15 Influential Lady

Haydock: 6.20 Fort Jefferson, 6.55 Roman River, 7.25 Pablo Escobarr (NAP), 7.55 Escobar, 8.25 Mooltazem, 8.55 If We Can Can

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