MARK JOHNSTON has never shied away from a challenge – it is not in the Middleham trainer’s nature and explains why the in-form stable is on track to reach the 200-winner milestone for the sixth time in seven calendar years.
His stable’s motto ‘Always Trying’ also helps to explain why top two-year-old prospects Lumiere and Buratino are both due to race for Grade One honours against more illustrious rivals at Newmarket today.
The more likely winner is Lumiere. An impressive winner of her maiden earlier in the year, the horse was a more than creditable second to the William Haggas-trained Besharah at York’s Ebor festival and the fillies renew their rivalry in an ultra-competitive Connolly’s Red Mills Cheveley Park Stakes.
“Everything is fine with Lumiere and we are taking the bull by the horns,” said Johnston. “We are not belittling the horse that beat her at York as Lumiere will have to improve a bit to turn the tables on her, there is no doubt about that.
“In her maiden win at Newmarket, she didn’t see another horse and that was followed by a Group Two, which is a hell of a jump up.
“I thought a furlong and a half out she was going to get swallowed up, but she battled back well. We should see a much better horse on Saturday.”
Johnston will be hoping that the Suffolk track avoids the rain so Buratino, a scintillating winner of Royal Ascot’s Coventry Stakes, can line up in the Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes – a proven trial for colts hoping to develop into Classic winners.
Though Frankie Dettori’s mount Shalaa sets a very high standard – the John Gosden-trained runner won the Prix Morny at Deauville five weeks ago – the North Yorkshire handler hopes Newmarket misses the rain.
He believes the ground was not in Buratino’s favour when third in Ireland’s Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh and the horse missed his intended assignment in York’s Gimcrack Stakes because the going was softer than ideal.
“I hope the track dries out and the weather stays fair, particularly for Buratino,” said Johnston, who has signified America’s Breeders’ Cup as an alternative if the weather gods conspire against him.
“We’ve only tentatively discussed the Breeders’ Cup. There are no hard and fast plans. The plan was to keep it simple and keep him well entered up and ready to go when the ground lets us.”
The aforementioned Haggas also hopes the rain stays away so he can run his Gimcrack winner Ajaya.
“Ajaya is fine after winning the Gimcrack well. That form has been boosted with Ribchester winning the Mill Reef,” said the Skipton-born trainer. “I am very happy with him, although I am a bit concerned about the recent rain.
“Shalaa will be very hard to beat, as there can be little argument that he has been the best two-year-old of the year so far, but we are going to have a horse race and if you are not in you can’t win, that won’t stop us.”
Ryan Moore rode his first winner since returning from a serious neck injury as Time Test got back on the winning trail in the Shadwell Joel Stakes at Newmarket.
Moore took his time before producing the market leader in the final furlong and he had too many guns for last year’s winner Custom Cut, beating the David O’Meara-trained and Danny Tudhope-ridden Yorkshire challenger by a length. “He’s beaten a real solid horse in Custom Cut,” said Moore.
North Yorkshire jump jockey Andrew Thornton, sidelined for three months with a fractured arm, makes his comeback at Market Rasen aboard Fleet Dawn.
Now 42, the 1998 Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning rider needs 18 more successes in order to record 1,000 career victories. “Getting to 1,000 winners is a personal thing. I’d love to chalk them off,” he said.