Mark Johnston targets more Classic success as he seeks record Flat winners

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

Record-chasing Mark Johnston is targeting more Classic glory before he considers handing over the reins to his son, Charlie.

Johnston is on the brink of passing Richard Hannon senior's British winners tally of 4,193, but stressed at a press day on Wednesday that becoming the winning-most trainer of all time won't have any impact at all on his decision to retire.

Johnston, whose 27-year-old son and assistant Charlie has been nurtured with the top job in mind over the past three years since following his father's footprints in graduating from university with a degree in veterinary science, feels he still has unfinished business in some of the major races around Europe before he passes on the baton.

Dee Ex Bee's runner-up effort behind Masar in the Investec Derby in June has clearly whet the trainer's appetite for winning the premier Classic for the first time, and he intends on going about his business in a now familiar fashion - by having more runners.

"I realised after Dee Ex Bee this year that we've had fewer runners in the Derby in 30 years than what Aidan O'Brien would have in a typical year.

"The closest I've come is second and it's my own bloody fault - if I don't run in it then I'll never win.

"I think if you spoke to Sheikh Mohamed after this year then you might find he'll be looking to have more runners in the Derby too.

"Coolmore have built the most successful breeding band and stallion stud in the world largely based on the Epsom Derby. It still means a hell of a lot and the Triple Crown still means a lot. It does to me anyway.

"I definitely want to win more Classics. I want to win the Arc too - although I don't think I've ever had a runner so that's going to have to change as well!"

Mark Johnson on retirement

The meticulous Johnston, whose own personal career highlights remain the achievements of 1000 Guineas winner Attraction and champion two-year-old Shamardal in the same season back on 2004, has a habit of plan-making.

The Scotsman has even studied the recent handovers of licences from family members to another, including the likes of Hannon, whose record he has chased down.

"I've been thinking about the end of my career for a long time in truth," he said.

"In 2004/05 I had a 10-year plan to retire at 55. I got talked out of it thankfully and realised it has to be a bit more fluid. I've also come to recognise it probably wouldn't want to be absolute. I get a huge kick out of building this place and I'm not just going to give it away.

"But breaking this record will have nothing to do with it.

"If you'd asked Charlie when he came out of vet school three years ago - he just wanted me to get out and for him to take over.

"And then he realises now that it was a bit different for me starting out with a small number of horses and no expectations, 125 staff, building projects and everything else to deal with. He's now not in a rush.

"But I've considered all the other training handovers (to family members) and I wouldn't want to do it too early, and I wouldn't want to do it too late.

"I just wouldn't have the energy to do what I did back then now. I couldn't dream of it and I honestly don't think anyone should wait until 40 to start training racehorses.

"But it's more about not handing over a business that's not in decline, and also handing over something that is manageable.

"Richard Hannon is probably the most successful handover in recent years and a lot of that may have been down to the fact the yard was still on the up.

"People often ask what's our secret, and there isn't one. It's more about the whole ethos and my belief in training and running racehorses.

"I've been speaking to an owner this morning and he was requesting just two more runs this season. I said you shouldn't decide what a horse is doing based on a number of runs. I can't believe the number of people want to give their horse a break. They gives themselves a break often enough as they get injured and suffer setbacks.

"We've got two full-time vets on the yard, not counting me and Charlie, and if we had three I guarantee we'd have fewer runners as I'm a firm believer if you go looking for problems then you'll more than likely find something.

"If the horse is well - run it. I suppose if there's a secret then that would be it for us."

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


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