Robin Oakley

The turf | 29 September 2016

In one of the key indicators of future form, the two-year-old stormed to victory in a stiff headwind

There are few more compulsive reads in racing than the Kingsley Klarion, the in-house journal of Mark Johnston’s Middleham racing operation, which runs under the slightly ambiguous slogan ‘Always trying’. It is ambiguous not because anyone doubts that every Johnston runner is out on the racecourse striving to be first past the post but because the combatirobin ove Johnston is never short of an opinion, and sometimes those opinions have other senior figures in racing spitting feathers. Once of an opinion, he does not mind whose patience he tries.

Last Saturday Mark produced what was for me the training performance of the season when, in a stiff wind, his 25-1 shot The Last Lion won the Group One Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes, one of the key autumn indicators of next season’s likely stars. It was no fluke: The Last Lion won strictly on merit, leading all the way to beat the Gimcrack winner Blue Point. They don’t stock much cotton wool at Kingsley House Stables: what was remarkable was that this was the two-year-old’s tenth race in a season that began with his victory in the Brocklesby Stakes at Doncaster, the first of the season’s meaningful tests for quality two-year-olds. In only one of those ten contests, when he was third, has The Last Lion finished out of the first two.

I rushed to congratulate the beaming trainer after the race, and there was, true to form, a Johnston theory to complement the success. When I remarked what an achievement it was to lead all the way in such a headwind, a phenomenon that had seemingly explained the failure of other front-runners on the day, he countered, ‘That’s a debate I’ve been having with several of my owners who want horses tucked in behind to protect them in such conditions.

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