Darren Johnston

29th September 2020

By Mike Hill

A RELATIVELY new member to the south-east Queensland trainer ranks, Darren Johnstone, is  quickly making a name for himself.

He’s being helped in the process by a kennel full of smart chasers headed by talented sprinter Federal Morgan.

Johnstone, featured in this month’s The Trainer column, is surprised by his rapid success and to highlight his achievements he is currently leading the Ipswich Male Trainers premiership.

He had a 154-point advantage over top trainer Tom Tzouvelis (451-297) midway through September.

The Harrisville-based trainer said he was ‘enjoying the ride’ shortly after Federal Morgan had won a thrilling Young Guns Final (520m) at Ipswich in late July.

In a night of highlights, the victory completed a winning treble for Johnstone. He admitted he’d had some experience with greyhounds many years ago.

During his mid-teens when he was living in Mackay, Johnstone helped a neighbour, Barry Thompson, train his dogs for several years.

However, when Thompson moved away he lost interest.

Johnstone began 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 greyhound syndicates in Victoria and they were costing me money and thought ‘why not give training a go?’

“It’s my job now and I want to be successful.”

And currently he is achieving that goal.

Federal Morgan came close to giving Johnstone his first Group success when a courageous second to Hara’s Panda – beaten only three-quarters of a length – in the G3 Townsville Cup in late August.

He is hoping his red fawn sprinter (Barcia Bale-Absolute Beaut) can go one better in this month’s Bundaberg Cup (550m).

1: How and when did you get involved in greyhound racing?

A: When I was about 15, greyhound racing started up in Mackay. My neighbour, Barry Thompson, had a couple of greyhounds and I would help him walk them, trial them and go to the track with them. This lasted for a few years until Barry and his family moved to the mines for work. I then lost interest in the greyhounds.

2: Who has been the greatest influence on you as a trainer?

A: I would not say anyone in particular has been a great influence. However, I find that many experienced trainers are only too willing to offer help and advice when asked.

3: At what age do you start preparing a pup for racing?

A: I like to get them broken in when they around the 15-month-old mark. When they complete their education, I give them 3-4 weeks to settle back into their normal routine. They then start their pre-training leading into their racing career.

4: How long does it take to prepare a pup for its first race?

A: After breaking in, I normally allow 10-12 weeks to have them ready to start racing. But all pups are different, and some are ready sooner while others will need more time.

5: What makes a good pup?

A: We breed our own pups or purchase them at three months of age. So from this early stage we make sure that they have the best upbringing that we can provide. We feed them good quality food with plenty of milk. They are handled daily and given plenty of love. Having plenty of room to exercise as they grow is especially important.

6: Do you do anything special when preparing a young dog for its maiden compared to a seasoned performer?

A: Making sure that the young dog has been to the track plenty of times prior to accustom itself to the routine of what happens on race day. I like to make sure that it has been kennelled and put over the scales numerous times on trial days to help make it more comfortable when it starts to race – anything that can make it more relaxed when it starts it’s racing career.

7: Do you have a set routine for all your greyhounds or do you vary training for individual runners?

A: I have a basic daily exercise routine which is for all dogs and then extra work is given if required depending on the dog and the distances that they race over. I find that you need to be able to read the dog and work out what suits each dog best.

8: Do you have any unique or unusual methods you would like to share in regard to training?

A: No, I don’t

9: Do you swim your dogs as part of your training regime?

A: No as I do not have the facilities. However, if I did, I would as I think that dogs need variety in their day-to-day routine.

10: How frequently do you like to race your dogs?

A: 300-400 metre races I like to race them twice one week followed by once the following week ongoing. Those racing over 500 metres plus I like to race every 5-7 days.

11: What’s your training routine for dogs between races?

A: I let my dogs free gallop followed by a workout on the walking machine. If required between races they will be given a slip at the race track.

12: Do you do all muscle work on your dogs or do you use a professional muscle man?

A: I use a muscle man to check my dogs. I will go over them myself but prefer to use somebody that has years of experience as I continue to learn.

13: Do you do treat all injuries to your dogs yourself?

A: Yes, I will treat all injuries myself. Anything that needs veterinary assistance will be catered for.

14: Which is the best greyhound you have trained?

A: The best is Federal Morgan, who is currently racing and going well for me. He finished fourth in the Group 1 Brisbane Cup and second in the Group 3 Townsville Cup. The greyhound with the most potential is Molly Anne. She has never realised her true potential as she has her own issues on the track. She has trialled as well as Federal Morgan over 520 metres, but is a stayer with untapped ability.

15: What do you consider is the best greyhound track in Australia and why?

A: As I am only relatively new to the industry, I have only raced at four tracks to date. That being Albion Park, Ipswich, Capalaba and Townsville. So it would be unfair to rate a track that I haven’t raced on. Therefore my favourite track is Ipswich as it is also my training track for pups coming through.

16: What does the industry need most going forward?

A: Confidence. For new people to enter the industry, they need to be assured that the future is bright. We need the new track that is planned for Purga. Once that development starts, I think that owners, trainers and breeders will invest more confidently into this great industry.

17: What is the best advice you could give someone just starting out as a trainer?

A: Get to know reputable trainers and seek out their advice. Ask questions, listen, absorb and process their advice. Take it all onboard and then go along with what you are comfortable with. Also I wouldn’t take giveaways as you may be inheriting someone else’s issues. If you can afford it, try and purchase a dog that will be competitive and you will learn from that dog as you progress along your training path.

Caption: Darren Johnstone with wife Sue and talented sprinter Federal Morgan after success in the Young Guns Final (520m) at Ipswich in July (Photo: Just Greyhounds Photos)