On August 23, 2018, Mark Johnston, who is based at Kingsley House in Middleham, North Yorkshire, became the most prolific racehorse trainer in Britain. Johnston saddled his first winner, Hinari Video, at Carlisle in July, 2017, but victory for the four-year-old Poet’s Society in the Clipper Logistics Handicap at York took his career total to 4,194, thereby surpassing the previous record set by Richard Hannon Snr. Sent off at 20/1, Poet’s Society made all the running under jockey Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori and held on gamely to beat 5/1 joint favourite Kynren by a neck. Johnston, who had saddled nine runners, without success, the previous day, admitted, ‘It feels a relief to get it out of the way.’
Richard Hannon Snr, who retired in 2013, held a training licence for 43 years but, while Johnston took just 31 years to beat the previous record, it is worth noting that the number of horse racing fixtures in Britain has increased significantly – thanks, in no small part, to the advent of all-weather racing – since Hannon Snr began training in 1970. Nevertheless, the new record is the equivalent of a winner a day, every day, for eleven-and-a-half years. In 2019, Johnston enjoyed his best season ever, numerically and in monetary terms, with 250 winners and £5.74 million in prize money so, while he had admitted that thoughts of retirement are never far from his mind, he continues to set the bar still higher.
Taking place every December, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award highlights those at the height of sporting achievement that year. All sports are eligible though the recipient has to be either British or for their sport to be mostly played in this country. A short list of contenders is drawn up and the general public vote for the eventual winner. A who’s who of sports greats have won the competition – which first took place in 1954 – over the years. Stirling Moss, Henry Cooper, Lennox Lewis, Andy Murrow, the list goes on. In 2019 cricketer Ben Stokes took the prize.
So how has the sport of horse racing fared over this period of time? Well, if we extend the classification to horse / equine sports in general, in the early years of BBC Sports Personality, Show Jumping did especially well. In the very first year it was held, Showjumper Pat Smythe came third and in 1960, Welshman David Broome, another Showjumper won the award.
Horse racing waited the longest time to receive Sports Personality recognition. It wasn’t until 1996 that jockey Frankie Dettori came third in the competition (due to his astonishing achievement of riding all seven winners at Ascot – now known as Frankie’s Magnificent Seven). In 2002 fellow jockey Tony Mccoy joined Frankie by grabbing third spot that year. In 2010, off the back of winning the Grand National riding Don’t Push It, he then went two steps better and became the first and only jockey to have won the Sports Personality of the Year award. In 2013 he against featured, this time placing third again.
With such a stellar career it’s no surprise Tony McCoy received recognition on a national level by sports and especially horse racing fans. The Irishman rode over 4000 winners over the course of his career and he was the British jump racing Champion Jockey a staggering 20 years in a row. Grand National aside, he’s also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, King George VI Chase, Queen Mother Champion Chase and countless other high profile races. In 2016 Mccoy was knighted, making him Sir Anthony Peter McCoy.
Royal Ascot, running for five days in mid June of each year (Tuesday 16th June – Saturday 20th June in 2020), is one of the most highly anticipated events in UK racing. With its royal connections and history dating back to 1911, it’s one to watch for all ardent horse racing fans.
As is the nature of racing, it’s impossible to totally rule out big raced winners, and over the years outsiders have won even the most prestigious of Royal Ascot races. I recall Arcadian Heights winning the 1994 Gold Cup on his third attempt as outsider at 20-1.
2020 was no exception for big priced winners. There were several horses winning at big odds with bookmakers over the five days (Onassis and Scarlett Dragon both won as 33-1 outsiders). As often happens though, racing saves the best for last. On the final day not only did Frankie Dettori pull off an impressive treble (which as an accumulator would have been 150-1), but it also brought us the biggest odds winner in Royal Ascot history, co-incidentally also 150-1, Nando Parrado.
Coming in at only fifth on his Newmarket debut earlier this month, Nando Parrado simply wasn’t on the radar, and left punters and bookmakers stunned with a performance that earned him the title of biggest price Royal Ascot winner in modern times. He looked to have serious ambitions as he started the Coventry Stakes, featuring prominently. Qaader put down a challenge but there was only one winner on the day, Nando Parrado, ridden by Jockey Adam Kirby. Prior to this the longest-priced outsider winner in Royal Ascot’s history was Flashmans Papers in the 2008 Windsor Castle and Fox Chapel in the 1990 Britannia Stakes.
After the victory Trainer Clive Cox was more inclined to say he was shocked by the 150-1 price, rather than the win, “I was just saying it is not a shock. The price was a shock. He is a proper horse and we loved him from the start. It was always the plan to come here, it was just a sideways step on his first run.”. Before 2020, the biggest priced winner(s) in the Coventry Stakes was just 20-1 (Chief Singer (1983), Landseer (2001), War Command (2013)). At 150-1 with bookmakers – and much bigger on the exchanges – Nando Parrado has set a Royal Ascot record that’s going to be hard to top.
Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori, the most celebrated Flat jockey since Lester Piggott, has seen some ups and downs in his lengthy career. However, whatever the future holds, the likeable Italian, who turns 50 in December, 2020, will always be remembered for his exploits at Ascot on Saturday, September 28, 1996. That was the day on which Dettori carried all before him, including arguably the greatest jockey of all time, Sir Gordon Richards – who rode all six winners on a six-race card at Chepstow in 1933 – by going through the card, with seven winners from seven rides. For the record, his winning rides were Wall Street (2/1), Diffident (12/1), Mark Of Esteem (100/30), Decorated Hero (7/1), Fatefully (7/4), Lochangel (5/4) and Fujiyama Crest (2/1). Even at starting price (SP), the cumulative odds on the so-called ‘Magnificent Seven’ were in excess of 25,000/1 and even that was only a tiny fraction of the odds available to ‘mug’ punters who backed all seven horses at early prices.