Johnston well adrift when it comes to betting

January 26th, 2019 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

I endured a long delay on the rattler on Thursday. Someone had cut through an overhead cable in the Ealing area, so the train manager, the chap we used to call a guard, told us. As I was only going up to town to see three old friends from my wine trade days and time wasn’t all that important, I decided to see if an unlikely improvement might be in the offing. I was rewarded when we did it in stages, Didcot Parkway to Reading, then a slow job down to Ealing Broadway and on to Paddington.

I took a copy of the Kingsley Klarion with me. This is a quality magazine updating readers on the latest developments at Mark Johnston’s stable but with comment pieces, veterinary insights and profiles of interesting characters who might otherwise have had little or no chance of seeing themselves in print. It is a splendid publication.

Johnston, as forthright as ever, airs his own views and, in the current edition, writes about bookmakers and their tendency to cry wolf where profit margins, shop closures etc are concerned. He is not a gambling man himself and, if I were asked to assess his overall view of those who populate the betting arena, I’d say he is baffled by their obsession. He lives and works with racehorses and, has no doubt about their basic unpredictability. Having monitored his big race, especially big handicap, successes at Ascot and Goodwood over the years, I tend to go along with him. Fine, record-breaking trainer though he undoubtedly is, some of these winners would be hard to find on their most recent outing or outings. He has faith in them and they come good again on big days. When I give talks at Goodwood, I tell people that, whatever else they back, they should save a few coins for the Johnston runners, just in case.

His view of bookmakers and gamblers – ‘disapproving’ wouldn’t be too far wide of the mark – leads him towards criticism of the Racing Post for the amount of space given over to the betting side of things He welcomes a recent article by associate editor Katherine Fidler advocating the use of horses and ponies to widen the audience for racing and ponders a possible change of emphasis with the departure of ‘the outgoing editor’, who thought him naïve.

Well, Bruce Millington has done a fine job at the Racing Post and has a far shrewder brain than some who have occupied the editor’s chair at both the Post and the Sporting Life. The paper deals with industry matters in a thorough and unbiased manner, it has outstanding contributions from talented writers such as Julian Muscat, Tom Kerr and Peter Thomas, to name but three, and anyone who read the pieces on the Easterby brothers, Judy Dench and John Francome will testify to the quality of the Sunday supplement. Before anyone accuses me of bias, I would add that I am not including my own columns, dwindling now, in this assessment.

Yes, the Post needs bookmakers’ advertisements and ante-post prices to help keep it going. But what Mark Johnston should be asking himself is this: How many people would pay nearly three pounds for a racing paper if it failed to major on betting matters? How many people does he know who’d cross the road and pay good money to watch a horse race if they couldn’t bet on it? And when Channel 4, or more recently ITV Racing, puts on a Saturday morning programme, how many viewers are vitally concerned with the workings of the Normandy studs or the lot of stable staff, for example, alongside the army of punters waiting for their card to be marked? Racing is betting. You can kick against it all you like, but that won’t stop it from being true.

Naïve? Yes, I’m afraid so, and then some. Try running a racing paper or a television programme along the lines Mark Johnston suggests and you’ll see both go out of business quicker than you can say knife. Knowledge of, and sympathy for, the man on the Clapham omnibus and his small daily obsession is not one of the great trainer’s strengths.