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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Mark Johnston becomes the most successful trainer in British racing history

Mark Johnston: sealed record with 4,194th winner
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Mark Johnston famously proclaims he is always trying and he succeeded spectacularly when Poet's Society won at York on Thursday.

It was the 4,194th victory of his career in Britain, taking him past the mark set by Richard Hannon snr and making him the most prolific trainer in British racing history. 

It proved a typical Johnston winner, with Frankie Dettori making all on the 20-1 shot to see off his 19 rivals in brave fashion in the Clipper Logistics Handicap over a mile.

Johnston said: "It's a relief to get it out of the way and on to the next one. I've been wishing we could switch it all off and pretend it never happened.

"People keep saying, what does it mean? I don't think anyone has tried to belittle it, but sometimes I think, how important is it? At the same time I do have to pinch myself and ask how I could get to 4,194 from where we started. It's unimaginable.

"I nearly wasn't here at York. Deirdre and Charlie aren't here. An owner was coming to see some yearlings we bought in France and phoned to say he would arrive at 2pm. We had to decide who would stay behind and it was nearly me. We only had two runners today, both in the same race, at 20-1 and 33-1. We couldn't expect it to have happened in this race."

Johnston, having his first winner since Saturday, said: "It was getting very frustrating. It wasn't as if we had loads of odds-on shots beaten, and we had plenty of horses running well, but, sod's law, it took quite a well to get from four to one and again from one to now.

"It's great it has happened with a horse like this and it hadn't even occurred to me he was carrying my own colours. If we could have written the result we would have had Joe Fanning on the horse, and of course it would have been great if it had been one of our regular jockeys, but I did say before the race that at least if it was Frankie no one would forget it!"

Dettori said: "When Mark got the saddle I asked him if he had broken the record yet? 'No,' he said. 'I'm waiting on you!'

"It's great, as he has shown amazing consistency over so many years. I have been riding for him since the early days of Mister Baileys. I'm delighted as perhaps I might now be on a picture in the Johnstons' downstairs loo forever!"

Johnston had expressed surprise at media interest in the build-up to his record, but it is a measure of his achievement that half a dozen camera crews, mainly from non-specialist TV channels, turned up at to an anticipatory media morning at his Kingsley House stables in Middleham last week.

He has had the record firmly in his sights since reaching 4,000 winners at Pontefract last October – fittingly in a race named after Phil Bull, another iconoclastic rationalist who left a huge mark on the sport.

Johnston had a high regard for Hannon snr's ability to get the best out of a horse but he admits that it was his predecessor as record-holder who was the inspiration for his ground-breaking career.

Like Johnston, Martin Pipe was an outsider who came to racing with determination to succeed, an open, inquisitive mind and a fearless appetite for challenging convention. And both ended up at the very pinnacle of the game, their horses renowned for fitness, resolve and ability to turn out time and again.

Neither man was born with even a plastic spoon in their mouth and, after doing a five-year degree at Glasgow Veterinary School and marrying childhood sweetheart Deirdre, Johnston started his training career in 1987 with what he called "three and a half paying horses", at a Lincolnshire yard whose gallops were part of an RAF target practice range.

He now has closer to three and a half hundred in his charge at the Middleham base, which he moved to in 1988 – with 13 horses – and has transformed into the Rolls-Royce of training yards.

The 270-acre estate features three grass gallops plus one on the all-weather, five lunging rings and an equine pool, and the numbers of winners has grown in line with the size and scope of their base.

Having reached 100 in a season for the first time in 1994, Johnston has repeated the feat every year since and made it to 200 seven times, with a high of 216 in 2009 and 2013.

He is proud of the yard's consistency and, although he accepts that the trainers' title should be judged on prize-money, he would have been champion 11 times were it decided on number of winners.

Which is not to say that his horses, who have earned nearly £53 million in British prize-money between them, are lacking in quality.

He scored his first Group-race success with Marina Park in the Princess Margaret Stakes at Ascot in 1992, he has gone on to land another 114 in Britain alone and enjoyed Classic success with Mister Baileys (2,000 Guineas) and Attraction (1,000 Guineas).

Johnston himself nominates 2004 Dewhurst winner Shamardal, who went on to three further Group 1 victories for Godolphin, as the best he has trained and said: "I've had great horses since but nothing like him."     

But Attraction, a filly with a flawed conformation and ungainly action who became a five-time Group 1 winner, and Double Trigger, whose string of 12 Group successes did so much to revitalise the staying division in the late-1990s, are others for whom he will perhaps be best remembered.

Johnston recently nominated more Classic winners as the thing he most hopes to achieve before handing over to his son Charlie, and appears decidedly unlikely to rest on his laurels now he has claimed the winners' record.

"The ambition to train top-class Flat horses was there from the outset and it's the same now as when I started," he said.

"One of the things about me is that I'm always looking at new ideas and always looking to change things.

"If you don't try, you don't succeed. I'm always looking, always thinking about it."


Joe Fanning
He's always been a hard worker who is incredibly ambitious. Year on year he continues to raise the bar and that's what's so impressive about the man. I think Mark will just keep going, every season he builds on what he's done before. Mark's record when he retires will stand for years to come and it will be virtually impossible for any trainer to reach the standards he has set.

Gary Moore
He's someone we all look up to. He's never scared to run them and his horses always look fantastic and they don’t stop running. He's similar to Martin Pipe years ago and full credit to him. He's a genius.  

Kevin Darley
You're not tied to instructions and that's a great thing. If you know you're on a horse where you can go out and do your own thing, it takes a lot of pressure off knowing that when you come back in the trainer is going to support you. It's the attention to detail with him and he also puts everything back into the game. You've only got to see his gallops and everything he's got at home now - they're state-of-the-art.

Franny Norton
It's a massive achievement. Mark has always been a man who looks forward and he has a tremendous team behind him. Everyone knows their jobs and it's like a military operation which makes that clock tick.  

Silvestre de Sousa
Mark knows all his horses inside out. Before the race he tells you about the horse rather than what you should do in a race. He gives you free rein, which is great. It's remarkable the way he trains his horses, they're so tough and he's not afraid to run them in any race. He just wants winners, you can see that in his mind. Massive congratulations Mark, it's a remarkable achievement.

Jason Weaver
I always call it the Johnston juggernaut - it just keeps rolling along. It never failed to amaze me how tough, game and consistent the horses were. People always say horses are like their trainers and he's a tough so-and-so. They're straightforward, get on with the job and are ready to fight their corner. I have nothing but admiration for him.

Keith Dalgleish
I have massive respect for Mark, it's no surprise to me that he has this record. It's a huge achievement but it's a winning machine and it was great to be part of it. I learned a lot there. 

Richard Kingscote
It's an unbelievable achievement and a testament to his whole team. He's a gentleman and very straightforward to deal with. Everyone in his team pulls together and knows their job, and they clearly do it very well.

Alan King
He's a remarkable man with an amazing setup and I have great admiration for them. His horses are always very fit and what you see is what you get with them.

Andrew Balding
It's a huge achievement. I admire anybody who can train the amount of winners that Mark has and he's clearly very good at what he does.

Steve Drowne, former jockey and now BHA stipendiary steward
It takes an awful lot of doing and it's a testament to Mark and his team. There's no reason why he can't go on and on. His horses are dependable and you see so many of them rack up a sequence. It's nice to see a northern trainer achieve the record as well as it proves it can be done from there. 

Breakdown of winners 

Having got off the mark at Carlisle with Hinari Video in 1987, Mark Johnston has had winners at every Flat track in Britain, including 11 at now-defunct Folkestone.

It is a sign of his horses' toughness and staying power that his most successful turf courses are Beverley (221 winners) and Hamilton (236), both stiff tracks with an uphill finish.

And it's testimony to the trainer's willingness to embrace new concepts that he should have had so many winners on the all-weather at Lingfield (262), Southwell (224) and Wolverhampton (325).

Johnston has never been afraid to travel and it is significant that nowhere is his strike-rate higher than at Bath or Brighton, both more than 250 miles away from Middleham yet places where he's had 45 winners each.

An avowed supporter of the great showpieces of the British summer racing season, he has had 43 winners at Royal Ascot and been top trainer at Glorious Goodwood no fewer than 12 times.

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The ambition to train top-class Flat horses was there from the outset and it's the same now as when I started
E.W. Terms
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