Tag Archives: Mark Johnston

Monday Selections: 16th January 2023

4.20 Wolverhampton: Class 6 Handicap, 9.5f

Tricky opener to Wolverhampton’s Monday card: every horse in the field attempts a new trip or is going to make their handicap debut – it’s a somewhat muddy picture.

At the same time I believe there is about three horses with a prime chance: those are Densetsu, Marmara Star and Smooth Ryder.

The two fillies look bound to improve for the trip on handicap debut, so should the gelding, especially back on the All-Weather. If I can, though, I try to oppose fillies and mares during the winter, hence I am more interested in Smooth Ryder.

This US bred son of Smooth Daddy cost quite a bit of money as a yearling and looks clearly bred to excel over this sort of trip on the sand. He’s not fulfilled the promise of his price tag, and has been gelded in November. However, he showed some promise, at least for what’s required on this lowly level, in his first two starts especially, in my view.

Those came on the All-Weather, incidentally. He was green and raw on debut, but made some solid progress in the home straight, after a rough start to his life as a racehorse.

His second run over the same CD – 7 furlongs at Chelmsford – was quite eye-catching, as he jumped quickly and led the field, setting solid fractions and travelling well into the home straight, before fading.

Those horses ahead of him are all much higher rated today – the winner even as high as 98, other in the 80’s.

Given the trip was certainly on the sharp side, Smooth Ryder ran seriously well that day. When last seen on heavy ground he clearly didn’t enjoy the going, and it’s a form best to ignore.

An opening mark of 61 looks more than fair, judged on the Chelmsford performance, especially as he is back on the sand, and goes up to 9.5 furlongs. Franny Norton is in the saddle, for this one ride only today.

Given the gelding has shown alertness from the gate I expect him to move forward from the #1 draw. There aren’t too many concerns about the trip on pedigree, so a positive ride shouldn’t compromise his chances.

A concern is the drift in the betting. But I reckon not many will truly have a grasp on what we get from this bunch today and I happily back him at what looks potentially generous odds.

10pts win – Smooth Ryder @ 6/1

Wednesday Selections: 26th October 2022

6.30 Kempton: Class 5 Handicap, 1m

The pace in this race shapes as nothing more than modest and this will greatly play into the hands of those racing in a prominent position.

From the #1 draw, one who likes to be tracking the pace, who can sit behind the leader or make it all, if needed, is Asdaa. He got too far behind the last time at Wolverhampton as he tends to be not an overly sharp starter, but I would hope for things to play out differently today.

There isn’t as much competition for a prominent position this time and from his low draw he should get to a good early position without much hassle.

This is a seriously weak race, too. Asdaa, while far from a consistent horse, and neither in flying form, won at Pontefract in the summer over a mile three starts back and ran to a 70 speed rating that day – that’s rock solid form in my book, and the best on offer, only matched by Bin Hayyan in this field, who is an intriguing runner after gelding operation, if he can stretch out over the mile, but is drifting in the market, suggesting he’s not really expected today.

He wasn’t in the same form since, but a return to the All-Weather will surely suit over the mile trip. He’s only a pound higher than at Pontefract, but is arguably a better horse on the sand.

He ran 8 times to speed ratings 69+ (i.e. matching or higher than current OR), six of those on the All-Weather., including three times at Kempton, and the top three efforts over a mile as well.

Not many hoses in this field can offer the same level of consistent speed ratings on this level, and as a consequence few, if any, appear well-handicapped.

Asdaa, though, off a 69 mark is handicapped one win off a correct Official Rating (in my assessment), hence he should have an excellent chance to score with circumstances firmly in his favour.

Kingscote/Johnston enjoy a fruitful partnership on the All-Weather: 6/20 this season, with more than half of the runners placed.

Taking everything into consideration you’d really hope for a big run tonight. Of course, you can’t put too much trust into an inconsistent class 5 handicapper. Yet, Asdaa appears quite a bit overpriced in this field.

10pts win – Asdaa @ 5/1

Wednesday Selections: 29th June 2022

Make that three days three winners on the bounce. Ideal Guest stormed his way up and down the Brighton 7 furlongs today. There was no pace on, nobody wanted to get on with things other than Ideal Guest. That was a concern, but it didn’t matter in the end.

Tom Queally is a good pilot and was an even better passenger here. He didn’t fight to be the boss. Ideal Guest was firmly in charge and had the field off the bridle approaching 3 furlongs from home going a thousand miles an hour. Any doubts that he may die up the final hill to the finish line were quickly put to bed.

7/1 was a huge price. In the preview I said Ideal Guest could have up to 10lb in hand and will win if he settles. He didn’t settle but had too much in hand with the fast conditions and the drop in trip doing wonders too. It’s good to get it right once in a while.

Back in healthy profit for June. I can’t fathom how quickly this game can turn. I must confess I gave it a good fist bump when Ideal Guest passed the line. Never too high, never too low should be the mantra of any aspiring punter who wants to make a long-term profit. It’s never about the now and always about the later.

However, sometimes it’s very much about the “now”. It’s only a few days ago that I was writing about experiencing one – if not the – worst slump of form in the last five years or so. Was it bad luck or were my methods broken? I wasn’t sure other than I knew something did go badly wrong. It started already in May. perhaps I gonna write another time in more detail on the lessens learned from these last four weeks. There was plenty learned. And that is always a good thing.

……..

7.50 Bath: Class 6 Handicap, 1m 3.5f

Small field but competitive field. Yet it looks significant that the Johnston team travels to Bath with Franny Norton in the saddle for this single race. They have a strong record here, even though not as many runners lately. Norton has been quite selective with his Bath rides, too, it seems.

That gives me added confidence that Cavendish is ready to strike. He looks to be running over the right trip and showed more than the bare form suggested the last couple of runs, especially as the form of those races looks pretty solid.

He fared best of the leaders at Yarmouth when setting a fast pace and I quite liked the way he kept going pretty much right to the end after being heavily challenged over three furlongs out. The runner-up has already won in the meantime, giving this form a good look.

Next time Cavendish was up in trip to what looked on paper ideal, but he raced wide and inefficient for the most part, and hadn’t much left in the home straight.

He dropped another 3lb in the meantime but is still pretty unexposed over these sort of distances. His dam was a smart handicapper and winner over 12f furlongs and 13 furlongs. So there’s every chance Cavendish can improve over the trip.

He ran to topspeed 49 at Yarmouth, that ties in well with his current mark. Any bit of improvement will see him go very close.

10pts win – Cavendish @ 4/1

Preview: 1000 Guineas

Newmarket Rowley Mile False Rail

This years renewal doesn’t appear to be a “vintage Guineas”. However, that makes the contest quite an intriguing one, with so many fillies having so many questions to answer.

The betting is headed by a filly that’ll be outpaced four furlongs out and will struggle to finish fast enough in the end. In saying that I really do think Quadrilateral is a poor favourite and I am more than happy to take her on.

Her Fillies’ Mile victory is clearly a fine piece of form in the context of the Guineas but one had to be blind not to see that she needed every inch of the eight furlongs that day, not to forget on good to soft ground.

She is hardly getting any faster; in fact she is a fine prospect once she steps up in trip and probably more an Oaks contender than a solid Guineas favourite, but certainly an outstanding prospect for Group 1 races over ten furlongs.

Only a few fillies in this field have achieved a topspeed rating of 100 or more. That is disappointing and only proves the point that this year isn’t the strongest 1000 Guineas we have ever seen.

On the other hand, as mentioned in the 2000 Guineas preview, the fact that we’re four weeks behind the usual schedule will surly help those fillies that need time to mature, which in turn means there is the possibility for a big improver turning all the known form on its head.

I have little love for the Aiden O’Brien trained Love to be the one. Seven starts, beaten in four of them, only a career-high topspeed rating of 93 to show – she isn’t good enough.

Millisle has attracted a lot of positive quotes over the recent days and weeks. And rightly so. Her Cheveley Park Stakes success rates top of the queue. Given she is a late May foal you would hope for more improvement this year.

Stamina is the key question, as for many in the race today. She won twice over five furlongs. She has tons of speed. The pedigree gives some hope that she can stay the mile. In my book she is, with this benefit of the doubt, the filly to beat. At given prices she is too short for me to back, though.

The two I like in this field have both plenty to prove. There is the speedy Raffle Prize. It’s fair to say she has the best juvenile form in the book.

Runner-up against the boys in a strong Prix Morny, plus a subsequent runner-up performance in the Cheveley Park Stakes, plus two Group 2 successes early in the season – she achieved consistently high topspeed ratings, including twice of 100+ as well.

Obviously stamina is a massive question for a filly with so much speed. Her sire Slade Power was a classy sprinter but his offspring has done alright over the mile so far: a 12.6% strike rate reads decent enough. The dam side gives a bit hope too, so do the comments from the Johnston yard and the fact she is an April foal with scope.

The other one I like to outrun expectations, certainly judged by the market as a guide, is Richard Hannon’s Cloak Of Spirits. She was highly impressive on debut, subsequently disappointed in the May Hill Stakes, but really ran well in the Rockfel Stakes, when she also achieved a 97 topspeed rating, which in the context of the 1000 Guineas looks good form.

She is expected to progress as a three-year-old, boosts a scopey physique and has a fair chance to stay the distance. Richard Hannon is quite bullish about her chances as well. Not that I take too much note of that usually, nonetheless it’s a bonus if connections are keen and positive on an individual that you expect to progress anyway.

Her best form from last year isn’t far away from the best form of the market principles. So with more to come from her potentially, she is quite a massive price in comparison.

Selection:
6pts win – Raffle Prize @ 9/1
4pts win – Cloak Of Spirits @ 17/1

Sunday Selections: January, 19th 2020

Newmarket Rowley Mile Winning post

12.50 Lingfield: Class 6 Apprentice Handicap, 1m 6f

Favourite Wanaasah won under an enterprising ride in sensational style recently here at Wolverhampton over a few furlongs longer. She should go well again, albeit, under a 5lb penalty and with most likely not given an uncontested lead things will be more difficult.

I am interested in Mark Johnston’s Grenadier Guard. Clearly a talented individual; clearly one with quirks who’s gone wrong at the same time.

He is tried in a visor for the first time today. I am not pinning solely my hope on that piece of headgear, but it may well help the gelding to focus better. I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt that he needed his last two runs after a break potentially; certainly a first start at Southwell is always something to forgive.

He drops down to a mile and six furlongs, which looks a more suitable trip. At the same time Grenadier Guard continues to fall in the mark. He showed promise last summer on turf when running to some good level of form, winning at Haydock and following up with a fine 2nd in a competitive Novices race.

That day he also ran to a 85 topspeed rating which looks believable. Hence there is a bit of talent that is better than a January class 5 Handicap at Wolverhampton. I take the risk and give Grenadier Guard another chance to live somewhat up to last summers promise.

Selection:
10pts win – Grenadier Guard @ 10.5/1 MB

Wednesday Selections: July, 11th 2018

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4.10 Catterick: Class 4 Handicap, 2 miles

A wide open long distance handicap that could go the way of featherweight Kittileo. Only eight stone to carry, the sole three year old in the race has a massive chance to win on what is his fifth career start – if he stays the trip and acts on the fast ground.

He showed promise on occasions, but I feel the Mark Johnston runner might come over these marathon trips into his own. His pedigree gives him any chance to improve and Galileo’s have a tremendous record here at Catterick over this sort of trip.

Receiving weight all around, Kittileo has the added advantage of a good draw, which even over longer trips, can make a difference here at Catterick. Given, he has shown to be enjoy the lead in his runs same tactics will surely be employed here as well at a course where those up with the pace have always a big advantage.

Selection:
10pts win – Kittileo @ 13/2 GB

Enlance dangerous on All-Weather debut

Godolphin is red hot on the All-Weather and for that simple reason you have to respect the favourite Hollie Point who finally got off the mark on the ninth attempt over course and distance when fitted with blinkers for the first time a fortnight ago. An opening mark of 80 looks fair and she may well has more to offer, but for all of that, she hasn’t beaten much the last time and looks a very short price.

Dark War looks a solid enough gelding and has fair form to offer, though more is required here and there might not be too much more to come. Jaganory doesn’t look good enough to land this, while Caltra Colleen is an interesting filly with potential, but she has been off the track for a very long time and the drift in the market is a worry.

Mark Johnston has his string in excellent form lately and does particularly well with three year olds. That gives confidence in the chance of Enlace, who has her first start this season. She die very well in the early days of her career when she followed up on her fine debut win with a strong runner-up effort in a hot Newmarket Nursery. She was unable to confirm that form subsequently, but a break may have done her well and on pedigree it looks likely that she can progress with age as well as the step up to 7f should suit. As a Shamardal daughter she should take well to the All-Weather.

In my eyes Enlace is the value against the favourite in this field where on merit it should be between the first two in the market. Money is floating in for the Johnston filly and 11/4 looks a very good price here.

8.15 Kempton: Class 4 Handicap, 7f
Enlace @ 11/4 William Hill – 10pts win