Trainer Mark Johnston is a man who could hardly have given himself a steeper hill to climb in establishing his place at the summit of his profession. A qualified vet, he originally set up his own small stables in unfashionable --very unfashionable--Lincolnshire, before moving to Middleham in the north of England. Middleham is a beautiful training center, full of tradition but little recent achievement. Before Johnston's whirlwind infusion, it had been ticking along: happily but without serious intent. Johnston has changed all that and it would be folly indeed to underestimate him simply because he trains in one of racing's lesser locations. Bandari's success ensured Johnston became the first trainer this season to reach 100 winners. Earlier on the same card he had won an important juvenile contest, the Acomb Stakes, with the 5-6 favorite Bourbonnais, who battled hard to grab a three-quarters of a length success and in doing so earned a 33-1 quote for next year's Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I). Connections felt that Bourbonnais, a son of Singspiel, already needs more than the seven furlongs of the Acomb so there has to be a doubt over whether he is in fact a Guineas colt. It is not only the Godolphin 3-year-olds that have struggled to make an impact. There has been a conspicuous lack of impact too from their juveniles in the care of David Loder. So the success for Country Reel in the Gimcrack Stakes (Eng-II) at York on Aug. 21 was noteworthy. The son of Danzig made it two wins in two starts to follow up Dublin's success in the Richmond Stakes (Eng-II) three weeks earlier, and suggest also that Loder's decision to hold back on the juveniles a little more than previously is set to pay dividends. Country Reel, described as lazy by his trainer, may stick to six furlongs for the Middle Park Stakes (Eng-I) at Newmarket on Oct. 3, even though Loder feels he will get further. But the biggest impression made by a juvenile at York was that of Russian Rhythm, who won the Lowther Stakes (Eng-II) on Aug. 22 despite being badly blocked in on the rails at a crucial stage of the race. Fallon, riding another big winner for Stoute, had to start riding again almost from a stand still but the daughter of Kingmambo, owned by Cheveley Park Stud and bred by Brushwood Stable, astounded everyone by recovering to win by 1 1/2 lengths from the Irish-trained Danaskaya. On a memorable day for Cheveley Park's owners David and Patricia Thompson, they also saw Kyllachy, in whom they have a half-share, win the Nunthorpe Stakes (Eng-I), the big sprint showdown of the meeting. But it is Russian Rhythm who claimed the headlines. "Not many horses could have done that. She is a class act," her trainer, by nature a cautious man, said. She is already a hot favorite for next year's One Thousand Guineas--and justifiably so. A week rich in quality was completed at Deauville in France when Elusive City won the Prix Morny (Fr-I) on Aug. 25 after refusing initially to enter the stalls. Winning trainer Gerard Butler, perhaps still overcome with nerves after it looked as if Elusive City might not race, rather excitedly described the colt as "the best two-year-old anyone has ever trained."
The colt remains one of the leading candidates for next year's Two Thousand Guineas, although the news that The Thoroughbred Corp. is cutting back its interests significantly leaves a slight uncertainty over his future. Once he was coaxed into the stalls, Elusive City ran on well to supply yet another big winner for Kieren Fallon, this time by three-quarters of a length. Less impressive was Van Nistelrooy, the $6.4 million yearling son of Storm Cat trained by Aidan O'Brien, who secured victory by only a neck in the Galileo EBF Futurity Stakes (Ire-II) at the Curragh on Aug. 24.