Though the county’s trainers have enjoyed many notable successes in recent years, victory in the five season-defining races has been elusive.
No Yorkshire horse has won a domestic Classic since Johnston’s Attraction won the 1000 Guineas in 2004, a record the Middleham trainer hopes to put right today.
His Elarqam is a leading contender for the Qipco 2000 Guineas for colts at Newmarket and his breeding could not be more impeccable.
Unbeaten from two starts, Elarqam was sired by the legendary Frankel – the late Sir Henry Cecil’s horse for the ages – out of the aforementioned Attraction.
“Elarqam has to improve, but I have a lot of faith of in his ability,” said Johnston, who has more than 4,000 winners to his name.
“In a lot of ways it’s more exciting than it was with Attraction as, being by Frankel out of Attraction, he’s the best-bred horse I’ve ever trained, the best-bred horse by a country mile that I have ever taken to a Classic.
“The implications of what sort of stallion he would be, or how popular he might be as a stallion if he won the 2000 Guineas, don’t bear thinking about.”
Johnston believes the horse, owned by Sheikh Hamdan and the mount of Jim Crowley, might need further to be seen at his best – and that the Epsom Derby is a possibility.
“We are going to the 2000 Guineas saying, ‘This is maybe not the whole story’, but the Guineas is the best Derby trial and if he was not to finish in the first three you could well see him going on to the Dante and possibly to Epsom. That would not be impossible at all,” said Johnston, who also saddles Cardsharp.
“The reality is that the Classics are still the most important races in the calendar and the hardest to win. But, on everything I have seen so far, I do have faith in his ability.
“Elarqam is the absolute spitting image of Attraction. If you could draw a blueprint of what a colt out of Attraction would look like, you’d draw him. It’s a huge pleasure to be sent the offspring of Attraction to train.
“Up to date I think she’s had 11 foals and this was only the third that we had been sent – the first two were winners, both good horses – and we’ve now also got a Dubawi two-year-old, which Sheikh Hamdan has kindly sent to us.”
Like Elarqam, who had a racecourse gallop at Newmarket 10 days ago, Attraction went into the 1000 Guineas without a prep-run. She had a racecourse gallop at Ripon, but the filly was stronger on racecourse experience having won all five starts as a juvenile.
“This is nothing like it was with Attraction when she won the 1000 Guineas,” Johnston explained. “On that day I believed that if she stayed she would win. At that stage with Attraction I firmly believed she was the best filly in Europe.”
Meanwhile, Burke, who trains at nearby Leyburn, has his sights set on tomorrow’s Qipco 1000 Guineas with Laurens who appears to have wintered well. The mount of one-time Scottish Grand National-winning jockey PJ McDonald, John Dance’s battle-hardened filly has not raced since winning a Group One race at Newmarket at the end of last season.
However, Burke hopes to go one better than 2013 when Libertarian finished second in the Derby – Yorkshire’s best result in a Classic since Attraction’s triumph.
“There are no easy Group Ones, no easy Classics,” he noted. “All you can do is get them there as fit and as well and healthy as you can.
“I think she’s got a big chance. Her two-year-old form was very good and I think she has improved on that. She’s a well-balanced filly for one who is so big and who has such a massive stride. It would be fantastic to have a British Classic on the CV. The best day I had in racing was when we sent Libertarian to the Derby.”