Dee Ex Bee and Visinari head Johnston's Glorious Goodwood honours bid

Dee Ex Bee at work at Mark Johnston's Middlesham gallops with a fortnight to go before Glorious Goodwood
Dee Ex Bee at work at Mark Johnston's Middlesham gallops with a fortnight to go before Glorious Goodwood

Trainer Mark Johnston is a record-breaker nationally - and at Goodwood. And he is champing at the bit to get more victories under his belt at this year's Glorious.

Johnston, Britain's winning-most trainer of all time, has already sent out 150 winners this season - after recording the highest-ever total of successes in a British season last term with 230 victories.

Dee Ex Bee tries the Goodwod Cup rug out for size

Dee Ex Bee tries the Goodwod Cup rug out for size

The Glasgow-born trainer, now based in North Yorkshire, is no stranger to success at Glorious Goodwood, with 78 winners, second to Sir Michael Stoute (80 winners) among current trainers at the five-day meeting.

Johnston has also captured the festival's top trainer award on 12 occasions, including in four of the past five years. Overall, he is responsible 147 winners at Goodwood since his first one at the West Sussex course in 1991.

The handler's squad for this year's Qatar Goodwood Festival is headed by classy stayer Dee Ex Bee, who is set to renew his rivalry with G1 Gold Cup conqueror Stradivarius (John Gosden) in the £500,000 G1 Qatar Goodwood Cup over two miles on the opening day of the festival, Tuesday, July 30. The Qatar Goodwood Cup is part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.

The four-year-old son of Farhh finished second in the 2018 renewal of the G1 Investec Derby at Epsom Downs and began this season with convincing victories in the G3 Sagaro Stakes and G3 Henry II Stakes, both run over two miles.

The front-running Dee Ex Bee was a length behind Stradivarius at Royal Ascot over two miles and four furlong, but Johnston is hoping the drop back in trip will not inconvenience his charge, who bids to give the trainer a sixth Qatar Goodwood Cup success following the record-breaking Double Trigger (1995, 1997, 1998), Royal Rebel (2000) and Darasim (2004).

Discussing his stable star, Johnston said: "Dee Ex Bee is in very good form and we have been happy with him since Royal Ascot. He hasn't done any fast work, but he is looking really well. We know it is going to be a tall order taking on Stradivarius again and that it is not ideal dropping back in trip.

"Going into the Gold Cup, we weren't sure if he was going to be suited by the extra half-mile, but he showed at Royal Ascot that he got every inch of the trip and he wouldn't have minded a little bit more.

"There is absolutely nothing we can do about Stradivarius. We can't belittle him and we are not sure if he has any chinks in his armour.

"You never run away from one horse. Maybe Dee Ex Bee has more stamina than him, but Stradivarius has won two Gold Cups! It would suit us if the Goodwood Cup is more of a test of stamina, but there is nothing we can do about that.

"In my opinion, tactics don't win you races, they only get you beat. My opinion is whoever runs the two miles of the Goodwood Cup or the mile of the 2,000 Guineas fastest, wins. That has been the policy throughout my career. I worked that out before I was given a training licence and that is the policy I have adopted for 32 years.

"Tactics are sometimes forced on me by owners and employed by jockeys, but generally I never set out with a plan.

"It occurred to me at Royal Ascot that Stradivarius is the people's horse. I was oblivious to it beforehand in the same way that I was oblivious to Double Trigger being the people's horse, even more so than Stradivarius maybe because of his colour and longevity.

"I was asked recently what race stood out for me most emotionally and that was Double Trigger's final Goodwood Cup (1998), where I was staggered by the amount of trainers, their husbands and wives who were running to the winner's enclosure to see Double Trigger - that is something I have not seen before or since! I wouldn't be doing it for Stradivarius!

"Other races to consider for Dee Ex Bee throughout the season are the Doncaster Cup and the Prix du Cadran, races which would not have Stradivarius in. The Prix du Cadran is usually run at a very slow pace, but that race on soft ground could suit him right down to the ground.

"I think Dee Ex Bee is still on an upward trajectory. We have learned more about him this year. He is clearly a horse that needs a test of stamina. Everybody thought his run at Goodwood last year in the Gordon Stakes [12f, second to subsequent G1 Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter] was a poor effort.

"Little did we know that Cross Counter would go on to win the Melbourne Cup. It just highlights that there is this tendency when a favourite gets beat that it is a poor performance! Sometimes it is never the poor performance that many people thought it was at the time."

Meanwhile Visinari was a striking three and a half-length winner on his debut in a six-furlong novice event at Newmarket in June and finished a close third in the G2 Tattersalls July Stakes over the same course and distance on July 11.

The two-year-old son of Dark Angel holds a high reputation at home and will bid to give Johnston a fifth win in the seven-furlong Qatar Vintage Stakes on Tuesday, July 30 following Mister Baileys (1993), Lucky Story (2003), Shamardal (2004) and Dark Vision (2018).

Reflecting on his third-placed effort last time out, Johnston said: "I was kicking myself after that race. We had a great debate beforehand which was probably influenced by talk of times and stride lengths. He made all in his novice race at Newmarket and never looked like getting beaten. On his first run, he was going away from the field and with hindsight, I should have stepped him up to seven furlongs and I didn't. I made a mistake and the horse got beat as a result of it.

"However, I hope I won't make the same mistake twice and he will be an even better horse over seven furlongs in the Qatar Vintage Stakes."

The ultra-consistent Nyaleti will be the stable's representative in the £600,000 G1 Qatar Nassau Stakes on Ladies' Day, Thursday, August 1. The four-year-old daughter of Arch has not entered the winner's enclosure since landing the 2018 G2 German 1,000 Guineas, but has run a string of fine races in defeat since, including placed efforts at G1 level. She was last seen when fourth in the G2 Lancashire Oaks (1m 4f) at Haydock Park on July 6.

"Nyaleti runs in the Nassau Stakes", said Johnston. "We took a chance at stepping her up to a mile and a half last time. I always think when you run a horse over too far, it is sometimes difficult to see if they didn't get the trip as they may just have been one-paced and plugged on. However, I think at Haydock, it was very obvious she didn't stay as three furlongs out she looked the likely winner."

This year's G2 German 1,000 Guineas scorer Main Edition could represent the yard in the seven-furlong £300,000 G2 Qatar Lennox Stakes (Tuesday, July 30), while Lake Volta (9st 3lb) andBlown By Wind (9st 1lb) are possible contenders for the £250,000 Unibet Stewards' Cup Heritage Handicap on Saturday, August 3, over six furlongs.

"Lake Volta could run in the Unibet Stewards' Cup", reported Johnston. "Charlie [Johnston, son & assistant trainer] does not think he is a six-furlong horse and that there are some big prizes to be won over seven furlongs with him, but the Stewards' Cup could be a possibility. Joe Fanning gets on very well with him.

"We were disappointed with Main Edition's run at Newmarket last time out and she is not certain to run at Goodwood. We will make a decision closer to the meeting."

Johnston has won the £150,000 Unibet Golden Mile (Friday, August 2) on five occasions, most recently with Fulbright in 2012 and he has six entries for this year's contest, Cardsharp (9st 10lb),Vale Of Kent (9st 1lb + 3lb penalty), Marie's Diamond (8st 11lb), Ventura Knight (8st 11lb),Dark Vision (8st 10lb), Masham Star (8st 7lb) and Victory Command (8st 1lb + 3lb penalty).

Dark Vision lit up the 2018 Qatar Goodwood Festival with a last to first victory in the Qatar Vintage Stakes and he is a possible for the Unibet Golden Mile. Johnston commented: "Dark Vision has showed us that he still retains his ability. I think he will run in the Golden Mile. On the one hand you could say we have a horse who has been disappointing, but on the other hand, we have gone from a horse who was so precious to just saying he is just another Godolphin horse and not that unique. He will appreciate some more racing.

"We think headgear could also sharpen him up by keeping him in the race. I am not one to study sectional times and stride patterns and there was no doubt last year was not a strong renewal of the Vintage Stakes, but it was the manner of his victory which was impressive. At the bottom of the hill, he had no chance and next thing you know, he had won it anyway! Horses were stopping in front of him, but people got excited for how he finished.

"Marie's Diamond runs at Haydock this week, Ventura Knight will also run between now and Goodwood, but they are all possibles. Running horses between now and Goodwood will not stop them going to Goodwood."

Discussing the rest of his squad for the Qatar Goodwood Festival, the trainer commented: "Love Dreams could possibly go to Goodwood, he can be too keen and is a difficult ride. Making Miracles is another possible for the stayers' handicap (Unibet Goodwood Handicap, Wednesday, July 31) along with Lucky Deal.

"We will have a big team with a lot of horses who will also run between now and Goodwood. We have plenty of horses in the yard and hopefully we are heading for a very strong team at the Qatar Goodwood Festival. Matterhorn, Elarqam, Cardsharp and Baghdad will all not go to Goodwood."

Revealing his affinity with the track, the trainer said: "We won races early on at Goodwood and that really started our relationship with the racecourse.

"Double Trigger's three Goodwood Cup wins also helped. I have owners now who first decided to send me a horse after Double Trigger won at Goodwood. He probably played a big part in us sending a lot of horses to Goodwood.

"Interestingly though, I have never had a horse and thought they would not be suited to Goodwood. I think it is generally complicated tracks that we do well at because we don't complicate our horses. If you don't run your horses at complicated tracks, they don't win and if you don't run them, you don't win.

"The Qatar Goodwood Festival along with Royal Ascot is a meeting that we plan for. We do a spreadsheet in advance and pencil in all the possible horses - they are the only two meetings we do that for. I wouldn't know how many horses we will send down there at the moment, but it will be as many as possible."

Johnston revealed that breaking his own record of 230 winners in one season was the target in 2019.

"We are always looking to break records", continued the trainer. "We set targets at the beginning of the year. They are not written in stone, but we set a target by our numbers of runners as well as winners. You need to have a lot of runners to be able to have a chance of having more winners. You need to look at whether your strike-rate is high enough and you're having enough runners. When we started this season, breaking that record of 230 winners was a target."

He also revealed that Charlie, his son and assistant trainer, will one day take over the reins at Middleham. Johnston said: "Charlie is playing a much bigger role these days. Although sometimes we are at loggerheads at the entry stage, we have two people in me and Charlie who are thinking about where they will run.

"He couldn't wait for me to retire five years ago but if you ask him now, he is working here in his fourth year that the job is bigger than he thought. Charlie only focuses on racing, he doesn't worry about getting a hedge cut, recruitment or other things, he just concentrates on racing.

"A huge part of when I retire will be down to the customers. There are already some owners who will talk to Charlie instead of me. In some ways, it is the astute owners who will talk to Charlie! I don't want to wait too long before he takes over so that he takes over a stable in decline and I don't want to be carried out in a box.

"He is the only person I want to break my record of British winners. I would like to retire at a point where there is no-one still training who is able to break my record except for Charlie Johnston."