Our Friends in the North: Charlie Johnston stable tour and horses to follow for 2019

Don't miss our comprehensive guide to the Mark Johnston team for the 2019 Flat season as assistant trainer Charlie gives us the lowdown.

Three to Follow...

Flag-bearer: It's a bit of a toss-up but Mildenberger is a horse I’m definitely not giving up on and I honestly hope he can still develop into a Group One performer.

On the upgrade: Mind The Crack had three runs last year in maidens and novice company and has been gelded. He goes handicapping from a mark of 82 and I hope he could be another Austrian School and thrive when stepped up a bit in trip. He's a nice three-year-old to follow.

Exciting two-year-old: I'm not picking anything too left-field here but we're fortunate enough to have Attraction's four-year-olds, three-year-olds and two-year-olds and we have a filly this year by Invincible Spirit called Motion who seems to have a lot of her mother's speed. We're looking forward to getting her out.


My Stable - Horse Tracking Made Simple

It’s that time of the year when the Flat season takes centre stage. With thousands of horses, hundreds of jockeys and plenty of trainers performing across the UK & Ireland in multiple meetings every single day, it can be tough to keep track of all that catches your eye. But not any longer. Our My Stable service is the simple and perfect way to stay on top (and ahead) of the game.


Guide to the team...

Dee Ex Bee

We’re really looking forward to starting him off at Ascot on Wednesday with a staying campaign in mind. He seems in good order and it’s quite nice to see the likes of Capri and Southern France stay at home for the Vintage Crop.

They ended up getting beat so perhaps wouldn’t have been dangers but we’ll see how he gets on. The quick ground would be my only slight concern, I wouldn’t mind a bit more cut for him.

But I’m hoping that you need a blend of class and stamina and he’s got that. We saw it with Stradivarius last year – he sets a very high mantle. But our horse was second in the Derby and we think he’s a stayer in the making so he's exciting.

We're not certain – he's never raced beyond a mile and six but every indication we get from what he does at home and on the track suggests that he might improve for going further.

Mildenberger

I was gutted at Epsom last week.

I’ve gone on record plenty saying what I think of this horse and if you’d asked this time last year whether Dee Ex Bee or Mildenberger would be the best I’d have said Mildenberger without a moment’s hesitation.

So finishing mid-division in a handicap is a long way from that but the race was a mess from start to finish. He missed the break and James (Doyle) said he was a bit fresh and the next thing you knew he was coming around Tattenham Corner 15 lengths behind the leaders not really handling the track.

Kew Gardens is in there against him potentially this weekend (the Roaring Lion Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket) and it’ll be interesting to see if he runs but over a mile and a half at Newmarket – just sent on and allowed to bowl along – I hope we could see a completely different horse.

I’m maintaining the faith for a little bit longer anyway, with the risk of ending with egg on my face if he doesn’t turn out to be the horse I think he is.

Mildenberger
High hopes for Mildenberger once more

Matterhorn

I’m sure the favourite (Wissahickon) under-performed in the Easter Classic on Good Friday but the handicapper raised us 3lb to 115 now and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment of it.

He dropped Wissahickon 2lb so we’re actually rated the same, even though we put nine lengths into him. The favourite clearly didn’t run up to his mark but you’d be bold to say that he’d have beaten us even if he did given the form that Matterhorn was in on the day.

He’s 0-1 on turf and that’s purely because he made his belated debut at Pontefract on soft ground towards the back end of last year where he travelled nicely but got tired and finished third.

There are no guarantees that he’ll be able to replicate his all-weather form on the turf – obviously his sire Raven’s Pass was very good on artificial surfaces – but we don’t see anything physically why he won’t.

He’s a half-brother to Bangkok who won the Sandown Classic Trial last Friday and there’s no indication he can’t replicate the form. We might have a look for the first time in the Huxley Stakes at Chester with the dream being the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot come June.

Matterhorn storms to victory at Lingfield
Matterhorn storms to victory at Lingfield

Dark Vision

He’s running in the 2000 Guineas this weekend. There was obviously a huge amount of hype and expectation around Elarqam in the Guineas last year and we’re a little more under the radar this time around.

He was a real talking horse last year after his Vintage Stakes win at Goodwood and then he flopped at Doncaster. So this year we we're looking to build again and get him back to the level he showed in the Vintage. We didn’t quite do that but we weren’t far away at Chelmsford – I was really, really pleased with his run as a long went wrong.

He was squeezed out at the start and short of room turning in. He’ll have improved since then as we left a little bit to work on going to Chelmsford and if you look at the Guineas then it appears to have been turned on its head a little with plenty of the big guns falling by the wayside.

It looks like it might be a 20-odd runner cavalry charge with everyone willing to roll the dice and that might just suit him. He looks like he stays a mile very well and we’d be hopeful he could run in the first six.

After that we’ll see how he goes but if he’s a staying on fourth or something then it could be onto the Dante Stakes at York as we’ve got it in our minds that he might just get a bit further.

He’s by Dream Ahead who is on the whole a sire for speed but as an individual you wouldn’t have many issues about trying him over 10 furlongs.

Dark Vision swoops to win the Qatar Vintage Stakes
Dark Vision storms to victory in the Qatar Vintage Stakes last season

Living Legend

He’s another one with an entry in the Dante Stakes and he’s at the opposite end of the spectrum to Persian Moon in that he’s only had four runs and has won three of them.

He’s only rated 91 so it would be a huge leap in class and would maybe go against our normal progression such as going for the London Gold Cup at Newbury and onto the King George V at Royal Ascot. He’d have a very, very good chance in both of those but the Derby and all its trials come very early in the year and sometimes you have to roll the dice and pitch them in.

We think he’s very good. He won at Bath on Good Friday in what was almost certainly a very good race and he stayed the mile and a half well. The Dante and the Chester Vase are options for him if we’re feeling ambitious.

Persian Moon

He’s a tough one in that he’s quite exposed now and shown his hand a bit. He got beaten by two less exposed horses in the Sandown Classic Trial.

He’s in again at the weekend at Newmarket in the Lightning Spear Stakes and he could possibly run. He’s also in the Dante and he might just be stuck between a rock and a hard place at the moment with a rating of 103.

He wasn’t disgraced by any means at Sandown but he’s going to need to come forward a bit.

Austrian School

He won really well at Musselburgh last Saturday. He had a fantastic year last season without winning, the poor horse kept running well but kept being placed and went up 17lb in the handicap without winning.

But he’s been working well with horses like Baghdad and Communique so he’s not slow, he’s got plenty of toe, but he’ll get two miles standing on his head.

We were confident going to Musselburgh and he’s now 5lb well in for the Chester Cup which just about makes him favourite. He’s also in the Yorkshire Cup and he’s probably going to get an entry this morning in the Ascot Gold Cup.

So he started in a handicap but we’d be hopeful he can progress into the Cup races. At the same time if he ends up being in the bracket for the Sky Bet Ebor then that would be a really attractive target too.

The Ebor, Irish St Leger and Melbourne Cup are all the type of back-end targets we could be looking at with a bit of luck.

Austrian School battles to victory
Austrian School looks a horse to follow in staying handicaps

Elarqam

I think we’re going to take him out of the Lockinge. Newmarket was a funny one in that he was a little bit gassy early and went forward.

From three furlongs out to a furlong out I thought he was going back and would fall out the back of the TV screen but all of a sudden he hit the rising ground and he just appeared again and took off to make ground up the hill.

Your immediate impression is that we need to go up to a mile and a quarter but whether that’s the right thing to do I don’t know. I’m not totally sure what his trip is which makes it tricky but his next start will probably be in the Brigadier Gerard or the mile and a quarter Listed race at Goodwood a couple of days before that towards the end of May.

It’ll be nice to get his head in front and get back on the front foot as we’ve been chasing our tails a bit since the Guineas last year.

Elarqam heading to the gallops (photo courtesy of Great British Racing)
Elarqam heading to the gallops

Deep Intrigue

You can put a line through his run at Lingfield as he was drawn terribly and ended five wide which you can’t get away with around there.

He might go to Newmarket on Saturday. There’s a six furlong three-year-old handicap there so he could go and look to get back on track over a shorter trip.

A mark of 97 isn’t too bad but I doubt there’s a huge amount of leeway in it. He won the conditions race at Newcastle and a handicap at Lingfield before that so I’d expect him to remain competitive.

I’ve no worries about him going back up to seven furlongs either and he’s another for the major weekend handicaps through the summer.

Baghdad

He won at Royal Ascot last season for us after winning at York and I thought he ran well on his comeback over a mile and a half at Newcastle this month.

He and the second ran huge coming from near the back and I’d hope to think we could plot a way back to the Royal meeting with him for the mile and a half handicap for older horses.

He’s rated 100 now and I don’t think he’s completely handicapped out of things by any means. The Royal Ascot race is 0-105 so I’m sure he’ll be eligible come the big meeting.

Baghdad (centre) battles to victory at Royal Ascot
Baghdad (centre) battles to victory at Royal Ascot last summer

King’s Advice

I got a message from a friend in February who was asking about this horse when he first got entered as his handicap mark of 71 looked a bit of a guess based on his form in Germany for previous connections.

I did what I could to dig around in the German form but we didn’t really know until he worked here under Joe Fanning and he was extremely impressed with what he saw and felt.

The horse has gone up two stone after winning five races, three on the all-weather and two on turf, and although we nearly got caught out running him again over a mile and a half at Ripon over the weekend, we’re hoping we can eke out just a tiny bit more improvement when he returns to at least a mile and three-quarters next.

Lake Volta

He won a handicap at Epsom last year on Oaks day when the rain came and he was the beneficiary of a special Silvestre De Sousa ride on the stands’ side rail. He got hammered 15lb by the handicapper from 98 to 113 but has finally come back down to a realistic mark and it was good to see him get back to winning ways at Yarmouth on Tuesday.

We’ll start working our way back up with him now and he’s got lots of options including a possible return to Epsom Derby week. He’ll be aimed at things like the International at Ascot and the Victoria Cup too, races like that and the big seven furlong handicap at Glorious Goodwood.

Cardsharp

I’m not 100% certain what his ideal trip is going to be as there’s a little part of me that’s tempted to try him over a mile. He ran in the Mile final at Lingfield on Good Friday but things didn’t pan out from a difficult draw.

He was out wide and could never get into a good position.

Cardsharp hits the front from US Navy Flag and Invincible Army
Cardsharp in action

Watersmeet

He’s just a star and will be one for all of those major staying handicaps. He has no secrets from the assessor but is like clockwork and is so tough.

Threading

She was second in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot but her form just tailed off towards the back end of last year.

We’ll just try to freshen her up and get her back to her best.

Mind The Crack

I think he could be well handicapped as he goes up in distance after three runs last year.

He just looks like he's matured and I'm hoping he'll be a progressive horse in the three-year-old handicap division.

Alminoor

We’ve a lot of nice two-year-olds to come out over the next few weeks but Alminoor is already on the board with a win.

He was good at Pontefract when making every yard under Dane O’Neill and he’d come on a bit for his debut at Musselburgh when the first two came clear.

We’ll have a look at options for him now but he could possibly run at Chester next week and if not I’d imagine he might run in the Listed race at York’s Dante meeting. He’s hopefully above average.

Xcelente

He’s another juvenile and he won well first time out at Thirsk on April 13.

He’s running again at Pontefract on Wednesday. He’s a son of Exceed And Excel and certainly looks the part, I’d be hopeful that he can defy a penalty.

At the same time, you can’t underestimate how difficult it is to defy the weight.

Motion

She's a nice filly and will be running sooner rather than later hopefully. She's by Invincible Spirit and has a fair amount of her dam's (Attraction) natural pace. She's only done one or two pieces of work but we like what we're seeing in these early stages.


Our Friends in the North

Kevin Ryan Stable Tour

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