horse racing
Narrowing the Field

Stay in front when backing the Mark Johnston battalion…


It’s been in my mind for some time to write an article on NTF where I dig deep into the stats for the Mark Johnston runners… but it’s a hefty task and if I’m honest with you it’s one of only a few things (when it comes to horse racing analysis/blog articles) where I’ve thought ‘f*ck it, life’s too bloody short’!

But Mark Johnston has been in the racing news plenty recently (in case you hadn’t noticed (?!?) he recently became the winning most trainer in the history of UK horse racing) and it’s been nagging away at me again.

Then Matt Bisogno over at GeeGeez (or more accurately a new writer of his, Jon Shenton) decided to be significantly less lazy than myself and produced an excellent piece entitled ‘Predicting Mark Johnston Runners’. (I’ll link to that article at the end)

And you know what, well done to him, because, again, I really could not find the mental energy to dig through all the numbers associated with the Johnston string, there are far easier ways to profit from this game (for ‘easier’ read ‘less time consuming on the numbers front’).

If the stats side of the game is your thing I would definitely suggest you give the GeeGeez article a read, it will almost certainly float your boat (again, link will be at the bottom of this post).

There was, however, one thing missing from the article that I want to add myself (and that’s no slight on the article or the writer, far from it, I thoroughly enjoyed the post) and that’s one of the angles I personally use to attack the Johnston string from, indeed it’s the angle I mainly use to attack old Braveheart’s runner…

Mark Johnston Front-Runners…

Something I’m sure at least a handful of you would have guessed I was going to talk about here, so let’s get stuck into the figures…

*Figures are from 2013 – present, using the Proform Professional database as my source

The overall numbers…

Since the start of 2013 Johnston has saddled 7964 runners and 1223 winners (mind-boggling!), here’s how they look when splitting them down by running style…


539/2257 | 24% S/R | +£660.15 BFLSP – Win & Place 1039/2257 | 46% S/R

24% above expectation

Close-to-Pace Runners

577/4121 | 14% S/R | -£585.35 BFLSP – Win & Place 1039/4121 | 33% S/R

10% below expectation

Hold-Up Runners

107/1586 | 7% S/R | -£652.79 BFLSP – Win & Place 228/1586 | 21% S/R

41% below expectation

Now it’s not unusual for a trainer’s pace percentages to be split in such a manner (FR highest, CP next and HU lowest) but what does strike me is the difference between the three styles and in particular the lowly strike-rate of the hold-up runners and, to a certain extent, the pure number of front-running winners, certainly when compared to the number of hold-up winners. It’s unusual for a trainer with such a volume of runners to have saddled so many front-running winners, sure, the percentages will generally be higher but the actual number of winners off the front-end is nigh on incredible.

Other trainers do have better strike-rates with front-runners in the same period (2013 – present) but NONE have saddled more winners (*Hannon is the closest, saddling 314 to Johnston’s 539, with O’Brien next on the list with 201) and only Hannon pulls in more profits (only a shade more with +£692.05 to Johnston’s +£660.15).

*To be fair Hannon would also be an interesting trainer to put under a similar focus but that’s another post for another day…maybe…

It’s simply the sheer volume of profits on offer that make the Johnston Front-runners such an attractive proposition from a punting perspective and well worth taking a much closer look…

(I mean you could just back ALL Johnston front-runners, it’s clearly a rich source of profits, but trust me, it’s not an easy task to undertake and you really need to specialize and isolate the areas to target. Thankfully with such a deep pool of runners/winners to play with there’s plenty to chew over.)


Digging deeper into the Mark Johnston Front-Runners… 

The tracks

There are six tracks where the Johnston Front-Runners return a 33%+ strike-rate…

Catterick – Bath – Carlisle – Beverley – Chester – Chelmsford

If you pull them all together and view them as a group, you get the following figures…

138/371 | 37% S/R | +£322.03 BFLSP – W&P 219/371 | 59% S/R

71% above expectation

If we just drill a little further and concentrate on those runners that start in the top 3 in the market then we can significantly enhance the strike-rate…

120/256 | 47% S/R | +£217.10 BFLSP – W&P 175/256 | 68% S/R

66% above expectation

Sure, you lose a bit in terms of profits, but you’ll be hitting the mark at a stronger rate and a near 50% strike-rate is not to be sniffed at.



The Front-Running 2yo’s & 3yo’s in the Johnston string by far and away pull in the most in the way of juicy profits…

2yo’s & 3yo’s

469/1889 | 25% S/R | +£596.80 BFLSP – W&P 895/1889 | 47% S/R

25% above expectation

4yo’s & older

70/368 | 19% S/R | +£63.35 BFLSP – W&P 144/368 | 39% S/R

16% above expectation

The older horses still do their fair share off the front-end but the sheer numbers and profits on the table make the younger runners (2yo’s & 3yo’s) the one’s to concentrate on.

A little bit of filter tightens up the strike-rates and adds a hefty chunk to the LSP figure…

2yo’s & 3yo’s | 1m2f trips & shorter | fields of 13 or less

384/1388 | 28% S/R | +£692.38 BFLSP – W&P 710/1388 | 51% S/R

33% above expectation

That’s still a fair glut of bets to be placing but it has been profitable each year under scrutiny.

The main issue with the 2yo’s comes when it’s one that’s making its racecourse debut, meaning we have no back data to determine the running style for the horse in question.

If you remove those debut runners the figures do, thankfully, still hold up…

347/1261 | 27.5% S/R | +£604.25 BFLSP – W&P 640/1261 | 51% S/R

31% above expectation



The final area I want to look at concerns those men on top.

Johnston calls upon a wide variety of jockeys throughout the season, probably by necessity rather than anything else due the numbers of runners he sends to the track on any given day. Some, obviously, get the leg up more frequently than others, with Joe Fanning riding the most Front-Runners for Johnston, followed by Franny Norton, Silvestre De Sousa & PJ McDonald.

Given that Fanning’s 197 Front-Running winners is 89 more (yes, EIGHTY-NINE!) than next on the list Norton it makes perfect sense to concentrate on him for this section of the report…

Joe Fanning on Mark Johnston Front-Runners

197/791 | 25% S/R | +£187.08 BFLSP – W&P 376/791 | 48% S/R

20% above expectation

Like with pretty much all things associated with Johnston there is a lot of numbers to work with here, so I wanted to at least try and find at least one angle that didn’t involve a mammoth number of bets, so try this on for size…

MJ Front-Runners ridden by J Fanning | Class 4 & 5 Turf races | DSLR 7-12

44/106 | 41.5% S/R | +£115.26 BFLSP – W&P 69/106 | 65% S/R

65% above expectation

Profitable every year under analysis

That certainly reduces the number of potential bets down to a manageable number, whilst at the same time ramping up the strike-rates without massively damaging the profits.

All makes sense as well, with the tried and tested MJ method of keeping his horses fit on the track (DSLR 7-12) being one of the pivotal factors in that angle. The other angle being a strong front-running jockey (Fanning) bullying the lower-class horses from the front (with a horse that has been kept near peak fitness with a recent effort).

Jobs a good‘un!

So how do you turn the mass of Mark Johnston runners into profits? You side with his front-runners of course and let their freewheeling ‘always trying’ pace-pushing tendencies boost the bottom line of your betting bank!

If that has got you in the mood then, as promised, here’s the link to the Mark Johnston post over on GeeGeez…

>>Predicting M Johnston Runners

Be warned, it’s a two-parter (well it is MJ under the microscope after all) so maybe grab a brew before tucking into it!

Happy Punting – Ben (NTF)

p.s the jumps season is starting to creep every so slightly closer (really, it is!) so I’ll be unleashing a number of free NTF guides to get your National Hunt fires stoked as we get ready to meet the autumn head on.

Make sure you don’t miss those guides (as well as picking up the existing NTF guides) by joining the FREE NTF list below…


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Figures sourced from the excellent Proform Professional database


Narrowing the Field

7 responses to “Stay in front when backing the Mark Johnston battalion…”

  1. How would you best identify MJ’s front runners? I use Geegeez Gold and the pace maps but I guess that you can use the Racing Post as an alternative?
    Amy other ideas?

    • Hi Martin

      Geegeez a definite option, Proform another option, both excellent resources for pace angles.

      You could use Racing Post but that would be a bit too time consuming.

      The best free alternative that I’ve personally seen has to be attheraces, they have pace maps on their race cards on their website and you can definitely use that as a way of determining who is likely to be setting the pace.

      Cheers – Ben (NTF)

    • Hi Peter

      Sites like At The Races do free pace maps where you can view at a glimpse how the race is likely to be run. From there you can determine who is the most likely front-runner in the race…

      Cheers – Ben (NTF)

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