JOHNSTON’S JOY TEMPERED BY TRAGEDY

17 October 2004

Middleham trainer’s Cesarewitch-Dewhurst double is spoilt by a serious injury to stable star Mister Monet.

Deirdre Johnston’s face was full of tears not smiles. Shamardal had just brilliantly landed the Dewhurst Stakes to complete a magnificent double for her husband Mark’s Middleham stable which had earlier landed the Tote Cesarewitch with Contact Dancer. But in between, the yard’s Mister Monet had fractured his leg in the Champion Stakes. The tears ran down.

“I don’t think I can take much more of this roller coaster,” said Deirdre who herself rides many of the Johnston horses at home. “Mister Monet was able to walk into the horse ambulance but it is a bad fracture. The outlook is not good. And to think we have had such a day.”

The two and a quarter miles of the Cesarewitch is enough of a stamina test at the best of times. But with the downpours Newmarket has received this week it was a race that yesterday reduced the also-rans to routed cavalry. The winner was never in danger of this, always travelling easily in the hands of Royston Ffrench, who committed himself determinedly a furlong from home and had half a length and a head in hand of the strong-finishing joint favourite Mr Ed and the 50-1 outsider High Point.

The victory was an ultimate redemption for Ffrench whose promising career suffered a self-induced body blow when he was caught napping on a horse of Johnston’s four years ago. This was his 44th winner of the season, a quarter of them for the trainer whose basic fitness platform instils a confidence into both horse and rider which is particularly noticeable when conditions get tough.

Attraction’s “thou shalt not pass” victory at the last meeting was symbolic of the Johnston “Always Trying” motto and watching first Contact Dancer and then Shamardal running home, neck straight, body extended was to see equine will to win. This was particularly true in Shamardal. His two previous victories had confirmed a sky-high home reputation, but they had been on good ground and here he was in against the hugely impressive Champagne Stakes winner Etlaala. Supporters need never have feared.

“Ride him like Attraction,” were Mark Johnston’s orders to Kevin Darley. “Let him stride and if anything leads you they are going too fast.” Darley was never headed, and galloped on relentlessly up the hill to see himself installed as 3-1 favourite for next year’s 2,000 Guineas. Etlaala was literally all at sea in the rain-softened going and only beat one of the nine runners home.

Shamardal is from the first crop of Giant’s Causeway whose “Iron Horse” characteristics have also been transmitted to his daughter Maids Causeway, who put herself in the 1,000 Guineas betting (albeit at 25-1) by winning the Rockfel Stakes by the proverbial whisker. It was a rousing triumph for father and son, Michael and Barry Hills, but was then resoundingly trumped by Michael’s twin brother Richard who powered home on Haafhd to add another Champion Stakes for his father.

It was by any standards a great training performance. After winning the 2,000 Guineas Haafhd lost his way in midsummer. But Hills never lost belief, gave the horses a three-month break after a Goodwood defeat and came here fearing neither the ground nor the extra quarter mile distance. While Mark Johnston saw both Mister Monet’s accident and the fancied Lucky Story run a hugely disappointing ninth, Hills watched Haafhd redeem himself with tears of joy.

Runner-up Chorist was the closest Kieren Fallon got to a winner in what now seems an increasingly desperate pursuit of Frankie Dettori in the jockeys’ championship. The Italian’s victory on Firebreak put him 19 clear and as he jumped in a helicopter bound for Wolverhampton’s evening meeting his mood was buoyant. “I rode work on Sulamani first thing,” he said, “got home and played with the children, did The Morning Line on the phone, ran four kilometres on the running machine, came here to sign books for half an hour and have 13 rides. That,” he concluded happily, “is a proper day’s work.”

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