MARK Johnston made the perfect start to this year’s Qatar Goodwood Festival after Fire Fighting swooped late to give him a sixth success in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Stakes.
One of four runners representing the Middleham trainer in the mile-and-a-quarter handicap the 8-1 co-favourite gained a first win of the season – and first on turf since winning last year’s Zetland Gold Cup – after being lifted home by Adam Kirby.
Approaching the final quarter of a mile it looked as though Johnston’s best chance lay with the prominently-ridden Stars Of The Sea, but the frontrunner could not quite match the finishing kick off his stablemate.
The Middleham trainer always targets this meeting and Johnston said: “It was a great result. Alan Spence (owner) is having a fantastic year. This horse is special. We took him to the sales but we could not sell him – thank goodness we didn’t.
“He is a very straightforward horse but he is quite a character in the race and things have to go right for him. Adam Kirby has found a bit of a key to him. He did hit the front a long way out but there was no signs of him stopping.”
Meanwhile Dutch Connection took yesterday’s feature Lennox Stakes for trainer Charlie Hills. The horse enjoyed a riding masterclass from New Zealand-born James McDonald who is currently riding for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation because of William Buick’s month-long suspension.
Hills said McDonald’s horsemanship compared favourably with the legendary American rider Steve Cauthen who enjoyed a fantastic association with the trainer’s father Barry.
“I think he is a world-class jockey and he’s still very young, so I think we are going to see him here quite a bit. He seems very laid back and has a good relationship with horses,” said Hills.