Mark Johnston says: Stop watering courses

Mark Johnston says: Stop watering courses
mark johnston talks to vg tips about watering racecourses

Sunny Newmarket. Photo: Michael Harris

The QIPCO Guineas Festival takes place at Newmarket this weekend. Some sublime flat racing awaits us. The plan is to water the course beforehand. But not all trainers agree with the now widespread policy of watering.

Courtesy of the team at MJR, I am able to publish the thoughts of trainer Mark Johnston. The outspoken Scottish born trainer is based in magnificent Middleham in the Yorkshire Dales. I first filmed at stables in Middleham in 1980. That was eight years before Mark Johnston moved there and, along with his wife Diedre, went on to became so respected and well known in the local community.

What I like about Mark Johnston – other than his winners – is that he calls it as he sees it. So many people in racing these days sit on the fence. They come out with bland comments about the important issues facing the sport.


Mark Johnston couldn’t sit on a fence if you paid him.

He shoots from the hip and is forever seeking to open up a platform for debate via his excellent monthly magazine ‘Kingsley Klarion.’

I can imagine he will be shaking his head at reports that Newmarket will water the course prior to the meeting later this week.

This is what Mark has to say about the watering of racecourses.

Mark Johnston criticises plan to stage jumps racing at Chester

Mark Johnston. Photo by Vernon Grant

He says: “I have a great deal of sympathy for the groundsmen and Clerks of Courses who are well aware that they will have more non runners if they, honestly, dare to describe their ground as firm than they will if they water, even if it rains and the ground goes soft.

“What I object to is the rule that puts them in that position. In the past, when the rules of racing restricted racecourses to watering to grow grass, rather than alter the state of the ground, trainers had to accept what nature gave them. Were there more non runners then? I’m sure there weren’t.

“I am convinced that the condition of our tracks has suffered in recent years due to regular watering and many trainers would agree with my view that a significant number of horses struggle with the loose ground that results from watering.

“I am told by some of the best Clerks of Courses in the country that they could not now get through a summer festival meeting without watering, or rain, but I find that hard to accept. How did they get through these meetings in the past?

“Would the turf be more durable, and have more cushion, were they not continually trickling water onto it?

“Ideally, I think we should return to the rules that allowed the watering of turf to grow a healthy sward but do not allow for the going to be deliberately altered. Let’s leave that part to nature.”


Mark Johnston’s website is


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