By Nicholas Godfrey
GB: Mark Johnston has paid tribute to Shamardal, who died on Thursday, describing him as the best horse he has ever trained during his long record-breaking career.
“He is the number one, I’ve said it all along,” said Johnston. “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 two- and three-year-old, Shamardal won all six of his starts on turf, among them four Group 1 events. He went on to an outstanding career as a stallion, numbering last year’s superstar juvenile Pinatubo and champion sprinter Blue Point among his progeny.
The son of Giant’s Causeway was put down at Darley’s Irish base, Kildangan Stud, where he had stood for more than a decade. He was 18.
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 two-year-old championship at Newmarket.
He 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 2,000 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.
‘He was exceptional – I’ll never forget him’
“But he really was an exceptional horse and I’ll never forget him. We had Attraction 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 Classic 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.
“All we were concerned about was whether the horse was fit and well,” Johnston went on. “Then we’d just think, this is the race he’s going for and we expect he’s going to win, and he duly did.”
Though the horse was always laidback 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.”
‘He was so laidback – he saved it all for the racecourse’
Johnston recalls Shamardal, like Attraction, being a relaxed individual around his Middleham yard. “He was so extremely laidback – 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 laidback in the preliminaries as well – but he was explosive the second the stalls opened. The Dewhurst, for example, was amazing but straightforward.
“He saved it all for the racecourse,” he added. “I watched his career closely after he left us and I genuinely believe he was the best of his generation.”
Despite an interrupted stud career, Shamardal had progressed into one of the world’s leading stallions before his untimely death. “I’ve always said, ‘give me a yard full of Shamardals and I’ll give you a yard full of winners,” said Johnston.
“Remember he’s 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.”