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Prolific Mark Johnston rues Group 1 absence despite another fruitful haul

Mark Johnston: "It's been one of those nearly years, that's the frustration"
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Mark Johnston's 2019 was a record-breaking one but despite his staggering number of winners he has expressed a sense of frustration at not having landed a Group 1.

Johnston, who smashed the British record for Flat winners in a season with 249, and enjoyed international success in the German 1,000 Guineas with Main Edition, had seven runners-up in Group 1s, which means his winless run at the top level stretches to more than three years. 

He last won a Group 1 in September 2016 with The Last Lion in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. 

That put something of a damper on the campaign for the Yorkshire-based trainer who broke the joint-record of 235 set by Richard Hannon snr (2013) and Richard Fahey (2015).

Johnston, who has trained more than a century of winners for 26 consecutive campaigns, said on Tuesday: "It was an exceptional year for us. Numerically it was brilliant and it was the best ever for us in terms of prize-money, but at the same time it was so frustrating. We had seven second-placed finishes in Group 1 company, a couple of them being photos. 

Stradivarius (right) defeating Dee Ex Bee (centre) in the Goodwood Cup

"People keep saying how wonderful a year it was, but I would swap a lot of those winners for a couple more inches in two of those Group 1 races.

"It's been one of those nearly years, that's the frustration. We came up against some great horses, Stradivarius in particular. It's not often you see one like him."

Johnston may face an uphill task of returning to Group 1 glory in 2020, after revealing a bid has been accepted from Australia for his stable star Sir Ron Priestley. 

The St Leger runner-up is likely to follow another leading light Dee Ex Bee out of the yard, and Johnston reckons he is facing the new term with a thinner squad. 

Sir Ron Priestley: second in the St Leger at Doncaster

He added: "Somebody came forward with an offer for Sir Ron Priestley and it was accepted, but I haven't had any confirmation on whether he has been sold or not. It doesn't look likely at the moment that he will be with us next season.

"If you'd asked me a week ago, I was certain he was going to be with me, this has all happened very suddenly. It looks like we could be minus two top stayers.

"We started last year with an incredible band of stayers and won some great races with them. None of them are here for 2020. 

"Austrian School is injured, Making Miracles is gone, Living Legend is injured, Elegiac is injured. It will be a very depleted staying team."

Despite that, Johnston's main aim is still a top-flight triumph, and he names Nayef Road, Raffle Prize and Rose Of Kildare among his best chances.  

However, he believes his primary job is to get the best out of every horse in the yard and will not be taking any risks in pursuit of another record-breaking year. 

He said: "A Group 1 winner is always the target, but it's more important to me to feel like I've got the best out of every horse under our care.

"I vowed that I would never run an extra horse that shouldn't be running in order to try and break some record. I've always tried to do that and it will be the same in 2020."

Johnston's 2019 breakdown

Three of his four most successful courses were all-weather tracks, with Lingfield (16) being his top-scoring venue. The July course at Newmarket brought most success on turf, with 13 wins.

Newmarket's July course: a productive track for Johnston

The only course he drew a blank at was Wetherby, where he failed to have a winner from six runners. 

King's Advice was his winningmost horse with eight victories from his 11 runs, while Dee Ex Bee proved to be Johnston's most profitable horse in 2019, earning £337,098 from his five outings, including two second places in Group 1s. 

Race class
The trainer won 12 Group races in Britain in 2019 and also landed the Group 2 German 1,000 Guineas.

Johnson set a new record for the most monthly wins in Britain by racking up 50 in July, breaking his own record of 47 set in the same month in 2015. He earned £1,100,897 in prize-money over the course of that period this summer. 

Joe Fanning was his most prolific rider, with 81 wins from 391 rides in Britain, and he also partnered Main Edition in the German 1,000 Guineas. Johnston used 47 jockeys on his horses in 2019, with 28 of them picking up at least one winner.

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I would swap a lot of those winners for a couple more inches in two of those Group 1 races
E.W. Terms