Charlie Johnston: ‘You Can Still Get Value On Horses With Great Pages’

The Johnston approach to sourcing talent sounds terribly simplistic and there’s no doubting that it has appeared that way through the oodles of success the Middleham men have had on the racecourse.
But this year was an important one for the Johnstons with Charlie taking over from his father Mark, the winningmost trainer of all time in Britain, who opened up on how he tackles the yearling sales to TDN Europe last year.
Given the importance of Charlie enjoying a productive debut season as a full-fledged trainer and the need to get numbers through the door, was there a temptation to change tack and deviate from a criteria that has served the Johnstons so well for so long given the strength of the trade in 2022? Not in the slightest.
As Charlie reveals in the latest two-year-old tour below, the team added 67 yearlings to the team last autumn, the majority of which were bought for less than a hundred grand and hail from black-type winners or producers of black-type winners.
Johnston commented, “I found this quite an enjoyable exercise, pulling this list of two-year-olds together, because it reminded me of the good pedigrees that we have to work with. We have siblings to some top-class racehorses and the bulk of our two-year-olds have been bought at a hundred grand or less. There are some pretty sexy pedigrees in there for what we paid for them-it looks a strong bunch but the proof will be in the eating.”
He added, “In its simplest form, we look for progeny out of mares who have achieved black-type themselves or from mares who have produced black-type horses. But we have moved away from black-type a little bit in recent years and concentrate more on the ratings of these horses because there will be some very good horses who don’t get black-type and some pretty moderate ones who do. The official ratings can often be a more accurate reflection of ability and a rating of 90 is seen as a cut-off point for us.
“There are more nuances to it, for example how frequently the mare is producing good horses and winners, and what sort of stallions the previous horses are by versus what stallion the yearling we are looking at is by, and of course we always have a tendency to go for the horse who is by the middle-distance stallion. I think a mare with a slightly lower pedigree might get away with it if she’s by Teofilo (Ire) or something like that rather than being by a sharp and precocious stallion. But in its simplest form, we like to see a horse rated 90 or more in that first dam.”
Johnston has already made a productive start to the year and has sent out 17 winners from 117 runners which equates to a 15 per cent strike-rate. But Saturday marks the beginning of the new season proper and he is approaching the campaign with predictable fire in his belly.
He said, “There is certainly a little bit more accountability and the results are going to be recorded in my name and my name only now. The production of the horses and the team behind that remains the same as it has been for the past few years but, ultimately, the book will stop with me when it comes to the results. There is a little bit more pressure in that sense but, at the same time, it’s something I’m relishing rather than worrying about, that’s for sure.”
Johnston prepared for his breakout season by shopping in one of toughest yearling markets for some time but explained that, by staying true to the criteria and philosophies that served his father and the rest of the Kingsley Park team well, he was able to fill his orders without reverting from the plan.
He said, “We are different from most other outfits in that we buy the vast majority of horses ourselves on spec. Because I was taking over the licence this year, we couldn’t take a backwards step this year and, to ensure that, we had to make sure we had the numbers. We were always going to be pretty aggressive at the yearling sales and set out with a target of buying 70.
“We ended up buying 67 so got pretty close to what we were aiming for. We always say in these situations, we’re not always buying the horses we want, but the ones we can afford. But, flicking through these pedigrees, it shows that you can still get value on horses with great pages.”

Charlie and Mark Johnston |

Name: Unnamed
Pedigree: Sea The Stars (Ire) colt out of Kitcara (GB) (Shamardal)
Bought for 100,000gns from Castlebridge at Tattersalls Book 1
Owner: Tony Farmer
He’s a brother to Al Aasy (Ire) and is a huge, big horse-absolutely ginormous. I wonder if that is what put other people off him at Book 1. It certainly didn’t put us off. He’s one for his three-year-old year but will make up into a lovely horse in time. He is quite a late foal and I would be surprised if we saw him before September or October this year. He will need a mile as a minimum, even this year, and is going to be one for next year over a-mile-and-a-half. That’s when he is going to come into his own. He has the frame to fill into an absolutely gorgeous horse. Obviously Al Aasy was a very talented horse, was second in a Coronation Cup, and all his form was over middle-distances. There will be no real rush with this lad.

Arch Legend
Camelot (GB) colt out of Nakuti (Ire) (Mastercraftsman {Ire})
Cost 82,000gns from Newsells Park Stud at Tattersalls Book 2
Barbara and Alick Richmond
He is owned by Barbara and Alick Richmond, who have had a huge amount of success with another Camelot (GB), Living Legend (Ire). He has been a great horse for us over the years and this horse is in a similar mould–a very big and quite a heavy colt. I think he will need some time and his half-sister Heredia (GB) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}) did well last year so it’s a strong page. He will need a minimum of seven furlongs this year and was bought as a replacement for Living Legend. They are big shoes to fill but he is a lovely individual.

Lope De Vega (Ire) filly out of Ceisteach (Ire) (New Approach {Ire})
Bought from Newsells Park Stud at Book 2 for 55,000gns
Ballylinch Stud
Nice filly. One thing we’ve learned over the years with Lope De Vega is that giving them time as two-year-olds is pretty crucial. We won’t be seeing this filly until the seven furlong races start in the middle of the year but she is very nice. It’s another good owner and stallion to have in the yard, that’s for sure. The dam started off with Jim Bolger and ended up going to America where she did well in stakes races. She was a winner over ten furlongs and upwards and is by New Approach so there’s plenty of stamina in the pedigree on that side.

Too Darn Hot (GB) colt out of Reckoning (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire})
A 110,000gns purchase off Mascalls Stud from New England Stud at Tattersalls Book 1
Dr Jim Walker
This pedigree has gone in a slightly different direction with Too Darn Hot. Obviously it’s a family we know very well and it’s one that is very special to us given the mare has produced Subjectivist (GB) (Teofilo {Ire}) and Sir Ron Priestley (GB) (Australia {GB}). Subjectivist obviously ran really well at Meydan last Saturday and it was great to see him back near his best. I think we have had five out of the last six foals out of this mare but we don’t have the three-year-old by Roaring Lion out of her. The four-year-old, World Without Love (GB) (Ulysses {Ire}), is still in training with us as well, but obviously the two that were most successful were by Teofilo and Australia, who are out and out middle-distance stallions. This is a different avenue for the mare with Too Darn Hot but he is a lovely individual who has already done one slightly faster piece of work where he went very nicely. The rest of the family got dramatically better at three and again at four but we are hoping that we might see a little more from this guy at two. He is owned by Dr Jim Walker who has been a big supporter of this family since Subjectivist came along. Physically, he is quite similar to Subjectivist and Sir Ron in that he is quite a tall and lengthy horse. He is built in the mould of a middle-distance horse and, to be fair, Subjectivist ran the seven-furlong maiden at Haydock in the beginning of June that we usually target with our Chesham horses, so he was obviously showing us a good bit at two as well. As is often the case, no matter what stamina they have in the pedigree and even if they are going to need a trip in time, the ones who are top class will still show you that ability quite early in their careers. Hopefully this colt will be in that bracket.

Footstepsinthesand (GB) filly out of Crystal Valkyrie (Ire) (Danehill)
Cost €36,000 from Castledillon Stud At Tattersalls Ireland
GPS Bloodstock
Crystal Valkyrie is a very old mare, is 24 now, but I couldn’t help myself going in once more to buy this Footstepsinthesand filly because the family has been very good to us. This filly’s half-sister Freyja (Ire) (Gleneagles {Ire}) was black-type for us and her brother State Of Bliss (Ire) was another frequent winner. Out of their sibling, Sent From Heaven (Ire) (Footstepsinthesand), we’ve a nice three-year-old for this year called Benacre–he could be quite a useful colt. It’s a family we know well and the combination of that and Footstepsinthesand, who is a stallion we have done very well with, it was enough of a draw for me to forgive the fact that the mare is quite old. I’d say she will want seven furlongs this year and she is a little hot, as they often can be by this stallion, but she is a nice filly.

Love Safari
Galileo (Ire) colt out of Just Pretending (Giant’s Causeway)
Cost 57,000gns from Baroda Stud at Tattersalls Book 2
Crone Stud Farms Ltd
There will be a little bit of a theme here because I have put forward three Galileos, all of which were bought relatively cheaply. We expected people to be clamouring over them but we found it easier to buy his offspring last year than at any other time, really. This was the cheapest of the three and he has a very strong pedigree with the dam placing in an Irish Guineas and an Irish Oaks. There are two full siblings who got black-type as well. He is a pretty backward colt and I think he will need a lot of time–he’ll be one for the autumn. It’s an unbelievably-strong pedigree for the money and hopefully he’ll be a nice colt in time. Just looking at my notes from when we bought him as a yearling, the main things that people may have cribbed him for was that he was weak, narrow and light of bone. He is just a backward colt who needs time and we are more than prepared to give it to him.

Madame Sans Gene
Study Of Man (Ire) filly out of Lady Jane Digby (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB})
Kirsten Rausing
Miss Rausing has sent us two homebreds, both of which are by Study Of Man and this one is out of Lady Jane Digby, who we trained to win a Group 1. I think this is the eighth foal we’ve had out of the mare and all seven before her have won. They’ve all been like their Mum, in that they improved at three and when stepped up to middle-distances. I would expect this filly to follow a similar theme. She’s from a lovely family and we trained Gateman (GB) (Owington {GB}) out of the second dam as well. It’s a family we know inside out.

Marhaba Million
Galileo colt out of Kheleyf’s Silver (Ire) (Kheleyf)
Bought at Goffs Orby from Castlehyde Stud for €82,000
Ahmad Al Shaikh
As I said about the previous Galileos, he’s got such such a strong pedigree that you’d have thought he’d have cost a lot more. Again, he’s quite a late foal, he’s an April 3 foal, and was quite backward at the sales. That is still the case now but he has done really well physically–he’s a much stronger horse than when he first arrived. I think he’ll continue to improve as the year goes on and, while I don’t think he’ll show the speed of his sister Tiggy Wiggy (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}), I see him more of a seven-furlong two-year-old for June onwards.

Zoffany (Ire) colt out of Many Colours (GB) (Green Desert)
Bought at Goffs Orby for €80,000 from Whitehall Stud
Susan and John Waterworth and Partner
This is a brother to Mother Earth (Ire) and was not sold in the ring at Goffs Orby. We bought him outside the ring and it’s another huge pedigree. There is a bit of a theme here but he was quite a weak and backwards-looking yearling who will need a bit of time. Since he has been with us, he has had one piece of faster work where he did it nicely, but we won’t push too hard with him just yet. I wouldn’t rule out starting him over six furlongs.

Frankel (GB) colt out of Nyaleti (Ire) (Arch)
3 Batterhams and a Reay
He is a first foal and the one thing he doesn’t look like is a typical first foal as he is absolutely huge. He is close to being our biggest and he’s certainly our heaviest two-year-old at the moment. The dam won the week before Royal Ascot at Salisbury and then went on to finish second in the Chesham. I know that Chris Batterham is dreaming of aiming this horse back at the Chesham and we will see what the next month or two brings. Looking at him now, you would expect that he will need more time than that but the mare was such a fantastic performer, it’s nice to have one of her sons in training with us. Chris has got a Dubawi (Ire) coming along and I’m pretty sure the mare went to Baaeed (GB) this year as well so there’s lots of excitement to come with her, hopefully.

Justify colt out of Golconda (FR) (Planteur {Ire})
Bought for €70,000 at Goffs Orby from Castlebridge
John Brown and Megan Dennis
He is the first and only Justify who we have had. He is a very strong horse and you can see the American strain in him-he is a tall, powerful, muscular horse with a really big, heavy shoulder on him. He’s actually quite a lovely-mover despite him being quite heavy. He hasn’t done any fast work yet but looks a seven-furlong type of two-year-old for the summer. We are happy with him.

Quintus Maximus
Kitten’s Joy colt out of Indian Blessing (GB) (Sepoy {Aus})
Newsells Park Stud and Waldmark Syndicate
This is a Newsells Park Stud homebred and is out of a very good mare who got black-type in Germany, France and then the UK and America. She was a very consistent racehorse from a two-year-old right through to her five-year-old career and he is the first foal out of her. He is not very big but is nicely put together and did his first piece of faster work last week where he went nicely. Most of the dam’s form is from seven furlongs and up and she is by Sepoy herself. He’s by Kitten’s Joy so I would have thought he’d want to start at seven and move up from there but he’s showing some early speed as well and looks an exciting prospect.

Blue Point: Johnston is a fan of the first-season sire | Darley

Kodiac (GB) colt out of Querulous (Raven’s Pass)
Bought at Tattersalls Book 1 from Tally-Ho Stud for 52,000gns
Peter Savill
I hope I wasn’t being too bold at the time but, when I bought this horse at Book 1, I joked to some of the people at Tattersalls that they could pay us out on the Book 1 bonus right there. Obviously Book 1 bonuses are something that we target a lot and, most of what we buy at Book 1, we buy them for less than a hundred grand. Being able to win a large chunk of that back in one hit through the bonus is a major incentive for us and is something we’ve had a lot of success with in the past. This lad is a full brother to Kessaar (Ire) and is a January 15 foal so we were expecting him to be really early but sadly he had a slight setback. He won’t be one of our first horses into battle but he will run this year and is a lovely big colt who came from Tally-Ho Stud. There’s plenty to work with there and he has a fair bit of speed. I’m hoping that he will cash in on the bonus at some point in the year.

Sea The Stars (Ire) colt out of Waldmark (Ger) (Mark Of Esteem {Ire})
Bought for 100,000gns at Book 1 from Newsells
Mrs M C Sweeney
A pretty old mare, again, which is what I am guessing put a lot of people off at the sales. He was pretty backward at the time but what a page to be able to buy in to. He’s average-sized and looks like a horse who will improve with more time. The vast majority of what the family achieved, it was all at three, and you’d expect him to be similar. He’ll be one for the back end of this year.

Zoffany colt out of Rosenreihe (Ire) (Catcher In The Rye {Ire})
Private purchase
Kingsley Park 37 – Gold
This horse is in one of our Kingsley Park Syndicates and was bought outside the ring at Book 2 when he didn’t make his reserve. It’s a colt I really like and he was a backward and not a particularly impressive yearling but has just improved out of all recognition since he’s joined us. I’m glad that Dad went and bartered with Philipp Stauffenberg the morning after he failed to sell. Dad would tell the full story better but they were leading the horse away to go back home to Germany so he really didn’t have another minute. We got the horse in the end, which is all that matters.

Highland Reel (Ire) colt out of Recambe (Ire) (Cape Cross {Ire})
Bought for 40,000gns from Baroda Stud at Tattersalls Book 2
Kingsley Park 37 – Gold
This is a half-brother to Laurens (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}) and, from memory, he could even be the first foal that the mare has had since, so they must have had quite a bit of difficulty with the dam along the way. We picked him up at Book 2 and he was quite backward as an April 27 foal but he has done nothing but improve with us. He’s another in the Kingsley Park Syndicate and could be a fun horse for everyone in the second half of this year and then into next year.

Kenny Alexander: Honeysuckle’s owner is new to the stable |

Saint Matthew
Caravaggio colt out of Lamya (Ger) (Choisir {Aus})
Hussain Alabbas Lootah
We had Lamation (Ire) (Acclamation {GB}) out of the mare last year and he showed a bit of speed but this fellow put his hand up right from the word go to be one of our earlier runners. He’s not done a huge amount of work because the weather has held us up. He’s only actually been on grass once but, what he has done at home, he has done it very well. He is forward and is built for this job–he’s a strong and compact horse who looks the right type to be running at this time of year.

No Nay Never colt out of Lady Gorgeous (GB) (Compton Place {GB})
Bought for €120,000 from Glenvale Stud at Goffs Orby
The Burke Family
He’s a half-brother to Pretty Gorgeous (Fr) (Lawman {Fr}), the champion two-year-old filly from a few years ago, and is not overly big but is well put together. He did his first piece of work on Wednesday morning and went quite nicely. He’s a May 10 foal and we tend to try not to run them before their official second birthday. It will be another six weeks before we see him out but, physically, he’s the right type to be running pretty early.

Specific Times
Blue Point (Ire) filly out of Daily Times (GB) (Gleneagles {Ire})
Times Of Wigan
Plenty of owners and breeders ask around this time of year what are first-season sires that we like and my go-to response has been Blue Point. We have a few of them and we like them all. This filly in particular looks sharp and she could be our first filly to run. She has had three faster pieces of work and has done everything easily up until now. Kempton stages the first two-year-old fillies’ race in the second week of April and, all being well, she could go there.

Blue Point colt out of Bergamask (Kingmambo)
He’s a half to Buratino (Ire) so it’s another family we know well. He didn’t come to us until recently so hasn’t done any faster work but he looks the right type to be precocious and early. He’s quite a boy and is fairly full of himself, as Buratino was himself, but he’s another Blue Point that we like and he looks as though he’ll be pretty early.

Kingman (GB) filly out of Seventh Heaven (Ire) (Galileo {Ire})
Bought for 70,000gns at Tattersalls Book 1 from Voute Sales Ltd
Kenny Alexander
It’s a massive pedigree for the money she cost and is owned by Kenny Alexander who has a couple of fillies with us this year. It’s great to have him on board in this sphere now and this is a nice filly. Her dam was a top-class filly and, while you would expect to see some speed from Kingman, I see her more as a 10-furlong type for next year. If she can win, she has a lot of residual value going forward. Kenny approached us with the aim of following a similar approach to his ownership over jumps with those high-class fillies. We bought a couple of yearlings with nice pages for him and, while the bar has been set pretty high from what he has been achieving over jumps, hopefully we can have some success for him.

Kingman filly out of You’re Back (Street Cry)
Cost 75,000gns at Book 1 from Highclere Stud
Jaber Abdullah
This is quite a big, masculine filly and is taking more from the Kingman side of her pedigree. She’s had two gallops already and has gone well. I could see her being out at some point in April if not early-May. She’s showing a bit of speed and will be one of the earlier fillies.

Galileo colt out of Tiggy Wiggy
Cost 115,000gns from Voute Sales Ltd at Book 2
Sheikh Hamed Dalmook Al Maktoum
This lad is a June 9 foal, so he is a very late foal, and I’m not sure what role that played in his price at the sales. Because of his date of birth, we haven’t done anything strong with him but he’s a lovely colt and I wouldn’t rule him out being ready for mid-summer.

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