Charlie Johnston hopes Dubai Mile can win Epsom Derby

First-season handler has long had faith in Ahmed Al Shaikh-owned colt's credentials as an Epsom Derby contender

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Dubai Mile will be a strong contender at the Epsom Derby. —  The Jockey Club
Dubai Mile will be a strong contender at the Epsom Derby. — The Jockey Club

Leslie Wilson Jr

Published: Thu 1 Jun 2023, 8:45 PM

For someone having his first runner in the Epsom Derby (Group 1), British racing’s ultimate contest which takes place on Saturday, trainer Charlie Johnston is by no means overawed by the occasion.

On the contrary, the 32-year-old son of the legendary handler Mark Johnston, the only trainer to saddle 5,000 winners in Britain, was composed and confident as he talked up the chances of Dubai Mile winning the prestigious 2,400-metre race.

Owned by prominent Emirati businessman and long-time horse racing enthusiast, Ahmed Al Shaikh, Dubai Mile heads to the famous Downs in Surrey, with serious claims.

“It's just such a huge race to win at any point in your career and something that everyone should aspire to achieve,” Johnston told Great British Racing International.

“But to win it in my first season or just have a runner in it shows that we can produce horses that can be competitive at this level.”

Charlie has some unfinished business to attend to. Mark Johnston never won the great race but went close in 2018 with Dee Ex Bee, a horse raced by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, who finished second in 2018.

Al Shaikh has also flirted with winning the Derby himself when Khalifa Sat finished runner-up in 2020.

Now, both owner and trainer will be looking to set the record straight and claim a first victory in the epic contest that dates back to 1780.

Last week Charlie highlighted the journey that Dubai Mile has taken him on in search of Derby glory.

“There are more valuable races around the world in places like Saudi and Dubai, but there’s still no greater race for a trainer to win than the Derby,” he said.

Charlie has long had faith in Dubai Mile’s credentials as an Epsom Derby horse.

“I’ve had no doubts for the last eight months that this is the plan and the dream. There was never a thought about the French Derby or anything like that, this is D-Day and it has been maybe since he ran in the Royal Lodge and certainly since (winning the Criterium) at Saint-Cloud in France,” he said.

“There are the horses that you need at any time and to have him in my first full season is massive. If there’s a little bit of pressure that comes with that, then it’s great.”

Assessing the competition that Dubai Mile will face come Saturday, Charlie said: “There’s no horse (connection) in this race that’s going there knowing that they are better than us. On official ratings, we’re right there at the top of the tree with them all.

“We’re a Group One winner who ran a very good trial over an inadequate trip in the 2000 Guineas, so in that sense, I think we’ve got a pretty rock-solid profile.”

Charlie also highlights the support he has received from Dubai’s Al Shaikh, who hosted a huge lunch for the entire team at the Yorkshire-based stables.

“It’s great to see an owner so appreciative of all the people involved,” said Charlie.

“We employ over 100 people here and everyone is a cog in the wheel that contributes towards the results that we achieve on the track and therefore, to put on lunch for all the staff, no matter how close their association with Dubai Mile may seem, was great.

“He strikes me as a man that always has the utmost belief and confidence having gone into the Derby with the horses at 150-1 and with the same belief as he would do with a horse like Dubai Mile, who is around 14-1.”

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