Jockey Clint Johnston-Porter has etched one win closer to equalling the record for the most winners ridden in the A.J Scahill Stakes after steering The Celt to victory in the $200,000 Group 3 feature at Ascot last Saturday.
The win capped off a good week for the former champion WA apprentice after he rode a winning double at Bunbury three days prior, less than three months after making his return to the saddle following a second debilitating injury sustained within the space of just 12 months.
Johnston-Porter, 21, has been forced to overcome lengthy stints on the sidelines in recent times after fracturing vertebrae in two separate riding falls, however, he is starting to return to the form that saw him take out the Listed Perth Stakes and Listed Bunbury Cup in the fortnight prior his last fall.
The son to former jockey Clinton Porter, the younger namesake has impressively risen from humble beginnings to become one of the state’s brightest young riding talents and forge a successful career for himself.
“I grew up in the Kwinana area,” Johnston-Porter said.
“I went to school in Kwinana until year seven and then I dropped out and did home-schooling for a year.
“It didn’t really work and I’d advise never to do home-schooling.
“After that, I did a little TAFE course at SMYL in Rockingham.
“I never went to a proper high school.”
While Johnston-Porter was waiting to turn 15 so he could commence a trade apprenticeship, he completed a TAFE course to get his pre-requisite certifications in order.
One would assume that a career in the racing industry would have been a natural progression for a teenager whose father was a jockey and mother had worked with racehorses the majority of her life, however, the man affectionally dubbed “the hyphen” says that wasn’t the case for him.
“When I was a kid, I had no thought of being a jockey whatsoever,” Johnston-Porter said.
“I was going to do construction or something like that, then I worked out I probably wasn’t smart enough.
“Dad was still breaking horses in at that stage and I asked him what I had to do to become a jockey.
“He said, ‘alright, if you want to be serious, I’ll point you in the right direction’.
“He was breaking in horses for Graeme Ballantyne at the time and I got my first job for Graeme.”
Johnston-Porter worked for the Lark Hill-based Ballantyne for the best part of three years and, after starting out on groundwork duties, he slowly worked his way up to riding trackwork.
Despite being part of a racing family, however, he had never ridden a thoroughbred previously.
“I’d never really ridden horses, besides jumping on a pony here and there,” Johnston-Porter said.
“Dad rode and used to break horses in, so horses were always around, but I just never had one iota of interest in them.
“I learnt to ride on the hack at Graeme’s that led the babies around.
“I had to do that every day for about six months before I got to ride a real racehorse.”
After Ballantyne and Johnston-Porter later parted ways, the latter was on the hunt for a new boss whom he could commence an apprenticeship with.
Enter Adam Durrant.
“I was riding trackwork for Chris Willis and I actually asked him if I could be an apprentice to him,” Johnston-Porter said.
“He said he couldn’t really help me because he didn’t have enough horses, but he’s close friends with (Durrant’s foreman) Jason Miller and he said he would ring Jason to see if he can get hold of Adam.
“We were going to try to go down the path that way.”
After some calls were made, a 15-year-old Johnston-Porter suddenly faced the daunting task of having to pick up the phone and ring the state’s leading trainer to ask for a job.
As it turned out, Durrant would make a unique request to the aspiring jockey.
“He made me write up a letter about why I wanted to be a jockey and where I wanted to be down the track,” Johnston-Porter said.
“The first day I went there, he made me give it to him and he said, ‘we’ll do a trial for a week and I’ll see how you go and I’ll let you know if I want to sign you up or not’.
“I think it was on day three that he said, ‘I’ve got the paperwork here, you just need to sign’.”
Johnston-Porter had his first race ride as a green 16-year-old aboard I Walk You Talk at the northern goldfields’ locale of Leinster on October 18, 2014 and, less than two years later, he was crowned WA’s champion apprentice jockey.
He rode 107 winners in the 2015-16 season, including 41 at city level to place third behind star hoops William Pike and Lucy Warwick in Perth’s metropolitan jockey premiership.
Asked if he was ever tempted to make a move to the east coast during the peak of his time as a junior, Johnston-Porter says he couldn’t leave the opportunities he had be given in WA.
“I went over two years in a row for the apprentice series,” he said.
“I ran second in the apprentice series at Doomben and I won the one at Sandown.
“I had it too good here to move, though.
“I was leading apprentice here and Adam was putting me on everything and I was riding for Bob Peters, so I had it too good here to go over there and have to start from scratch again.
“I would’ve had to try to find a good trainer to put me on and then battle with 30 or 40 apprentices over there.”
Johnston-Porter outrode the last of his metropolitan claim when guiding the Peters-owned and Durrant-trained Silverstream to victory in the non-claiming Group 3 A.J Scahill Stakes at Ascot in December 2017.
The young gun had launched his senior riding career in red-hot form and then carried it into the autumn, however, his momentum was soon brought to an abrupt halt after an untimely trackwork fall aboard the Jason Miller-trained Broker in April, 2018.
Johnston-Porter had ridden the unruly Trade Fair gelding to wins at four of its previous five starts and, for the first time in a promising three-and-a-half-year career, he was faced with a nasty injury.
“It was a struggle to get back considering it was a new experience for me,” Johnston-Porter said.
“The recovery was the hardest for me.
“Because it crushed my vertebrae, it was always sore throughout my recovery, which made it quite difficult.
“I had a back brace on for three months and, when I got the all-clear to get the brace off, I organised a holiday to Europe for a month.
“I’d never actually been able to go on a proper holiday before, so it was more of an excuse than anything.”
Johnston-Porter eventually made his long-awaited comeback to race riding in the late spring and, after taking a month to land his first winner in the saddle, he quickly found form.
He scored an almighty upset when guiding the Aaron Bazeley-trained Burger Time to victory in the Listed Bunbury Cup as a $41 outsider in March, before taking out the Listed Perth Stakes aboard the Dan Morton-trained Beethoven less than two weeks later.
The very next day, however, déjà vu would strike as the young hoop was on the receiving end of a sickening fall aboard Burger Time in the Listed Bull & Bush Tavern Cup at Bunbury.
“When I won the Bunbury Cup, that was pretty special,” Johnston-Porter said.
“It was a very unlucky fall the next start.
“My horse actually tripped on the corner, which was unfortunate, and it was very sad to hear that he’s now passed away.
“I fractured one vertebra in my first fall but fractured three in my second.”
A young jockey who has suffered two serious race falls within the space of a year could be forgiven about being hesitant to make a return to the saddle, however, Johnston-Porter says his injuries never dampened his confidence.
Asked if he ever considered giving the game away after the second fall, he says the thought never entered his mind.
“Not at all,” he said.
“If anything, it just crushed my spirit a little bit because I was just getting going again and then everything went downhill again.
“It was very slow the first time, but last time I pressed a little bit harder.
“I was a bit more eager and keener to get back because of how well I was going before it happened.”
Fast forward to last Saturday where, in an ironic twist that saw Johnston-Porter on the lucky side of the ledger for a change, he picked up the ride on The Celt in the Group 3 A.J Scahill Stakes after trainer Annie King’s regular rider, Alan Kennedy, was out of action due to injury.
Despite being sent out as a $26 chance, Johnston-Porter guided the six-year-old gelding to victory in the $200,000 event to extend the pair’s record together to five starts for two wins, two minor placings and a fourth.
It was also the second A.J Scahill success for Johnston-Porter after he outrode his claim in the feature race two years prior.
“It’s been a huge race for me,” Johnston-Porter said.
“They’ve been my two biggest wins and it means a lot.
“I didn’t expect it to mean as much as it does until I won it again on Saturday.
“I was quite nervous going into the races on Saturday, actually, because I thought he was a big chance.
“I’ve always been pretty close with Annie and she’s very loyal to Alan, but she tries to put me on when she can and she said I was pretty much her back-up.
“I just fill in when I can for her and I love helping her out and she helps me out.”
Johnston-Porter also paid credit to his two biggest supporters who have not only been instrumental to his return to his form, but to his career as a whole.
“Dan Morton has been very supportive the last two to three years,” Johnston-Porter said.
“And I really appreciate what Adam has done for me.
“When I started my apprenticeship, he didn’t have to take me on, but he did.
“He’s a great horseman and he’s taught me a lot.
“He always keeps me on my toes, too, but you kind of need that.”
With 10 wins and a Group 3 victory to his name since making a return to race riding 11 weeks ago, the resilient Johnston-Porter can already consider his most recent comeback a success.
Asked if he has set himself any targets for the coming year, however, he says he plans to keep things simple for the time being.
“Mainly to get through this season,” he said.
“I just want to get through it and then I can start setting some real goals.
“I’m just trying to ride the best I can at the moment and trying to get as many winners as I can build relationships with as many camps as I can.
“I’ll keep turning up and hope that something will eventually happen out of continuing to show up.”