Mark Johnston is excited about Gear Up’s potential as he prepares the Group One winner for the Al Basti Equiworld Dante Stakes at York.
Winner of the Acomb on the Knavesmire on his second outing, having also struck there on his debut, Gear Up surrendered his unbeaten record in the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket.
But stepped up to 10 furlongs for the Criterium de Saint-Cloud, he showed great resolution to beat Andre Fabre’s Botanik by a short neck, with Prix Marcel Boussac winner Tiger Tanaka back in fourth.
The Derby therefore looms this season, with Thursday’s York trial very much a starting point for Gear Up’s three-year-old campaign.
“He’s got all the credentials, and we’re really looking forward to it,” said Johnston.
“It’s almost a case of whatever happens (this week) he’ll be going to the Derby after.
“We went close with Dee Ex Bee a few years ago (runner-up at Epsom in 2018), but this horse is a Group One winner already and he’d be the first of those I’ve run in the Derby I think – I haven’t had that many runners in it all told.”
Gear Up’s Saint-Cloud victory indicated stamina will be a significant asset, and Johnston has been encouraged by his progression at home since.
“He did well over the winter,” said the Middleham trainer.
“He was extremely green when he won at York first time – but when he went back for the Acomb nobody was expecting him to step up quite the way he did.
“Franny (Norton) said after the Royal Lodge that it wasn’t his running – and he called James Doyle before the French race to tell him to make plenty of use of him.”
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High Definition is among 18 confirmations for Thursday’s Al Basti Equiworld Dante Stakes at York.
Aidan O’Brien’s unbeaten colt lost his position at the head of the ante-post market on the Cazoo Derby after an unsatisfactory blood test earlier this week.
O’Brien had intended to run the son of Galileo in Saturday’s Derby Trial at Lingfield, but there is a chance he could reappear on the Knavesmire should all go well in the meantime, with the Ballydoyle admitting it would be “very hard” to go to Epsom without a prep race.
O’Brien has also left in Hector De Maris, Matchless, Roman Empire, Sir Lamorak, Van Gogh and Wordsworth.
One trainer who has always had this race in mind for his Derby hope is Mark Johnston with Gear Up.
The only Group One winner left among the potential field having won the Criterium de Saint-Cloud over 10 furlongs last year, Gear Up will be making his seasonal reappearance.
“All is well. The Derby seems to be quite wide open, but no one seems to be talking about us!” said Johnston.
“He’s a Group One-winning two-year-old with York form.
“He’s only got one blot on his copybook when Franny (Norton) felt he didn’t make enough use of him in the Royal Lodge.
“Franny is the only one to be beaten on him, but I wouldn’t hold that against him as he told us as much about the horse as anybody. I don’t know who rides him next week yet.”
John Leeper, one of the most beautifully-bred horses in training being by Frankel out of Snow Fairy, will aim to build on his impressive Newcastle success for Ed Dunlop.
Charlie Appleby’s Hurricane Lane is another unbeaten contender, with stablemate Adayar also standing his ground, although he is declared to run at Lingfield on Saturday.
John and Thady Gosden could be doubly represented by Newcastle Listed winner Megallan and Uncle Bryn, who lost his perfect record in the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom.
William Haggas’ Alenquer, the Sandown Classic Trial winner, may also run.
On the same card is the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Middleton Stakes, for which nine remain.
Jessica Harrington can call upon Cayenne Pepper and Silence Please, while O’Brien’s sole representative is Passion.
Chamade (Ralph Beckett), Cabaletta (Roger Varian), Bharani Star (Peter Chapple-Hyam), Freyja (Johnston), Oriental Star (David Simcock) and Queen Power (Sir Michael Stoute) complete the list.
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Gear Up is set to put his Classic credentials on the line in the Al Basti Equiworld Dante Stakes at York next month.
The Mark Johnston-trained colt is a general 33-1 chance for the Cazoo Derby, after he ended his juvenile campaign with a Group One victory in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud in October.
Johnston has had the Group Two Dante in mind as a starting point for Gear Up for some time.
“Obviously we haven’t run him yet, but the plan is to go to the Dante and that still is the plan at the moment,” he said.
“Everything has gone fine.”
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Subjectivist put up a fine front-running performance to land the Prix Royal-Oak (French St Leger) at ParisLongchamp and complete a memorable weekend for the Mark Johnston stable.
The victory was the second leg of a Group One double for the Middleham yard after the success of Gear Up in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud 24 hours earlier.
Seventh in the St Leger at Doncaster on his previous start, Subjectivist showed staying was his game when making all the running over just short of two miles in the hands of Joe Fanning.
The son of Teofilo had to dig deep to keep his rivals at bay and was not helped by hanging to the left in the straight, with it later transpiring a front shoe had come loose. It failed to stop him, however, as he kept on stoutly to beat Valia by two lengths.
Holdthasigreen, the winner in 2018, took the third spot he also occupied last year, while Tony Mullins’ Irish raider Princess Zoe was fourth, never really looking like repeating her victory in the Prix du Cadran of three weeks earlier.
“It was absolutely brilliant and I’m over the moon for everybody involved,” said Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father.
“Plan A had been to go to Ascot for the champions stayers’ (Long Distance Cup), but when we saw Stradivarius and a few others were declared we thought we’d reroute to France – the added bonus being it’s a Group One. We felt it was going to be a weaker race and it proved to be the right decision.
“The lad who led him up said he was quite fresh in the paddock and Joe said he was quite keen on the way down to the start. I think he benefited from being that bit fresher.
“Having a slightly longer break was good for the horse and also the ground is a real positive for him and a real stamina test over this trip has helped as well.”
He added: “From the middle part of this year we were thinking he’s going to be a Cup horse for next year and hopefully we could have his big brother Sir Ron Priestley back aiming for the same kind of races. That would be nice problem, and not forgetting Nayef Road as well.”
Subjectivist was quoted at 20-1 for the Ascot Gold Cup with Paddy Power.
Johnston pointed towards the Derby at Epsom as Gear Up’s main objective in 2021.
“This was a bit of a reroute. After he won the Acomb, the plan was probably to go for the Royal Lodge and then the Vertem Futurity.
“Although we thought we had a genuine excuse in the Royal Lodge, with the way the race had been run and it wasn’t a true test of stamina, it slightly dented our confidence.
“As a result we thought we’d go for the Criterium de Saint-Cloud, which was guaranteed to be more of a test of stamina and a slightly weaker race than Doncaster, although when (Dewhurst runner-up) Wembley got withdrawn (at Doncaster) I was thinking maybe we should be there rather than Paris, but thankfully it all worked out great.
“Gear Up was one of six yearlings we bought for the Teme Valley syndicate, who wanted to buy a horse to go and win the Derby. We’ve got a Group One-winning two-year-old now and it looks like the Derby is going to be his principal target for the first half of the year.
“When you’ve won a Group One at two in many ways the options are few and far between in the first half of the year.
“There’s a lot of water to run under the bridge between now and then, but the obvious plan for him next year would be the Dante, then the Derby.”
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