Johnson's four-year ban
Howard Johnson's colourful career yesterday came to a black end when he was banned for four years by the disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), which condemned his "reckless disregard" for rules on equine welfare.
Johnson (58) has indicated that he intends neither to appeal nor to resume training.
His most egregious offence concerned an operation on one of his horses, numbing sensation in a lower limb. Striking Article ran eight times following a palmar neurectomy, but was pulled up and euthanised at Musselburgh last year.
The procedure was disclosed by a post-mortem. Johnson claimed he was unaware that he had been breaking any rules, but that protest was treated as evidence that he was not exercising "reasonable skill and care" in the conduct of his business. He was also found guilty of administering steroids to other horses, though disputed that they were in training at the time.
Johnson's stables near Durham had become one of the most dominant on the northern circuit after investment by a local computer magnate, Graham Wylie. Their many good horses included a champion staying hurdler in Inglis Drever. Wylie professed himself "disgusted" by Johnson's punishment.
"I'm totally shocked. It's a very sad day," said the millionaire businessman who has already transferred six of his horses to champion trainer Paul Nicholls' stables in Somerset.
"Howard has been treated like a criminal and he is not. He would never do anything to harm a horse."
According to Wylie, the majority of his horses will go to the sale, although he added: "Those I keep will either go down south or to Ireland. I shall spend the weekend thinking about it."
Paul Struthers, head of communications for the BHA, said: "The Authority is satisfied that the Disciplinary Panel has imposed a significant and appropriate sanction for what were two different but very serious offences.
"This decision, and the action of the Authority in investigating this case and bringing charges, demonstrates once more that British Racing will take decisive and firm action when confronted with issues relating to welfare or integrity."
At Newbury, meanwhile, Roger Charlton's unbridled excitement was clear for all to see after Top Offer translated impressive homework into a winning racecourse debut. Charlton admitted afterwards that Top Offer was the most exciting youngster in his care and that he had expected him to make a winning start.
Clearly the word was out in some quarters as he was a solidly backed 6/4 favourite for division two of the Don Deadman Memorial EBF Maiden and got the job done in fine style under Steve Drowne.
"You don't often see it in two-year-olds," Charlton said. "We upped his work and he's been working with older horses. He's always done it nicely and he's got a great future.
"I'm not one for jumping from a maiden to a Group One, but should he progress, the obvious Group One races are the Dewhurst and the Racing Post Trophy." (© Independent News Service)