British racing needs to hit ground running when it returns, says Charlie Johnston

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Tue 12 May 2020

Charlie Johnston believes British racing needs to copy the example of its French counterpart and hit the ground running when it is able to resume.

Racing will not return in Britain until June 1 at the earliest, but industry leaders have announced they are “committed to plan” for that date, with further details expected over the coming days.

Meanwhile, racing resumed in France on Monday with Longchamp's ten-race card featuring four Group contests and a Listed prize.

Johnston, assistant to his father, Mark, said on Tuesday: “Hopefully we’ll get more information soon, but we’ve been saying that for two months and haven’t really had any. I don’t really see any excuse now not to have a rock-solid date and a rock-solid programme for the foreseeable future.

Watch what out experts made of the Cheveley Park Stakes

“I don’t think there are any excuses now not to have everything ready and really hit the ground running with force on June 1, like France have done – coming back with 0-85s at Newcastle isn’t really going to cut it now, we’ve lost so much time.

“As Richard (Hughes) said, there’ll be less risk at Lingfield Park than Hyde Park and less risk at a racecourse than a construction site and probably less risk than going to Sainsbury’s, but for some reason we can’t seem to get that message through.

He added: “It’s frustrating that bureaucracy is getting in the way of progress, but I’m sure there’s a lot of industries in the same boat, so we’ve got to sit and suffer really.”

Johnston was an interested observer on two fronts when racing returned at Longchamp as the form of the stable's Cheveley Park Stakes runner-up, Raffle Prize, was boosted.

Raffle Prize was one place in front of Tropbeau when second to Millisle at Newmarket in September and Andre Fabre’s runner advertised her Classic claims with victory in the Prix de la Grotte as racing returned in the French capital.

Johnston took part in a Q&A session with last month

While Tropbeau is now favourite for the French 1000 Guineas, Raffle Prize will hopefully be heading to Newmarket for the Qipco 1000 Guineas – but might not have done so had the race taken place when originally scheduled on May 3.

Johnston said: “I was certainly watching with a little bit of interest, actually as much because we’ve got the half-brother to Tropbeau, a nice Iffraaj colt for John Dance, as the Raffle Prize connection, but she was entitled to win and it was a positive for the Cheveley Park form.

“It’s been difficult to plan how to proceed, but everyone is in the same boat in that regard. Realistically if the Guineas had been run on its intended date she probably wouldn’t have been there, she did have a small setback in January that did just put us on the back foot for the first half of the spring.

“So in some regards the later the Guineas the better for us and for her, it gives us more time.”

As well as her fine run in the Cheveley Park, Raffle Prize was second to Earthlight in the Prix Morny, having won the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes at Newmarket.

Just like the stable’s brilliant Attraction before her Classic year, stamina is the big question for Raffle Prize.

Johnston said: “She’s definitely grown quite a lot through the winter and is a taller, scopier filly than she was last year. She looks a lot more like a miler and that gives us a bit more confidence as regards trip, which was always going to be the question mark this year.

“They do have a similar profile in that they are very fast fillies who showed top-class form over six (furlongs) as two-year-olds with a doubt about stamina going into their three-year-old year. So she’s in the same boat in that regard.

“It’s hard to plan exactly, in a normal year you’d definitely be going to the Guineas regardless as there’s nowhere else to go in the first half of the year. How the programme book will look now, no one really knows, but still for a filly like that, second in two Group Ones at two and having won two Group Twos, the Guineas is the ultimate aim and that’s where she’ll be heading, all being well.”

Johnston also had news of the yard’s promising colt Thunderous, who was unbeaten in three juvenile outings, including in the Denford Stakes at Newbury in August.

He said: “He had a setback in the spring, a minor stress fracture of a cannon bone that needed a screw put in it in Newmarket. It sounds dramatic and obviously it’s not ideal, but at the same time it’s a fairly routine injury and treatment nowadays and he’s been back cantering for a little over two weeks now, so he’s on his way back.

“In hindsight he’s not missed anything he’d have been intended for anyway, but all being well he’s probably going to be ready for the start of July, I’d have thought. That would be a realistic aim at the moment.

“He’s done absolutely nothing wrong and you would hope on his physique and pedigree and run style he’s going to improve. He’s very laid back and only really put the race at Newbury to bed in the last 100 yards, so stepping up to a mile and probably a mile and a quarter you’d hope would bring about even more improvement in him.”

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