His­tory man Mark John­ston

East Kilbride News - - FRONT PAGE - An­drea Lam­brou

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

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