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Johnson banned for ordering 'reckless' surgery on his horses


It seems typical of racing that one of its greatest celebrations, as a game without frontiers, should be overshadowed by a reminder that the most perilous boundaries can be those closest to home.

Today, in Chicago, the carnival that opened so many new horizons for the international sport will be enriched by one of the strongest European raids in its history. On the home front, however, the transgressions of a leading jumps trainer have shown that the Turf depends first and foremost on the probity of its domestic routines.

Howard Johnson's colourful career yesterday came to a black end when he was banned for four years by the disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority, which condemned his "reckless disregard" for rules on equine welfare. At 58, Johnson has indicated that he intends neither to appeal nor to resume training.

His most egregious offence involved an operation on one of his horses, numbing sensation in a lower limb. Striking Article ran eight times following a palmar neurectomy, but was pulled up and euthanised at Musselburgh last year. The procedure was disclosed by a post-mortem.

Johnson claimed he was unaware he had been breaking any rules, but that protest was treated as evidence that he was not exercising "reasonable skill and care" in the conduct of his business. He was also found guilty of administering steroids to other horses, though disputed that they had been in training at the time.

Johnson's stables near Durham had become one of the most dominant on the northern circuit after investment by a local computer magnate, Graham Wylie. Their many good horses included a champion staying hurdler, in Inglis Drever. Wylie professed himself "disgusted" by Johnson's punishment, and vowed to sell off most of his string. "I'm totally shocked," he said. "Howard has been treated like a criminal and he is not. He would never do anything to harm a horse. Most of my horses will go to the sales and those I keep will either go down south or to Ireland." The BHA, however, approved "a significant and appropriate sanction for two different but very serious offences".

Pending York next week, it is a fairly mundane weekend on home soil but that makes the Arlington Million card all the more resplendent. Aidan O'Brien has the hot favourite for the big one, but it seems more fascinating still that Cape Blanco is accompanied by no less a colt than Treasure Beach, in the Secretariat Stakes. Caught only in the final stride at Epsom, Treasure Beach proceeded to win his home Derby but looked ready for a holiday when fourth at Longchamp last month. He may well get away with this on sheer class.

Cape Blanco made a winning reconnaissance for the Million in the Man O'War Stakes in New York last month and, with Jamie Spencer committed to the O'Brien favourite, Michael Bell had to find a new rider for Wigmore Hall. And, after its distasteful experience yesterday, the British sport could hardly be more grateful for the cleansing headlines that would salute another breakthrough for Hayley Turner.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Dimension (3.20 Newmarket)

Another near miss disclosed the dash for another drop in trip.

Next Best

Excelebration (4.40 Newbury)

Sandwiched podium finishes behind Frankel with romp in German Guineas.

One To Watch

Kazbow (Luca Cumani) saw off plenty of competition for the lead before being run down late at Nottingham.

Where The Money's Going

Cape Blanco is 2-1 from 9-4 with William Hill for the Arlington Million tonight.