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Mark Johnston

In the last 10 years, outspoken Scottish trainer, Mark Johnston, is only second to the Richard Hannon operation in terms of runners, with over 12,000 taking to the racecourse. Training out of Middleham, North Yorkshire, he has assembled a huge string of runners, with most of his horses having nice pedigrees. Sporting the mantra ‘always trying’, Johnston is not afraid to race his horses regularly – a strategy that has been greeted with mixed views by racing professionals.

In this article we delve into the archives of the Mark Johnston runners, identifying any trends or biases in performance.

2 Year Olds

When it comes to 2 year olds, Johnston does not really display a significant bias throughout the year.

First Time Out 2 Year Olds by Time of Year

MonthRunnersWinnersWin S/RP/L to SPA/E

*A/E denotes actual number of winners divided by expected number of winners. A figure over 1 represents good value, anything under 1 is poor value.

In 2015, he has started very well with his juveniles, and the few runners he has had in March and April performed with great credit. As a general rule, he doesn’t have many runners until May, so those that do start out early are usually fairly sharp.

From May-June, the Scots record isn’t great, with an A/E of 0.78 in both months. The rest of the year has an uneven look, with some months profitable and others showing a modest strike rate.

It is interesting to notice that Johnston’s record in October is solid. He performs best with his 2 year old debutants over 7f, and towards the end of the season there are more of these races. With 10 winners from 52 winners (further 9 places) and a £72 LSP, giving an A/E of 2.26, his 7f debutants really need respecting in October.

First Time Out 2 Year Olds by Course

With such a large scale operation, Johnston has no issue spreading his runners around the country. He does reasonably well at a number of courses, but there are a few that he really struggles at:

CourseRunnersWinnersWin S/RP/L to SPA/E

Haydock, Ayr and Yarmouth are tracks to avoid MJ 2 year old debutants.

3 Year Olds

Johnston doesn’t show any demonstrable seasonal bias when it comes to his 3 year old debutants. They can win in any month of the year, but don’t have a fantastic overall record; 52/389 (13.4%) for a loss of £-128, for an A/E of 0.85.

Where there is a discrepancy in performance with his 3 year old debutants is on the surface:

3 Year Old Debutants

Race TypeRunnersWinnersWin S/RP/L to SPA/E

His all-weather debutants have over double the strike rate and a much better A/E. Johnston’s first time out 3 year olds on turf make good laying opportunities.

2nd Time Out 3 Year Olds Didn’t Win on Debut

Looking at Mark Johnston’s 2nd time out 3 year olds who didn’t win on debut, there are some interesting trends:

Days Since Last RunRunnersWinnersWin S/RP/L to SPA/E

The results show a clear performance bias towards Johnston’s runners who return quickly and those who have an extended lay off:

  • Between 1 and 14 days – 38/154 (24.7%) for £38 LSP. A/E 1.11
  • Between 15-90 days – 18/139 (13%) for loss of £-68. A/E 0.67
  • 90+ days – 28/98 (28.6%) for £41 LSP. A/E 1.47

His horses who have a 15-90 day layoff win just over two thirds of the races they should do, and produce a big loss.

Many of the horses turned out quickly are the types who will have not been ready at the first time, but will have learnt plenty from their racecourse debut, whilst the runners returning from a big absence are horses who have been given time to mature (many over the winter from 2 to 3).

Mark Johnston


3 Year Olds in 3 Year Old+ Handicaps

His 3 year olds in 3 year old+ handicaps have a terrible record in the first half of the year. From January-June, they are 2/75 (2.67%) for a loss of £-45, giving an A/E of 0.35. Their record picks up in the second half of the year; 38/256 (14.84%) for a LSP of £6 and an A/E of 1.09.

MonthRunnersWinnersWin S/RP/L to SPA/E

The statistics show that summer is the time to catch Mark Johnston 3 year olds in 3 year old+ handicaps. Hitting autumn, they tailed off and there is a distinctive difference in strike rate, returns, and A/E in the two seasons.

  • June – August: 180/1024 (17.6%) for loss of £-16 1.12 A/E
  • September – November: 85/815 (10.4%) for loss of £-258. A/E 0.84

Johnston is renowned for doing well with stayers and his 3 year olds running over 12f+ in June-August do fantastically well; 62/228 (27.2%) for £94 LSP, producing an A/E of 1.32

Older Horses

Mark Johnston’s 4 year olds do best in summer and autumn.

SeasonRunnersWinnersWin S/RP/L to SPA/E

Although the strike rate hovers between around 11.5-12% in spring-autumn, the A/E in spring is poor, and the losses are significantly bigger. The strike rate is naturally higher in winter (where there is only all-weather racing which is generally less competitive). His most profitable month of the year is in July.


Through data interrogation, a few useful snippets have been identified:

  • Mark Johnston first time out 2 year olds don’t have a great record in May-June. They do best over 7f in October.
  • Trainer does poorly with his juvenile debutants at Haydock, Ayr and Yarmouth.
  • 3 year old debutants have a much better record on the all-weather than turf. Make decent laying opportunities on the grass.
  • His 2nd time out 3 year olds do very well if turned out quickly (within 2 weeks), or given a break (90+ days). Anything in between, and they do poorly.
  • 3 year old handicappers do well in 3 year old + handicaps in summer (June-August), but their performance dwindles in autumn (September-November). He has a great record with 3 year olds in 3 year old+ handicaps in summer over staying distances (12f+).
  • Johnston 4 year old+ runners underperform in spring, and do best in July.