Mark Johnston, who has trained more winners in British flat-race history than anyone, has paid a heartfelt tribute to Shamardal, the outstanding sire who died last week. Johnston, who handled the horse’s career when he was European champion 2-year-old in 2004, described the son of Giant’s Causeway as the best horse he ever trained, according to horseracingplent.com.
“He is the number one, I’ve said it all along,” said Johnston, who is currently in quarantine at his home in Middleham, North Yorkshire, after testing positive for Corvid-19.
Shamardal, the fourth-highest ranked sire in the world in the TRC standings after a stunning 2019 in which his stars including champion juvenile Pinatubo and dual Royal Ascot G1 scorer Blue Point, was euthanized at Darley’s Kildangan Stud in Ireland because of health issues.
He said, “Remember, he was the same year as Dubawi and, while I might be biased, he was the best racehorse of his generation. He was a very, very special horse.”
A dual champion as both a 2- and 3-year-old, Shamardal won all six of his starts on turf, among them four G1s. Johnston became the winningmost trainer of all time in Britain in August 2018 when Poet’s Society won at York to provide him with the 4,194th winner of his career.
He trained Shamardal during his unbeaten juvenile campaign in 2004, when he won a maiden at Ayr before fluent victories in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood and the Dewhurst, the 2-year-old championship race at Newmarket (see video below).
The colt joined Saeed Bin Suroor’s Godolphin team for his Classic campaign, when – after a dismal effort on dirt in Dubai – he won the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas), Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) and St James’s Palace Stakes in quick succession before his career was cut short by injury.
“It’s a bit strange when you think about it because we only had him from the 2003 yearling sale until the end of the 2004 season, yet he left such a big mark on the place, having run only three times for us,” said Johnston.
“But he really was an exceptional horse, and I’ll never forget him. We had Attraction [British and Irish 1000 Guineas winner] at the same time and she was exceptional in herself. When you have something like her, you wonder if you’ll ever get anything that good again – and lo and behold we had Shamardal at the same time!”
Although Johnston always speaks highly of horses like star stayer Double Trigger and his 2000 Guineas winner Mister Baileys, he puts Shamardal at the top of the list. “I have to say that,” he said.
“It’s obviously impossible to compare horses from different generations, but at the time with Shamardal I can honestly say we were never, ever worried about the opposition. It didn’t matter where you went, from that first maiden at Ayr.
Though the horse was always laid back at home, Johnston vividly recalls Keith Dalgleish, the former jockey-turned-trainer, being more than impressed when he rode work on him.
“Keith would not have been the most outspoken of youngsters but he said, ‘the only thing that matters with this horse is where you’d like this horse to win because he’ll win wherever you take him.’ That’s the only horse I ever remember Keith being so emphatic about.”
Johnston recalls Shamardal, like Attraction, being a relaxed individual around his Middleham yard. “He was so extremely laid back. He didn’t jump out at you and pull the rider’s arms out or anything like that,” he said.
“But, when another horse came upsides, he just blew them away. How do you define ability? He was so laid back in the preliminaries as well, but he was explosive the second the stalls opened. The Dewhurst, for example, was amazing but straightforward.”
Johnston said the horse “saved it all for the racecourse”. “I watched his career closely after he left us and I genuinely believe he was the best of his generation.” That generation also included Arc winner Hurricane Run (who was a neck second to Shamardal in the Prix du Jockey Club), Derby winner Motivator, Eclipse winner Oratorio and the three-time G1 winner Dubawi, who also went on to become a great Darley stallion (he is the current world 1).
Johnston added, “Remember [Shamardal] had an interrupted stallion career. He was injured quite early on after he went to stud, and his books of mares diminished; he didn’t have the same numbers as his contemporaries. What a mark he’s made.”