PANAMA hats, sunshine and countryside as far as you can see.
That’s what most think of when Glorious Goodwood rolls around every summer. But not for Mark Johnston, he just wants to win.
As the Qatar Goodwood Festival kicks off again today, Johnston is only two winners behind Sir Michael Stoute’s record of 78 at the meeting.
Very much a numbers man, Johnston’s eyes light up when he hears of this record for the first time. It’s not often one gets by him.
The Scotsman said: “My relationship with Goodwood just came around by winning races, just simply winning races.
“I didn’t know about that record, but Sir Michael is a master and if I could break that this week then it would mean I would have had a good Goodwood!”
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There’s no secret to the Middleham man’s success at Goodwood year in, year out. As always, he just ‘runs them’.
Johnston continued: “I run every horse I have at Goodwood if I can, I can’t remember a horse of mine who didn’t handle the track.
“I think it’s generally complicated tracks we do the best at, simply because we don’t complicate them.
“Despite all its charm, most trainers wouldn’t run them at Goodwood. It’s their loss isn’t it?
“If you don’t run them, they don’t win.”
Johnston started out life as a trainer in 1987 with a handful of horses working on the beach in Lincolnshire. How times have changed.
He has built up an empire in the valleys of Middleham, North Yorkshire and has over 250 horses in training.
Last season Johnston broke Richard Hannon Snr’s long-standing record of British winners to become the most successful trainer on these shores.
The 59-year-old admits he has one horse to thank for much of this.
He added: “There’s no doubt Double Trigger’s performances at Goodwood played a big part in that.
“I’ve got owners who first noticed me when he was winning the Goodwood Cup three times.”
This time around it is John Gosden’s star-stayer Stradivarius who will be hat-trick hunting in today’s feature.
Once again, Johnston will be trying to spoil the party with his own stable favourite, Dee Ex Bee.
Stradivarius was dubbed the ‘peoples’ horse’ by Frankie Dettori after his Gold Cup heroics at Royal Ascot, but it was not long ago that was Double Trigger’s nickname.
And Johnston was quick to remind me of that.
He said: “I’m not going to be a very popular winner if I beat Stradivarius at Goodwood and I felt that at Ascot when Frankie was on him for the four-timer.
“Is Stradivarius the peoples’ horse? Maybe, but I’m oblivious to it.
“Am I being naive if I think Double Trigger was more of a peoples’ horse? Because of longevity, colour and his running style, he could be.
“Double Trigger’s last win in the Goodwood Cup has always stood out to me most as a race.
“I was stood in my usual spot in the Trainer’s area, and people, including other trainers and members, were running from the stands to the Winners’ Enclosure to get a spot to welcome him in and I haven’t seen that since. He was certainly the peoples’ horse.”
A laughing Johnston added: “I wouldn’t do that for Stradivarius and that’s the only time I’ve experienced that!
“If he wins the Goodwood Cup, and people are running to see him then I may agree with them!”
But how to beat Stradivarius?
Johnston admits he did look at other races where Stradivarius would not turn up, but the lure of Goodwood was always too much in the end.
He added: “Trainers do try and come up with tactics to beat horses like this, but I don’t.
“They’re more akin to Formula 1 cars than they are human athletes, there’s no psychology in it.
“Some of the greatest trainers in the world would disagree with me, but tactics don’t win you races, they only get you beat.
“I’m not sure Stradivarius has got any chinks in his armour, but you never run away from one horse.
“He’s won two Gold Cups and you can’t belittle him one bit. We’ve probably got more stamina than him, but we’re back down in trip and there’s not much we can do about that.”
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It won’t just be Dee Ex Bee fighting to edge Johnston into yet another record book at Goodwood.
Visinari is a warm order in the Vintage Stakes today and hoping to emulate stablemate Dark Vision’s memorable win in the seven furlong Group 2 last summer.
Dark Vision himself heads to the Unibet Golden Mile and Nyaleti will be flying the Johnston flag in the Group 1 Nassau later in the week.
As well as the usual faces, a horde of juveniles will be heading down in the Johnston convoy.
Will Johnston enjoy the week?
“Not really”, he said, “but it will be a fantastic sense of relief when we get that first winner.”
As always, winning is everything.