By John Scanlon
Depending on which reference source you trust, the expression “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. It seemed to me to be an appropriate sentiment to bring to mind as the New Year dawned.
For the achievements of last year are behind us, and while 2019 was a record-breaking year for Johnston Racing, January 1 saw every trainer starting from scratch again, with the winners and prize-money tallies all restored to zero.
Thankfully, Johnston Racing didn’t have too long to wait for that first ‘step’ to be taken in our 2020 campaign. At Lingfield, on January 4, Hamad Rashed Bin Ghedayer’s Sky Defender became our first winner of the new decade, landing a mile and a quarter handicap in good style.
The Farhh colt, now a four-year-old, had four starts in 2019, winning once on his seasonal debut but was then unable to add to that success. He was back to winning ways, though, at Lingfield, where he faced six rivals.
Joe Fanning sent Sky Defender into the lead from the outset. Quickening clear of his field approaching the final furlong, the Farhh colt ran on strongly to score comfortably by three and a half lengths from Creationist, with Universal Gleam three-quarters of a length back in third.
This was a third career success in 10 starts for the four-year-old. He has always shown plenty of ability, and indeed made his career debut in a valuable juvenile maiden at Glorious Goodwood in 2018, when he finished just half a length second to the winner, Duke of Hazzard. Sky Defender seems suited to a mile and a quarter.
The second winner of the month came a few days later, also at Lingfield, where Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed’s Rulers Kingdom landed a three-year-old handicap over a mile in the hands of Andrew Breslin.
After making his debut at Redcar towards the end of September, when making the running before finishing in midfield in a seven-furlong maiden, he had six runs on a variety of all-weather surfaces before the end of the year.
Partnered by Andrew Breslin for the first time, at Lingfield on January 10, Rulers Kingdom displayed improved form to win in a field of eight runners. Smartly away from the stalls, Rulers Kingdom was able to grab the lead on the inside rail despite having been drawn one from the outside of his field.
Holding a narrow advantage as the field straightened up for home, he faced a stern challenge from Dolla Dolla Bill but, keeping on well for Andrew’s urgings, Rulers Kingdom scored by a short-head from that horse, with Trecco Bay a length and three-quarters back in third.
Since the Dutch Art gelding, Asdaa, joined Kingsley Park in November, his form figures have been notably progressive, finishing fourth, then third, then second on his first three starts. The four-year-old gelding, owned by Owners Group 045, extended the sequence at Chelmsford on January 11, landing a handicap over seven furlongs.
Asdaa was formerly trained in Ireland by Dermot Weld, for whom he raced in the royal blue and white silks of Hamdan al Maktoum. He won a Fairyhouse maiden over six furlongs as a juvenile, but failed to add to that success in two runs at three.
At Chelmsford, Asdaa carried top weight in a handicap restricted to four-year-olds and upwards. Drawn on the outside of his field, and partnered by Joe Fanning, Asdaa was sent to the head of affairs from the outset. He was tracked by Swift Approval, and by Visionara who grabbed an excellent position on the rail.
Travelling strongly, Asdaa was perhaps a length clear entering the straight. He hung a little to his left towards the rail, but found plenty for Joe Fanning to power away to a decisive win over Visionara and Harbour Vision, the distances being two and a quarter lengths and a neck.
Asdaa is out of the Invincible Spirit mare, Danseuse de Reve, making him a half-brother of Revestar, by Sea The Stars, a juvenile winner over a mile at Lingfield in December.
At Southwell, on January 15, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed’s Lion Tower built on the experience of his Wolverhampton debut on January 6 to register his first win in a six-furlong novice event.
This was a win largely made in Australia. The winning colt is by the leading Australian sprinter Exceed and Excel out of the Street Cry mare, Memorial, who, in the colours of Sheikh Mohammed, was second in the Silver Shadow Stakes, Group 2, at Randwick in Sydney.
The race turned out to be an eventful one. Before the start, Lady Latte broke out of the stalls and had to be withdrawn, leaving six runners to contest the race. Joe Fanning, on Lion Tower, appeared to win the early battle for the lead with Prince Caspian, but then Global Esteem pulled his way to the head of affairs.
In the straight, Global Esteem drifted left towards the rail, while Prince Caspian was brought wide for a challenge. Between the two, Joe Fanning sent Lion Tower to win the race and the colt kept on strongly to score by a length and a half from Sur Mer, with Price Caspian more than two lengths back in third.
The yard’s January campaign stepped up a notch when an across-the-card double was recorded at Kempton and Wolverhampton on January 20.
First up, a step back in trip to six furlongs worked the oracle for Hello Baileys at Kempton Park.
Owned and bred by Paul Venner of Baileys Horse Feeds, the three-year-old Supplicant colt was having his first run of the year, having raced seven times as a juvenile. Second in a Newmarket novice event at the beginning of August over six furlongs of the July Course, Hello Baileys had raced over seven furlongs on each of his four subsequent juvenile starts.
The colt was one of eight runners who went to post for a handicap over six furlongs on Kempton’s Polytrack surface. Franny Norton took the ride on Hello Baileys.
Drawn in the middle of the field, Hello Baileys was smartly away from the stalls and led into the first bend, pursued by Winnetka. Turning for home, he quickened, and, still pursued by Winnetka, the front pair came clear of the remainder. Travelling towards the centre of the track, Hello Baileys kept on strongly while Winnetka, switched to the inner by Hollie Doyle, made relentless progress throughout the final furlong.
As the pair flashed by the winning post together, there was real doubt as to which horse had prevailed. The photo showed that Hello Baileys had held on to record his first win, just holding Winnetka’s challenge by a nose. Yukon Mission made some late ground to claim third, beaten a further two and three quarter lengths.
Hello Baileys is out of the Mister Baileys mare, Jane Jubilee, who won twice for the yard in 2004, and raced in the colours of Mrs Sheila Ramsden.
The double was completed at Wolverhampton later in the day, when the veteran Fire Fighting landed a mile and a half handicap, registering his 14th career success in the process.
Owned by Alan Spence and by Soldier of Fortune out of Savoie, the gelding is now nine years young. He made his 2020 debut at Lingfield on January 2 in a mile and a half handicap, striking the front with a quarter of a mile to run before fading into fourth in the closing furlong.
At Wolverhampton, Fire Fighting was one of six runners who went to post for another mile and a half handicap. One of his rivals was Ian Williams’ Matewan, who had finished fourth at Lingfield, a length and a half ahead of Fire Fighting, from whom he was receiving 8lb. Fire Fighting reopposed this rival on 3lb better terms.
The joint favourites, Snow Ocean and Matewan, disputed the early lead as Joe Fanning settled Fire Fighting at the rear of the field. Snow Ocean had the benefit of racing on the rail, and led until the field turned for home, at which point Ben Curtis sent Matewan into the lead.
However, Joe Fanning had asked Fire Fighting to improve as the field reached the home bend. Racing wide into the straight, the nine-year-old gelding came with a powerful run to land the spoils, leading in the closing stages and going on to score by a neck from Matewan, with the third horse, Never Be Enough, three and three-quarter lengths back in third.
Rulers Kingdom became the first of the yard’s horses to land a second win in 2020 when producing an authoritative display to claim success in a Wolverhampton handicap on January 27.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed’s Shamardal colt had made a winning seasonal debut at Lingfield on January 10, beating Dolla Dolla Bill. That rival was one of nine opponents faced by Rulers Kingdom at Wolverhampton. Racing over a mile and half a furlong, the colt had been raised four pounds for his Lingfield success.
Again ridden by Andrew Breslin, Rulers Kingdom got away smartly from the stalls but the early lead was claimed by Dolla Dolla Bill, closely attended by Handsome Yank. Rulers Kingdom was settled in third on the outer.
Turning for home, Dolla Dolla Bill was the first to make a move, but Rulers Kingdom responded well, and was soon challenging on the outer in company with Handsome Yank. Having got the better of the early leaders, the Kingsley Park colt then had to withstand the late challenge of Utopian Lad.
Despite hanging a little to his left, he held on comfortably to score by half a length from Utopian Lad, with Handsome Yank finishing the same distance back in third. The extra distance didn’t seem to inconvenience Rulers Kingdom here and it may be he can step up further in time.