‘Rookie’ on a magic ride
By Mike Hill
“I’M just enjoying the ride,” says Darren Johnstone.
The Harrisville (near Ipswich, Qld) based trainer uttered these words minutes after his talented chaser Federal Morgan had won a thrilling $17,250 Young Guns Final (520m) at Ipswich in late July.
In a three-dog battle down the home straight, Federal Morgan, the $3.10 second fancy, showed strength and courage to just beat the Selena Zammit-trained Group winning hot favourite Oh Mickey ($1.75) and the Wayne Scott-prepared Townson Beach ($19).
Just over a neck separated the trio at the post in one of the best finishes in a feature final at Ipswich for some time.
Federal Morgan won the jump from the inside box and led the field past the post the first time with Townson Beach (box eight) on his shoulder and Oh Mickey (box three) pushing up on the rails.
Only a length separated the trio on the home turn and as Townson Beach drove hard on the outside and Oh Mickey slipped up on the rails Federal Morgan refused to yield, grinding out a superb victory.
“Not at any stage in the race was I confident,” said Johnstone. “I felt that if Oh Mickey got to the front it was over.
“I didn’t know my dog’s strength.”
A relatively new member to the south-east Queensland trainer ranks, Johnstone has quickly made a name for himself and Federal Morgan’s victory capped a great night – he took four dogs to the meeting and returned home with a winning treble.
“It’s not my first treble,” he said. “But this is the most important one. This is my best win so far.”
Johnstone took up training a bit over two years ago after he and his wife Sue sold their Post Office operation.
“I had to do something,” he said. “I’d been in some syndicates in Victoria and they were costing me money and I thought ‘why not give training a go?’
“It’s my job now. I want to be successful. I started off with some well-bred pups and have just gone on from there.”
Johnstone is surprised by his rapid success and to highlight his achievements he currently leads the Ipswich Male Trainers premiership.
“My wife Sue showed no interest in the dogs in the beginning, but after I bought some well-bred pups she fell in love with them.
“I couldn’t do what I’m doing without her assistance – it’s a training partnership we have.
“So emotional … she was in tears after Federal Morgan’s win.”
The red fawn sprinter (Barcia Bale-Absolute Beaut) came to Johnstone’s kennels in late April after Wentworth Park was shut down due to COVID-19.
‘Morgan’, as he is known around the kennels, had winning form at Wentworth Park, The Gardens and Gosford.
“His owner (breeder Scott Eaton) sent him and his sister Jilliby Caz up …. I had previously trained a dog for him,” said Johnstone.
“He’s the perfect dog. He’s laidback, never barks … he’s just perfect. He’s the best dog I’ve got and I am learning from him.”
Johnstone admits he’s ‘self-taught and is learning all the time’.
And thanks to Federal Morgan he has been pushed into the spotlight probably quicker than he was expecting.
After his arrival from NSW, ‘Morgan’ had a health issue that put his preparation back a month or so but since hitting the Brisbane tracks he has fast won over fans.
He began his Queensland campaign up the 366m grass straight at Capalaba in late May finishing a close second to smart sprinter Made In America in a heat of the Young Guns before finishing fifth in the final.
It was then off to Ipswich with two best-of-meeting performances over 431m before completing a hat-trick of wins with victory over 395m at Albion Park.
His campaign has just built from there.
He clocked a super 29.79s when a close second to Hooked on Scotch in a heat of the Group 1 Brisbane Cup in late June before a super fourth to Black Opium in the final.
His tenacious win in the Ipswich Young Guns final was his third straight victory on the track after success in his heat and an earlier sprint over 431m.
Johnstone said he was now looking at the $22,000 Queensland Sprint Championship (520m) at Albion Park on August 6 (heat) and 13 (final) as Federal Morgan’s next mission and possibly the G3 Townsville Cup later in the month.
(Photo: Just Greyhound Photos)