Trainer Johnston wants change in racing fixtures to improve quality

Mark Johnston
Mark Johnston
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MARK Johnston has called for a radical rethink over racing’s fixture list, questioning whether beer sales are taking precedence over the quality of Turf action.

The Classic-winning handler spoke out after an exasperating afternoon at Chester where he struggled to find TV footage of Saturday’s five meetings.

Johnston, based at Middleham, says he is bemused by this when media rights for TV images is being blamed by many racecourses for their inability to offer prize money at a level desired by owners, trainers and jockeys alike.

“We are told by the racecourses that our top races must be crammed into the weekend because of demand for our racing abroad although they don’t want to tell us exactly what they are getting for their pictures and, if any of the income is being passed on in prize money, it is embarrassingly little,” Johnston observed on his Bletherings blog.

“It is also quite hard to believe that pictures of our racing are so valuable when the courses show so little interest in showing them at home. As usual, I found myself running around at Chester trying to see racing from other meetings.

“I assume that the main market for pictures of horse racing is to the betting industry and so, ultimately, to punters. Why, then, does it not occur to the producers that there may be some interest in the complete finishing order and not just the winner? On a daily basis we also see the cameras zooming in on one or two horses at the head of affairs and failing to show connections and punters alike where ‘their’ horse finished. It really is quite appalling.”

Johnston also queries whether the “best racing” should be “crammed” into Saturdays.

“The figures for midweek meetings when our best horses show up, the ultimate examples being Frankel at Goodwood and York, suggest that racing enthusiasts will turn out in their thousands on any day of the week if the racing is good enough,” he added. “Furthermore, the failure of tracks to properly cover the racing on course, whether it be their own races or away meetings, suggests to me that they believe that their weekend racegoers are simply there for the beer.

“For years I have branded racecourse managers as ‘food and beverage’ men and, with a few notable exceptions, I still feel that this is the case.”

Meanwhile Hoof It remains under assessment at Mick Easterby’s Sheriff Hutton stable and is not likely to be seen in action until a breathing issue has been diagnosed.

It was assumed the five-year-old, who is owned in partnership by golfer Lee Westwood and his agent, Chubby Chandler, would make a return in Saturday’s six furlong Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock, but he did not appear among the confirmed entries.

The Yorkshire speedster was a close third in the Haydock race but has not been the same force this term, despite a reasonably promising reappearance in the Duke of York Stakes. He was a disappointing favourite when tried over seven furlongs on his most recent start at Newmarket in late June.

Speaking from America, Chandler said: “He’s got a bit of a breathing problem and they are just trying to work out what it is. He’s been making a few noises when they’ve galloped him at home so they are doing the prudent thing.”

Another significant absentee from Saturday’s race, part of the Qipco British Champions Series, will be Thirsk handler David Barron’s Pearl Secret. However, the entries do include Roger Charlton’s Bated Breath, Jim Goldie’s Hawkeyethenoo who won the Stewards’ Cup under Graham Lee and Ortensia, the Australian mare who came from near last to first to land York’s Nunthorpe Stakes.

However, it is still unclear whether she will continue her association with man of the moment William Buick – there are only two hours and 20 minutes between the Haydock sprint and then the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes where he is committed to ride Eclipse hero Nathaniel for his boss John Gosden.

Buick’s dilemma could be rendered redundant if Gosden asked his stable jockey to ride at Ascot before heading to Ireland.

“There are no definite plans,” said Buick. “Obviously I would very much like to ride both horses. It is still possible I could do both, but my loyalty is to John Gosden. It is still five days away and in racing terms that is quite a long time.”