History man Mark Johnston
A former son of East Kilbride has earned the title of the most successful racehorse trainer in Britain after saddling his 4194th winner.
Mark Johnston’s monumental achievement came at York when, somewhat unexpectedly, Frankie Dettori rode outsider Poet’s Society to victory in a one-mile handicap.
The 58 year-old’s historic win and illustrious rise to the upper echelons of racing is a truly remarkable tale.
Growing up on a council estate in The Murray’s Napier Hill, a young Johnston got his first foray into the world of racing when his dad Ronald, a night porter, would sneak him into a Village bookies on Saturdays to place bets.
Aged six, his family left the town for Aberfoyle with Johnston, who attended Murray Primary School for two years, going on to study at Glasgow University, graduating as a vet, before taking out a trainer’s licence in 1987.
The prolific flat trainer now stables 250 horses in Middleham, North Yorkshire where he lives with wife Deirdre. He has two sons: Charlie, a qualified vet who works in the family business, and trainee accountant and musician/singing waiter Angus who lives and works in Glasgow.
The News caught up with Johnston this week...
Growing up on an East Kilbride council estate in your early years, what gave you the desire to become a racehorse trainer?
I left East Kilbride when I was six but it is arguable to say that the seeds were planted there. My father was obsessed with horses and racing. Every Saturday we would go to the bookies in the old Village and put his bets on.
I would either have to wait outside (no kids allowed) or, if it was raining, he would sneak me in and I’d stand under the counter. We would then go to my grandmother’s house in Calderwood where my dad and his step-father would watch the racing. We, myself and my two
elder sisters, were also taken for our first riding lessons while in East Kilbride.
What was your first racehorse and what was the feeling like to win as a trainer for the first time?
My first winner was Hinari Video at Carlisle on July 1, 1987.
All I remember is that, with no racing channels in those days and no videos of the races, we watched the result on teletext all evening. In those days, that one winner was enough to keep us happy for the whole year. Now, if we don’t have a winner for three days, people say we are in the doldrums.
Looking back on your early days as a trainer, how difficult were they and were there plenty of early-morning starts
and late finishes? What was the best piece of advice you have been given with regards training racehorses?
The starts were no earlier and the nights no later than they are now but, in many ways, it was more fun. The pressures were financial. Now, as I have said, we are constantly expected to win and expected to explain why when we don’t.
The only advice I ever remember anyone giving me was, ‘don’t do it’. That maybe made me more determined.
Starting from scratch, with no family ties to the sport, did you ever see yourself achieving such success as being named Britain’s top trainer? I had huge ambitions but 4000-plus winners was beyond
And did you think it would come on a 20-1 shot in a big field handicap at York in the shape of Poet’s Society? How did it feel when Poet’s Society crossed the line in first place?
Relief! Of course, I didn’t think it would come in that race. We had gone a few days and missed out with much more fancied runners.
What are your general thoughts on the standard of racing just now and where could the sport be improved for those involved and punters alike?
Racing is very competitive now but there is certainly too much of it for the number of horses available.
Racecourses are doing well and just want to put on more and more races to service the demand from the betting industry. For those of us involved, the prize money is always the biggest issue with returns being pitiful in comparison to other professional sports.
For punters, I think things would be much better if more emphasis was put on the sport rather than dumbing it down to be a betting medium based on tips and information rather than opinion.
Football is rapidly becoming the most popular betting medium because punters and followers all have their own opinion. Racing needs to put more emphasis on making the sport itself interesting rather than media coverage being entirely about betting, and racecourse attendance being particularly geared to food and beverage, especially beverage.
Can you give News readers a horse from your stable worth keeping an eye on over the coming months?
I’m not a tipster and I hate the idea that people think tips and so-called ‘inside information’ is the key to successful gambling.
It is total fallacy that we know what is going to win. Read the form, follow the sport and back your own opinions.
Do you ever come back to East Kilbride or keep in touch with people from the town?
Sadly, I rarely come back. The last time was a few years ago to visit my father’s cousin. I still have an uncle and his family living in East Kilbride.
We would thengotomy grandmother’s house in Calderwood where my dad and his step-father would watch the racing...
Eyes on the prizeMark Johnston grew up with his family in East Kilbride
All smiles Legendary jockey Frankie Dettori celebrates with Mark Johnston after riding the trainer’s 4194th domestic British winner
Glorious moment Top trainer Mark Johnston with his record-breaking winner Poet’s Society at York last month