Yorkshire based Mark Johnston becomes most successful British trainer in history

Mark Johnston: Britain's winning most Flat trainer
Mark Johnston: Britain's winning most Flat trainer

Mark Johnston became the most successful trainer in British racing after passing Richard Hannon senior's record of 4,193 career victories.

The Middleham-based trainer drew level with two winners on Saturday and while his subsequent runners failed to deliver, the victory for Poet's Society at York on Thursday saw Johnston move out on his own in terms of career successes.

Sent off at 20/1 he fought off all challengers to win the ultra-competitive Clipper Logistics Handicap under Frankie Dettori.

Johnston told sportinglife.com: "I knew quite some time ago that it (the record) was on the cards and I've had a note of it on my phone.

"There's no end of career highlights - you always think of the great horses like Shamardal and Attraction. Earlier on the likes of Mister Baileys and Double Trigger - these were the sort of horses that launched us to new levels each time.

"Now that we're so big and the winners come so often you tend not to notice these great horses so much.

"There was always a desire for quality over quantity - I've never made any secret of that and I've never argued that the trainers' championship should be based on number of winners rather than prize-money, even though I'd have won it 12 times if it was on winners.

"Winners keep every happy, big and small."

Mark Johnston - record-breaking trainer

Johnston got the racing bug early in life - his father had been a groom in the Army and owned horses - and by the age of 14 his stated ambition was to become a trainer.

His parents insisted he took a degree, to at least give him something to fall back on and his choice of a five-year veterinary course at Glasgow - laced with periods in racing stables around the world - provided a safety net plus, later, an edge when it came to observing and caring for the thoroughbreds in his care.

Johnston married his childhood sweetheart, Deidre, in 1985 and two years later began training from a humble base in Lincolnshire.

That first year with a licence yielded a single winner; Hinari Video landing a maiden for two-year-olds over five furlongs at Carlisle. A smallish colt, Hinari Video kept on gamely after making the running and would go on to run in another 126 races.

Despite being of limited ability, he would also win 11 more races. He was the first example of a Johnston-trained horse who retained his enthusiasm throughout his career and would keep coming back for more.

There have been countless subsequent examples.

The Johnstons moved to Middleham in 1988, buying Kingsley House, since when the yard has developed into one of the finest in the business, with facilities including three separate grass gallops, an all-weather Tapeta gallop, an equine swimming pool, five lunging rings, weighbridges and starting stalls.

There are also numerous turn-out paddocks among the 270 acres of land.

Mark Johnston (left) pictured with wife Deirdre and son Charlie
Mark Johnston (left) pictured with wife Deirdre and son Charlie

A few winners soon became a flood and his first yearly century followed in 1994. Ever since, he has achieved three-figure tallies every year and, since 2009, chalked up 200 or more successes on seven occasions.

His first 1,000 winners were accumulated in record time - 90 days quicker than previous holder Sir Henry Cecil - and if anything the trainer, whose motto is 'Always Trying', is hitting landmarks quicker and quicker.

It took him just four-and-a-half years to move from 3,000 to 4,000 winners. That suggests, at his present rate, he might hit 6,000 in the next decade.

Deidre has been his long-time assistant and Charlie, his son, is another pillar. A small army of dedicated staff include numerous vital cogs in the wheel and several of them, such as Robynne Watton (Senior Travelling Manager), Hayley Kelly (Yard Manager), Jock Bennett (Assistant Trainer), Neil Hodgson (Box Driver) and Mark Billingham (Travelling Manager) have been with him at Middleham more than 20 years.

It is a formidable operation run by a formidable man.

"Second sucks" he said after his Dee Ex Bee had finished runner-up in this year’s Investec Derby.

Evidently, his thirst for firsts is unquenchable.

Mark Johnston on retirement

Mark Johnston's 10 career highlights

1. April 30, 1994: MISTER BAILEYS

Race: Madagins 2000 Guineas at Newmarket

Mister Baileys had won the Vintage Stakes and Royal Lodge Stakes as a two-year-old but was having his first start for nine months and went off at 16/1 in a field of 23. Mister Baileys hit the front three out under Jason Weaver and then dug deep in the closing stages to repel Grand Lodge by a short head.

2. June 22, 1995: DOUBLE TRIGGER

Race: Gold Cup at Royal Ascot

Double Trigger was an outstanding stayer who won no fewer than a dozen Group races for Johnston. One of his finest moments came at the Royal Meeting when, sent off at 9/4, he was sent straight into the lead by Weaver and galloped his rivals into submission and won by five lengths from Moonax. He was runner-up a year later and second again in 1998.

Double Trigger wins the 1995 Ascot Gold Cup

3. July 27, 1995: DOUBLE TRIGGER

Race: Goodwood Cup at Goodwood

A tremendously proud day for Johnston with Double Trigger beating his full brother, Double Eclipse, also trained by him, by a neck at the end of a pulsating contest. The siblings drew clear together from two out, Double Trigger worthy of all the plaudits as he was conceding 21lb. He went on to win the race twice more.

4. June 18,1996: BIJOU D’INDE

Race: St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot

Bijou D’Inde had finished a close third in the 2000 Guineas before having a troubled preparation and finishing fourth in the Irish equivalent. He went off at 9/1 at the Royal Meeting but was back at his peak, making the running under Weaver and rallying gamely when collared to beat Ashkalini, the French 2000 Guineas winner and favourite, by a head.

5. June 23, 2000: FRUITS OF LOVE

Race: Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot

The globetrotting Fruits Of Love performed with distinction around the globe but enjoyed his finest moments at the Royal Meeting - winning back-to-back renewals of the Hardwicke Stakes. This second success, when partnered by Olivier Peslier, was extra sweet because Johnston also saddled the runner-up, Yavana’s Pace, who a couple of years later would make history by winning a Group 1 race in Cologne at the age of 10.

6. June 20, 2002: ROYAL REBEL

Race: Gold Cup at Royal Ascot

Royal Rebel had beaten Persian Punch by a head under Johnny Murtagh in the Gold Cup the previous year but was sent off 16/1 for his defence after several indolent displays in the build-up. But Johnston horses can never be written off and, reunited with Murtagh for the first time in ten months, he was rejuvenated and prevailed by a neck.

7. May 2, 2004: ATTRACTION

Race: UltimateBet.com 1000 at Newmarket

The filly with a flawed confirmation and ungainly action had been unbeaten in five starts as a two-yearold but had been absent ten months, having cracked a pedal bone in the interim. Sent off at 11-2 under Kevin Darley, Attraction kept on gamely to win by half a length. Before her career was drew to a close she would win four more races at the highest level.

8. October 16, 2004: SHAMARDAL

Race: Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket

The big, powerful son of Giant’s Causeway was trained by Johnston as a two-year-old, before being switched to the yard of Saeed Bin Suroor. An eightlength winner on his debut at Ayr, he then won the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood easily before raising the bar in the Dewhurst - making all and winning by two and a half lengths easing down under Darley.

9. October 2, 2009: AWZAAN

Race: Shadwell Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket

The speedily bred colt lined up at Newmarket unbeaten in three starts, having won the Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury only a couple of weeks earlier. Richard Hills hit the front on him about a furlong out and he kept on well to keep Radiohead by three quarters of a length, with Showcasing and Poet’s Voice the next pair home.

10. September 26, 2015: LUMIERE

Race: Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket

The grey daughter of Shamardal had impressed when winning on her debut at Newmarket in July before finding one too good in the Lowther. She had run green at York but was much more professional upped to Group 1 company for the first time - breaking alertly, showing great speed and keeping on gamely to win by half a length under William Buick.

Dashing grey Lumiere wins at Newmarket
Dashing grey Lumiere wins at Newmarket


Reaction from the racing world

Brough Scott, ITV Racing

"I’ve known Mark for a while, I remember very clearly when he won the Tote Ebor Handicap at York with his horse Quick Ransom early on in his career in 1992. You could really feel he was going somewhere. What’s been terrific is the way his whole operation has developed. He runs it like a proper management business and it’s absolutely no coincidence that his stable staff are always in contention for the stable staff awards come the end of the year. He’s thoroughly modern but a thoroughly professional man. He would have been hugely successful in whatever life he chose and so horse racing is very lucky to have him."

Joe Fanning, jockey

"1994/95 I went to ride out for Mark and it just took off and I’ve been riding for him ever since. I’ve been there that long on a full-time basis - 23 years!” “He’s always got bigger and bigger and ever since he bought the Park Farm his operation has become massive. 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. He’s not the type of person to just stop what he’s doing either. 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 that he has set."

Jason Weaver, ITV Racing and former jockey

"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. I rode numerous horses for him, like Star Rage, Vindaloo, Branston Abbey and Double Blue, who ran so often. They were remarkably tough and consistent.” “People always say horses are like their trainers and he’s a tough so-and-so. They are straightforward, get on with the job and are ready to fight their corner. I have nothing but admiration for him."

Silvestre De Sousa, jockey

“Mark knows all of his horses inside out. Before the race he tells you about the horse rather than what you should do in the race like some other trainers, he gives you a free rein - which is great for a jockey.” “It’s remarkable the way he trains his horses, they are so tough and he’s not afraid to run them in any race, which is a credit to him.” “He just wants winners, you can see that in his mind. He wants to beat his own record every year, so if he gets 200 this year, he’ll want 210 at least next year.” “Massive congratulations Mark, it’s a remarkable achievement. I know there is more to come from you, but a massive well done to you on your career so far."

Johnston (left) pictured with fellow Yorkshire trainer Mick Easterby
Johnston (left) pictured with fellow Yorkshire trainer Mick Easterby


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