Classic hopes for Charlie Johnston in first solo season


Charlie Johnston, a young trainer in his first season with a license, is thrilled to have a runner in both Guineas races. Dubai Mile, a chestnut with a big white face, won a Group 1 at the end of October, making him an exciting prospect for Johnston’s Kingsley House. Dubai Mile is among the best in his class, though he may not be the sexiest horse in the lineup for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas on Saturday. Regardless, he belongs in the best company and his toughness may work in his favour.

Dubai Mile won the Criterium de Saint-Cloud after a long battle with Arrest, the Gosden-trained favourite. He had previously shown similar qualities when he finished second of four in the Royal Lodge. While he may not be the favourite, being in the running gives him a chance to do the double. Other horses, like New Approach, Masar, Australia, Sir Percy, and Generous, have been placed in the Guineas before winning at Epsom.

“He galloped on the Wednesday of the Craven meeting before racing and I was very pleased with how that went. It was to give the horse a day out, given that he was going to go into a Group 1 first time out, and a chance for Danny [Muscutt] to sit on the horse again. And to spark a discussion amongst ourselves about what direction we were going with the horse in the early part of the season.

“He’s a Group 1-winning two-year-old. Running into a place in the Guineas would make him a more valuable proposition as a stallion.

“Obviously, he’s run very well in a Royal Lodge over the course and distance. He handles the track very well and we know you have to stay well to win a Guineas.

“Do we think he’s a miler? No. We think he’s going to come into his own when he steps up in trip but this is the best starting point for his year.

“We go there hopeful rather than confident, hoping to see him run a nice trial for Epsom and if he can stay on into the frame, that would be fantastic.”

Dubai Mile may also be better suited to the Epsom Classics a month later. Johnston is hoping for rain clouds to turn up over the Rowley Mile this week, as they are forecast to do at several stages. Dubai Mile has had a quiet and smooth winter with no setbacks, and he looks like a stronger model now.

Dance In The Grass is Johnston’s entrant for Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas. She was impressive in her first two starts, but was a disappointment in very testing ground in the May Hill. Johnston admitted that in hindsight, he probably should have pulled up stumps at that point, but they had one more go in the Rockfel. While Dance In The Grass may not be the favourite, being in the running gives her a chance to win.

How has his winter been? “Very quiet and smooth, no setbacks at all. He is slightly bigger, a stronger horse this year. He’s probably going to go into the Guineas only about 10kg heavier than he was going to Saint-Cloud but that’s quite appreciable to look at the horse. He looks a stronger model now.”

Johnston’s entrant in Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas is Dance In The Grass. “She was very impressive in her first two starts. The wheels came off a little bit when she was a short price for the May Hill and was disappointing that day in very testing ground. In hindsight, we probably should have pulled up stumps at that point but we had one more go in the Rockfel.

“She’s tall and was quite an immature two-year-old and that was a bit much for her. She’ll be better equipped for that kind of level this year. Again, we would assume she would benefit from going further in due course but her owner is keen to roll the dice in the Guineas as the starting point for her season.”

And Johnston has other Epsom possibles besides these two. “Hadrianus ran a great race in the Blue Riband. He’s another good trial run away from being in the Epsom picture.

Dear My Friend will go to the Dante with the Middleham Park team dreaming of the Derby as well. To have a number of horses for these kind of races in my first season is fantastic. Just need to try and win one of them now…” 

Johnston’s first season as a trainer with a license in his name is looking up, as he has runners in both Guineas races. This is an exciting prospect for any young trainer, and Johnston is thrilled to be a part of it.

“I think we would both say that things have changed, probably a bit more than we maybe expected. The reality is now, with my name above the door, more people want to speak to me and I have to be the face of the business, going forward.

“Albeit the work behind the scenes is much the same as it was last year, there certainly feels a bit of added accountability for me in terms of the outcomes on the track and possibly there will naturally be a bit more scrutiny of our results this year. So it’s important we have a good year.

“I joked last year that, when things went well, I got 50 per cent of the credit and when things went badly I got all of the blame. Maybe my increment of the credit has gone up a bit.

“I’m sure he won’t be walking off into the sunset but him and Mum are taking a bit more time off, which is great for them. Over the last 30 years, when they took any time off the phone still rang every ten minutes, but now they actually get a chance to enjoy it.”



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Paul Nicholls, the Somerset trainer, has broken his own 15-year-record for prize-money accumulated by a trainer in a jumps season in Britain, collecting a total of £3,646,585. He achieved the feat with a third and fourth in the final race of the campaign, beating the record set in the 2007-08 season when Kauto Star, Denman and Master Minded were among the flagbearers. Nicholls was crowned champion trainer for the 14th time at Sandown on Saturday, and he praised a team effort for the success.

Despite disappointing results in some races, the day improved as Knappers Hill won the bet365 Select Hurdle, scooping £45,560. In the last race of the season, Samarrive and Iceo finished third and fourth, earning £4,186 and £2,093, respectively, and breaking the record by just £74. The £74 accounts for around 0.002 percent of the prize-money earned in the season. Nicholls had said breaking the record was a target after landing two winners at this season’s Cheltenham Festival.

He praised a team effort for the success and said: “We just had one of those days today, but we just cracked it. It wasn’t a massively important thing, but it’s nice to do it having got this far. It’s a little thing all the team have strived for it and they can all be proud of.

“We had a nice winner and some were a bit disappointing, but at this time of year that always happens. Apart from Saturday, they’ve been in cracking form all season. It’s been brilliant and hopefully in October we can go forward again.

“I’m quite pleased too because it reflects quite well on British racing. We get a bit of stick about our prize-money but our jumpers have got nearly £3.7 million this season, which shows it’s not that bad. I’ve got some wonderful owners who really love the sport and are involved because it really is a great sport.”

Bravemansgame, the King George winner and Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up, was the highest-earning horse for Nicholls in Britain this season, earning £332,129. Pic D’Orhy, Knappers Hill, Greaneteen, Stage Star, Frodon and Hitman also achieved six-figure earnings. The yard sent out 161 winners, the third-highest for a season, and Nicholls also pointed to a big campaign for Harry Cobden as another highlight. The stable jockey was highly praised for his efforts on Nicholls’ Cheltenham Festival winners Stage Star and Stay Away Fay in March.

Cobden was stood down on Saturday after falling on Enrilo in the bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase. Despite the disappointment, Nicholls hailed the team effort “to be proud of.” The record-breaking achievement reflects the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in the yard, and Nicholls’ praise is a testament to their contributions.

Nicholls added: “It’s a shame Harry never rode his winner because he’s been a revelation this season. We missed him for a few races just as Manchester City would losing [Erling] Haaland for a few games. He knows the horses and rides them well.

“We’ve got a great team headed up by Clifford [Baker, head lad] and I’m proud of everybody. It’s been a cracking season, so bring on the next one.”



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Mick Appleby has won his sixth consecutive all-weather trainers’ title, praising his team for their hard work over the winter. The trainer sent out a personal-best total of 60 winners, and was awarded a trophy and a cheque for £10,000 at Newcastle on Friday. This is Appleby’s seventh title overall, with 90 horses in his stable over the winter.

Despite his success, Appleby admitted he thought he had “no chance” of taking the crown in December. “At Christmas, I thought we had no chance,” he said. “We were 15 behind George Boughey and I felt we’d be lucky to win it, but then thankfully we had 20 winners in January. I keep saying, it gets tougher every year.”

Daniel Muscutt was crowned champion jockey, but missed the All-Weather Championships finals day as he was riding at Lingfield, where he partnered Diderot to success. Billy Loughnane was awarded leading apprentice, and Philip Robinson received the trophy for top all-weather owner on behalf of Godolphin.

Muscutt said: “It’s been enjoyable but there’s lots of cold evenings, in the snow and all sorts, so it’s nice to come out of the other end. My agent has done a very good job, and I’ve had lots of support from a wide range of trainers, so it’s a big thanks to them. The first two-thirds of it flew by, and the last five weeks have dragged a little bit, but it’s nice to get it over the line.”

Loughnane, who finished 25 winners clear of his nearest rival, said, “Every minute of the season has been great. We didn’t expect it to happen, to be honest. We thought if we could hit ten it would be great for the winter and try to work into the summer. The way things have gone has been amazing – class! It’s just a massive thank you to everyone who has helped and supported me through the whole thing. My Dad, he’s obviously been a massive player, my jockey coach Rodi Greene, and my agent Sash Righton – between us all, we’ve started off a good bond, and it’s been great.”

Although Muscutt enjoyed being busy on the all-weather, he admitted that it has been tough. “I like to be busy on the all-weather as it keeps my weight in check, and it keeps me ticking over,” he said. “I was pretty quiet until the turn of the year. Most of my main trainers were only running in a maiden here and there, but we were ticking over nicely, and then the bigger yards started to gear up again. It’s been a good run to make up the deficit on Kevin [Stott] in mid-February, then slugged it out from then.”



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“Top man who trained some great winners” – Tributes pour in following the death of trainer John Spearing at the age of 82 after a long illness.

His daughter Teresa announced his passing on Friday, saying, “Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021 and passed away yesterday, it was very peaceful. He received excellent care in the Lawns Nursing Home in Kempsey.”

John Spearing had won over 800 races on the Flat and over jumps throughout his career. He was a successful trainer, notably with Run And Skip who landed the Welsh National and Anthony Mildmay, Peter Cazalet Memorial Chase, and was fourth behind Dawn Run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1986.

Peter Scudamore, who rode Run And Skip, expressed his admiration for Spearing, stating, “I had the privilege of riding Run And Skip, who wasn’t easy to train. John was a very hands-on trainer and a good feeder of horses, and I had the greatest respect for him.” Andrew Thornton, who rode Simon to his greatest wins, said, “John was straight down the line… His horses were always fit and if he said they had a chance, they certainly did — whether it was five furlongs or three and a half miles.”

Fellow trainer and old friend David Evans shared, “I got on well with him and I used to use his gallop when I was at Annabel King’s in the 1980s. He was a very good trainer from limited opportunities. He kept himself to himself, if he had one lined up no-one would know about it.”

Spearing’s achievements were not limited to jumps racing. He also had success on the flat with horses such as Listed winners Vax Lady, Vax Star, Croeso Croeso, and Pintle plus Rapid Lad, who won an impressive 12 times at Beverley.

The trainer was brought up on the outskirts of Moreton-In-Marsh (on land his brother David still farms) and took out a permit in 1965. He gained his full license after being asked to train Glendale, who he won 13 races with, and spent the last three decades of his career based at the Rimell family’s stronghold of Kinnersley Stables in Worcestershire.

Danny Bleu was Spearing’s final winner as a trainer at Chepstow. The Kinnersley Partnership colours were carried to victory in March by Shutthegate, who moved to Henry Oliver after Spearing handed in his license. The trainer said of Spearing, “John was a great trainer and he was very good to me in my riding career. He lived and breathed racing — that was his life. When I was champion conditional, John picked up my trophy as I was riding at Market Rasen. I was winding him up telling him there was no cheque for doing that! John was really good fun and a top man who trained some great winners.”

Sally Iggulden, chief executive of Beverley Racecourse, paid tribute to Rapid Lad, who Spearing trained and won 12 times at the course, stating, “Rapid Lad used to detach himself round the bottom bend and get miles back then absolutely fly up the home straight; he loved the uphill finish here. People still talk about Rapid Lad now; we have a bar named after him, and John was really proud of that.”

Spearing’s legacy will continue at Beverley with the annual Rapid Lad Handicap on April 27, which will commemorate his track specialist. The racing world mourns the loss of one of its greats, but John Spearing will always be remembered as a talented and dedicated trainer who made his mark in the sport.



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Ralph’s royals: This year, Beckett took four of the King’s two-year-old horses to train.

After the King recently sent four juveniles, including a sister to the smart sprinter King’s Lynn, Ralph Beckett will have two-year-old runners for the first time in 2023.

The trainer from Andover already has a relationship with His Majesty and the Queen Consort because he has trained the royal couple for 15 years.

Prior to her death, Queen Elizabeth II divided her horses among Sir Michael Stoute, John and Thady Gosden, Andrew Balding, William Haggas, Harry and Roger Charlton, Clive Cox, Richard Hughes, Michael Bell, and Nicky Henderson. Beckett was not previously on the Queen’s training roster.

A Cable Bay-Kinematic filly, a sister to Balding-trained King’s Lynn, who won the Group 2 Temple Stakes last year, is among the four newcomers from the Royal Studs, all of whom have not yet been named.

A Kingman-Enticement juvenile is another choicely bred filly. She is a half-sister to the former Diploma, who was trained by Stoute and won a Listed race at Freemason Lodge.

A colt and a filly by Mastercraftsman from Shimmering Light and first-season sire Land Force from Pack Together have also been sent to Beckett.

As part of a process to streamline the Royal Studs operation, Pack Together (11,000 grams) and Shimmering Light (60,000 grams) were auctioned off at the Tattersalls December Sales last year.

Desert Hero, a two-time winner, is one of the three-year-old horses the King can anticipate in 2023. He is currently in training with Haggas and may attempt a Classic trial in the spring.

Slipofthepen, trained by the Gosdens, is also of Classic interest. After winning impressively on his debut at Kempton in November, he received odds of 20-1 to win the Derby.



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