Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 18 February 2018

Johnston gets back in the groove with double

Graham Lee and Maputo leave the field trailing in their wake to complete a double for Mark Johnston at Newmarket
Graham Lee and Maputo leave the field trailing in their wake to complete a double for Mark Johnston at Newmarket

Mark Johnston, who endured a disappointing Royal Ascot, quickly bounced back with a 35/1 double on the first day of Newmarket's July meeting.

His winners included Universal, a typical front-running campaigner which is now ready for a crack at Ascot's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes later this month.

But Johnston, a director of the British Horseracing Authority, also expressed the view that all the best racing should not be programmed for Saturdays. Tomorrow, Newmarket's July Cup is staged in direct competition with York's John Smith's Cup and Ascot's Summer Mile, as well as an attractive card at Chester.

This prime example of mismanagement has resulted in restricted availability of many of the top jockeys. Johnston and other trainers have had to scrap around for riders in the big races.

"It is wrong to put all these meetings (on Saturdays)," Johnston said. "What other sport runs first-division competition with third-division players? As a trainer, I find it very frustrating."

Pressures from terrestrial television, as well as demands from racecourses which want to open when the majority of their customers can attend, have made for a lop-sided fixture list, which Johnston admitted could not be easily changed or influenced by the BHA.

Universal (3/1 favourite) looked very good in winning the Princess Of Wales's Stakes, running strongly to the line to beat Ahzeemah by just over two lengths, with Cavalryman back in third.


Johnston is keen for Universal to be aimed at the King George, though the American St Leger in Chicago next month is also on the radar. As Universal likes fast ground, another feasible target is the Melbourne Cup, particularly as the four-year-old was winning the same race as Fiorente, runner-up in Australia's famous race last year.

With several of the big names dropping out of the King George, Universal would certainly have place claims. He is 33/1 with Paddy Power.

The trainer's double was completed when Maputo (8/1), ridden superbly by Graham Lee, won the mile-and-a-quarter handicap by six lengths in course record time – putting behind him a very disappointing run at Royal Ascot.

"I don't understand what happened at Ascot, as you think that even if a mile did not suit him there, he could have at least put up a show (based) on what he has done today," the trainer said.

There were high hopes for Aidan O'Brien's Sir John Hawkins in the July Stakes, but the 9/4 favourite could only finish fourth to Richard Hannon's Anjaal. The 14/1 outside came home with great intent under Paul Hanagan to snatch the juvenile Group Two right on the line.

The same team, plus Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, were repeating the success of Alhebayeb 12 months ago, and the owner's racing manager, Angus Gold, said: "He'll go seven furlongs now, and we'll see if he's good enough for the Dewhurst nearer the time."

Hannon went on to complete a double as odds-on favourite Montiridge, just shaded in the Jersey at Royal Ascot, barely broke sweat under Richard Hughes to land the Insure Pink Stubbs Stakes.

The trainer's son and assistant, Richard Jnr, said: "We've always thought he was a very nice horse, but we won't rush into anything." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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