Middleham trainer Mark Johnston lands big race double as racing returns to York’s Knavesmire

MARK Johnston and Franny Norton completed the big race Dante and Musidora double as racing finally returned to York.
A thumbs up from Franny Norton after Thunderous wins the Dante.A thumbs up from Franny Norton after Thunderous wins the Dante.
A thumbs up from Franny Norton after Thunderous wins the Dante.

The victory of Thunderous in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante, outbattling the previously unbeaten Highest Ground, came 30 minutes after bargain buy Rose Of Kildare won the Tattersalls Musidora.

And while these two traditional Classic trials took place after last week’s Derby and Oaks, they were still significant wins for Middleham-based Johnston, Britain’s most successful trainer ever, and the veteran Norton.

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Already the Johnston team is eyeing a tilt at Doncaster’s St Leger in September for Thunderous who knuckled down tenaciously ater the aforementioned Highest Ground hit the front.

This was Rose Of Kildare winning the Musidora Stakes under Franny Norton.This was Rose Of Kildare winning the Musidora Stakes under Franny Norton.
This was Rose Of Kildare winning the Musidora Stakes under Franny Norton.

The winner of three races last year, culminating with listed success at Newbury, the Highclere-owned horse picked up an injury and only returned to action at the end of last month when second at Newmarket.

Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father, said: “That was fantastic. He’s had his ups and downs, this horse – he was unbeaten as a juvenile and then had an injury after winning at Newbury.

“He’s very laid-back, and we were quite rushed getting him to Newmarket. The picture has been changing so fast this year, it’s hard to make plans – but when it was announced that this race would move to this slot, we felt it was a good place for him.

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“We knew going to Newmarket he was short of 100 per cent, but knew running him there would give us the best chance of winning here today – that’s how it’s proved.”

Jockey Franny Norton after completing the Dante and Musidora double at York.Jockey Franny Norton after completing the Dante and Musidora double at York.
Jockey Franny Norton after completing the Dante and Musidora double at York.

On future plans, Johnston added: “We’ll have to look at Group Twos and Group Ones now. His attitude and racing style would suggest he could be (a St Leger horse), but his pedigree wouldn’t give you a lot of confidence for that sort of distance.

“It’s hard to make plans this year. There’s the Grand Prix de Paris, possibly. It’s a nice problem to have, and we’ll enjoy making plans.

“It’s great to be back at York. Everything is very different – prize-money is not what it would be, but everyone is trying to make the most of this difficult situation.”

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It was Johnston junior who was instrumental in the purchase of the Musidora winner Rose Of Kildare for just 3,000 euros.

Running just five days after lining up at Epsom, Rose Of Kildare was kicked out in front by the aforementioned Norton and set a steady pace before the tempo increased in the straight.

She was soon headed by the more fancied Dubai Love and Ricetta, but found more in the final furlong to go on again and win by two and a half lengths for the Kingsley Park Partnerhip.

“She’s taken us on an incredible journey and one we’re so proud of, really,” said Johnston.

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“We’re very fortunate to train for some of the most influential and powerful owners in racing – but at the same time, to have a syndicate of 20 owners with a filly like this is fantastic.

“We left Germany very frustrated – she should have won the German Guineas. When the Epsom race cut up we felt we had to run, because it was another good opportunity for black type.

“We left Epsom kicking ourselves a bit, thinking we shouldn’t have run, because we knew she’d improve for a mile and a quarter – and this was a good race for her. But as we always say, they are racehorses and they’re there for racing.

“She pulled it out of the fire today. There’s not a lot of her, and when we weighed her on Sunday morning we were hesitant to bring her here – but she’s very, very tough.”

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Meanwhile Mr Carpenter was a shock 100-1 winner of the mile and a half handicap for Great Habton trainer Tim Easterby, jockey Cam Hardie and an elated owner Brian Valentine from Beverley.

“I’m shocked. It’s my biggest surprise in racing in 40 years. I didn’t back him. I thought if he didn’t finish last we’d be happy,” said the owner. He also said he didn’t mind the absence of spectators. Like all of racing. he was just pleased that racing was back at York for the first time this year.

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