Great accumulators of winners, this was – without doubt – their most significant success together as they landed Royal Ascot’s blue riband race for Middleham.
And while it had been anticipated that a 50-year-old jockey would win the celebrated race, the assumption was that it would be the excitable Frankie Dettori on three-time winner Stradivarius rather than the understated Fanning.
No wonder every jockey lined the winners’ enclosure to give Fanning, the quiet man of racing, the ovation and recognition that the whole Johnston team and Subjectivist, the rising star of the staying division, deserved.
Fanning told The Yorkshire Post that he had no idea that Dettori, and Stradivarius, were boxed in when he asked Subjectivist, who raced in second for the most part, to kick clear on the home bend and win the historic two-and-a-half-mile race.
“To be honest, I was going that well,” said the rider who was recording his third Group One win. “I was always very difficult and I didn’t want to disappoint the horse.”
Yet Johnston, who has saddled more winners than any other trainer, is more effusive and was quick, immediately after the race, to credit his jockey’s experience.
“Everybody talks about Steve Cauthen as a great front running jockey, and I always put Jason Weaver up in the same sort of league, although he wasn’t around for so long, but I don’t think there’s anybody better than Joe Fanning,” he ventured.
“He is absolutely perfect at setting the pace. People kept saying is he going to lead, is he not going to lead? However many thousands of runners Joe’s had for us, we never tell him where he’s got to be in the field, and it was just a perfect pace all the way around.”
Yet, as Johnston reflected yesterday, the win of Dr Jim Walker’s Subjectivist was a triumph for perseverance, persistence, longevity and loyalty. It was the early 1990s, he recalled, that Fanning first started riding out for him, and then lining up in races.
Until then, he would be serving his apprenticeship with Chris ‘Squeak’ Fairhurst, and while he won the 1993 Northumberland Plate on George Moore’s Highflying, there was nothing remarkable about Fanning.
What did impress Johnston was the Dublin jockey’s commitment – and resolution to keep bouncing back on the many occasions when overlooked for more fashionable riders in the bigger races.
Now many of the stable’s horses are ridden by Fanning and Franny Norton, another jockey aged in his 50s. “It’s clearly not about strength or ability – or all jockeys would be 24-year-old,” ventures Johnston.
“It’s not uncommon for jockeys to ride in their 50s – Frankie (Dettori), Kevin Manning who won the 2000 Guineas and Lester Piggott in the past.”
It leaves Johnston musing why it has taken female jockeys to become so established – and whether the first champion will be on the Flat or over the jumps.
What Fanning says is that he was fortunate to team up with a trainer in Johnston who was always “very hungry” for success. As to his own longevity, he concedes: “To be honest, I wake up at 8st 1lb or 8st 2lb every morning and don’t have to sweat. I help my wife Sarah with her horses and only ride out at Mark’s.”
And while Fanning’s character means he is uncomfortable in the limelight, Johnston – who now has four Gold Cups to his name – is already eyeing up a return to Ascot next year. “With half a mile to go, I knew we were going into new territory, but he hadn’t asked for any effort yet,” he added.
“He had a beautiful ride round and we knew how he could finish from Dubai in March, and he did that again. I thought he was the best horse we’ve taken Stradivarius on with, but we had a scare just after the Dubai race, so he’s missed quite a bit of work after that.
“We’ll look at the Goodwood Cup. It is the obvious next race, then we’ll have an eye on the wintertime. We can’t ignore the money on offer in Dubai and Saudi. If the horse is well after this, we should work the horse back from this race next year.”