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Friday, 19 October, 2018

Johnson's Masta stroke delights his friends in the north

Howard Johnson: a man more often seen in a flat cap than a top hat
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With Royal Ascot just 12 days away, we look back at a memorable event from 12 years ago – when Ascot itself was shut for redevelopment – in the third of a daily series counting down to Flat racing's most magnificent meeting

Being a good host and watching your guests enjoy the games is all very well, but there comes a time when you want to win one yourself.

That was the unspoken feeling on the morning of Thursday, June 16, 2005.

The first Royal Ascot in the north had been a hit, with Sharmardal, Azamour, Proclamation and the rest strutting their stuff at York, yet there had been no northern winner.

Howard Johnson had gone closer than most, with Pacific Pride second in the Coventry Stakes that kicked off the whole meeting, and he had high hopes for another speedy juvenile in the Norfolk Stakes on the third day.

"Masta Plasta was very quick, although we always thought the other horse was better at home," he recalled.

"Masta Plasta was a little bit shouldery as a two-year-old but he had some ability. He was just touched off at Hamilton, then he won by five lengths at Newcastle and went straight to York.

"I was really hopeful, in fact I was confident for both of them."

That confidence was not shaken by the fact Masta Plasta had been coughing until two days before the race.

"I've never believed in scopes," he said at the time. "I prefer to be the judge and jury – if a horse is eating and looks healthy then that will do nicely.”

Nicely, indeed. Masta Plasta was always travelling strongly under Robert Winston and scored comfortably to give trainer and jockey their first Royal Ascot success.

Robert Winston: landed the Norfolk by two lengths on Masta Plasta

"It was special to win there," Johnson said. "It was a good day because it was the first day my granddaughter Anna May had been to the races – she was only five months old but was near the Queen and she ended up on the telly that night, which was fantastic."

Johnson may not have been a fan of the meeting's fashion requirements – "It takes you so long to get the clobber on, I'm more used to wearing a flat cap," he said – but he won the Norfolk again with South Central three years later.

That was at Ascot itself, where the County Durham farmer, who retired from training in 2011 after being banned for four years, and Cilla Black became unlikely drinking partners.

"She presented the prize and she was great," Johnson remembered. "She was good craic when she'd a drink. She was a lovely woman."

She was only five months old but she was near the Queen and she ended up on the telly that night, which was fantastic
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