Mark Johnston’s 2019 St Leger runner-up Sir Ron Priestley defied a lengthy absence to make a winning return in the MansionBet Barry Hills Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham.
Having made giant strides as a three-year-old, which culminated in his second to Logician at Doncaster, Sir Ron Priestley was having his first run for 571 days.
Originally he was to be sold to Australia. But that deal fell through, and he then picked up two separate injuries which ruled him out of the whole of last summer.
Bounced into an early advantage for Franny Norton, Sir Ron Priestley kept on picking up the pace all the way down the straight – with favourite Ocean Wind moving up menacingly.
However, just as so many that hail from the Middleham yard do, the 9-4 shot kept on finding for pressure – and with half-a-furlong to run, he began to pull away once more, winning the Listed contest by a length-and-a-half.
While his father completes the last few days of quarantine – having been on hand to witness Subjectivist, another smart stayer, win in Dubai last month – assistant trainer Charlie Johnston is holding the fort.
He said: “That was everything we could have asked for and more really.
“We were very happy with him at home. Franny had been to sit on him and said he felt as good as ever – but when they come back from that sort of lay-off, there is trepidation.
“He was very heavy compared to where he was 18 months ago, but he’s just a better horse now.
“We’re over the moon with that, and it’s got us dreaming about the summer ahead.”
There was a time the Johnstons dominated staying events with a pair of brothers in Double Trigger and Double Eclipse – and Sir Ron Priestley is a half-brother to Subjectivist.
“With Subjectivist, we are pretty certain we’re going down the Ascot and Goodwood route – but I think this lad could be more versatile in terms of trip,” Johnston told Racing TV.
“We made an entry this week for the Jockey Club Stakes over a mile-and-a-half.
“Nayef Road (last year’s Gold Cup runner-up) will try and defend his crown in the Sagaro, but he’s got to follow up two horses who have put up fantastic performances in the last fortnight.
“It’s a great hand to have in this division, for sure.”