Johnston seeks calendar clarity ahead of parade of champions

Maputo ridden by Joe Fanning
Maputo ridden by Joe Fanning
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FLAT racing’s champions of 2013 will be crowned at Doncaster today as top Yorkshire trainer Mark Johnston calls for the seasons to be more clearly defined.

First the winners. Johnston’s stable jockey Joe Fanning is this year’s Cock o’ the North for a second successive year – the prize awarded by the Yorkshire Post and Great British Racing to the region’s winning-most rider. His 109 successes left him 12 clear of former jump jockey Graham Lee who is likely to fall agonisingly short in his attempt to become the first man to record a century of winners under both codes, even if he wins the November Handicap on the Queen’s Border Legend.

Next is Fanning’s protégé Jason Hart who succeeds the injury sidelined Amy Ryan as the 2013 champion apprentice. Attached to Declan Carroll’s Sledmere stables near Driffield, he becomes the fourth local winner of the coveted title since Paul Hanagan, the 2010 and 2011 champion jockey, prevailed in the 2002 season.

And now the next generation. Gary Mahon – who is attached to the Great Habton yard of Tim Easterby – will be crowned the winner of the inaugural Go Racing in Yorkshire Future Stars Series which concludes on Town Moor today with the final race of the turf season.

In other awards, Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation – resurgent since being enveloped by an early season drugs scandal – will take yet another owners’ award thanks to Farrh’s win in the Qipco Champion Stakes.

Richard Hughes – who finally broke his English Classic hoodoo on Sky Lantern in the 1000 Guineas – is champion jockey for a second successive year and arrives at Doncaster after a globetrotting week that saw him win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in Santa Anita, California, on Chrisseliam before finishing fourth in Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup on Simenon for Willie Mullins.

And the jockey’s father-in-law Richard Hannon, who masterminded the careers of Sky Lantern and top miler Toronado with such astuteness, becomes champion trainer for a fourth time amid speculation that he might hand over the reins of his stables near Marlborough to his son and assistant Richard junior.

Hannon, with 231 wins to his name in a competition determined by prize money rather than individual victories in the case of jockeys, is the only trainer to have saddled more winners than Middleham-based Johnston who recently recorded his fourth double century in the past five seasons – a remarkable level of consistency.

Johnston saddles Hartnell today in the Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud in France today – Fanning takes the ride on the two-year-old who won impressively at last month’s Racing Post Trophy meeting at Doncaster – but the trainer appears infuriated by the lack of consistency to the seasons.

Johnston, who is also a director of the British Horseracing Authority, appears irked that the trainers’ title race lasts for a full year – it actually began last November – while the jockeys’ competition only began in March when the turf season resumed after the winter break.

The muddle and incoherence is further complicated by the advent of the new £2m British All-Weather Championships that will culminate at Lingfield on Good Friday next year, coincidentally after the beginning of the 2014 Turf campaign.

Johnston speaks out in the latest edition of Kingsley Klarion, his stable’s monthly magazine for staff and the racing industry, as he reflects on the third Qipco Champions Day at Ascot last month.

He writes: “The principles are good ones. We all want to see opportunities to ply our trade on as many days of the year as possible. We all want to see British racing in British betting shops rather than foreign racing or that abominable cartoon racing.

“We all want to see all-weather racing dragged up out of the gutter and staging some interesting cards. And we all appreciate the need for the sport to have some ‘narrative’ (latest marketing buzz word) for the less well-informed spectators. But the changes come at us in such a rush and often appear to lack any sort of co-ordination or forethought.”

In an apparent dig at Doncaster’s parent company Arc, the racecourse owners behind the all-weather makeover and the subject of continued criticism about the level of prize money and facilities at some of their venues, Johnston concludes: “The championships appear to have been drafted on the back of a fag packet and have had too much input from those with more than a little self-interest.

“I can guess what will happen next. Arc, and others, will now press for two Flat seasons and two distinct sets of championships, one for turf and one for all-weather. At first glance that makes a huge amount of sense but I can guarantee that they will overlap, as they already do, and the turf season will include vast amounts of racing which takes place on synthetic surfaces but, bizarrely, will count towards the turf championship.”

Yet one person who will be shunning the all-weather campaign this winter is Hart, the new champion apprentice. The 19-year-old, who began his racing career with Johnston, wants to protect his claim until next season – he only needs 20 more winners before he starts riding on level terms against the likes of Hughes and Fanning.

He is also relieved to have seen off the challenges of Thomas Brown and the precocious Oisin Murphy – both are from the yard of Andrew Balding – with relative ease.

“It’s not been easy,” he told the Yorkshire Post. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it means a lot. They had a big yard behind them, I’ve done it with bits and pieces and people like Eric Elston, of Preston, as well as my own boss. Without Mr Alston, I would not be champion apprentice. I’ve had 16 or 17 wins off him and they’ve made all the difference. I’m going to have a nice break, and relax and freshen up for next year. There’s plenty I need to work on if I am to compete in the future.”

Mark Johnston would concur. For so, too, has Flat racing.