TRAINER Mark Johnston will become the winningmost trainer in Britain at some point this season, but for now all attention at his powerful yard in focused on landing a Classic with stable star Elarqam.
Johnston is well on his way to passing Richard Hannon Snr’s total of 4,193 British Flat and jumps winners and Elarqam came close to adding to his haul when a close fourth in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket earlier this month. He heads to the Curragh with a leading chance.
We spoke to Johnston’s son and assistant Charlie to get the latest of Elarqam, his thoughts on some of the yard’s other weekend runners and prospects for big races coming up.
Elarqam runs in the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas on Saturday. How are things with him?
We’re very happy with him. There’s only three weeks between the two races so there’s been no need to anything serious at home in between. He looks a million dollars and we’re very happy with his condition going into the race.
He finished fourth in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. What did you make of that run?
Obviously we went there wanting to win, but at the same time while we were hoping he was up to Group 1 level we didn’t know for sure before Newmarket. The Guineas was his first examination at the highest level so for him to run the race he did and prove to us he’s a genuine Group 1 horse was very positive.
Your yard produces huge amounts of winners each year, but what would it mean to win a Classic?
It’ll mean a huge amount. We’ve had a lot more Group 1 winners over the years than most but there is perhaps an association with the yard, to a degree, of quantity over quality. Yes, the plan is to have 200 winners again this season but we need the quality there as well.
Is it difficult to focus on quality while also aiming to send out over 200 winners a year?
Quality is hugely important to us and that’s the driving factor behind the yard always. It’s what you need to keep the owners in the yard that you have and to help bring new owners in as well. We never lose sight of that.
Vale Of Kent and Aquarium line up in the 7f handicap at Goodwood. How will they get on?
We’re drawn in stalls 14 and 15 of the 16 runners, which is far from ideal and is going to make life hard for them. They are both free-going horses who like to go forward so the plan will be to try and get across as best they can and see how they get on. They’re both talented horses and well up to winning at this level, but the draws mean everything needs to go right for them.
You also have two in the 1m three-year-old handicap at Haydock. Is there much between them?
Ventura Knight bounced right back to form at Doncaster last week and that’s the first time this year that he’s had his ideal conditions – a mile on fast ground. He could run well at a big price if conditions are similar at Haydock as I think he’s still reasonably treated. If the rain arrives then Book Of Dreams had strong form at the start of the year on softer ground.
Main Edition looked a good winner at Windsor this week. What is the plan with her?
We were very pleased with that. She was a Tattersalls Book 1 Bonus winner and a Plus 10 bonus winner too, so she’s earned back over half of the 62,000gns we paid for her in one hit. Ryan Moore was very happy with her and he mentioned the Albany as a possibility afterwards, and he’d sit on as many two-year-olds as anyone. The plan is probably to have one more run before Royal Ascot and if she follows up then we’ll head to the Albany with her.
Threading bounced back to form at York. Where is she likely to go next?
She was haunting us a little bit like Lumiere from a couple of seasons ago! She was disappointing in the Nell Gwyn so we were over the moon to see her bounce back. The plan is to go to the Coronation Stakes with her at Royal Ascot and that’s likely to be a tough race. She’s already a Group 2 winner so we have to be aiming at Group 1s with her now.
How are plans coming together for the Investec Derby? Who is likely to run for you?
The plan is for Dee Ex Bee to run and one of the contributing factors to that is he was already in the race whereas [Dante second] Mildenberger would need to be supplemented. On top of that, Dee Ex Bee has been to the track twice so has plenty of experience of the contours of the course. We’re under no illusions and he goes there as an outsider, but there was very little between him and Young Rascal at Chester and that horse is third favourite. If there’s any rain he’ll handle it a lot better than many of the others in the race.
And, finally, of your dad’s other runners this season, who has impressed you the most?
We’d like to think we’re pretty strong in the two-year-old department this year. The one that’s impressed me most of them is New Winds, who won at Newmarket last week. She won what looked to be a pretty warm race and was very green too, yet she won comfortably. She’s a Royal Ascot-bound filly and she’d be pretty close to the top of our pecking order. We certainly feel she’s a black type filly.