Sir Ron Priestley battles hard to repel Al Aasy

Sir Ron Priestley returned to winning ways when seeing off the persistent challenge of Al Aasy in the Princess of Wales’s Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket.

Franny Norton set out to make all on Mark Johnston’s five-year-old, who is a half-brother to Gold Cup-winning stablemate Subjectivist.

With two furlongs to run, Sir Ron Priestley was being ridden – but not as vigorously as Highest Ground, who dropped away.

The odds-on favourite Al Aasy, normally a very smooth traveller, came off the bridle earlier than normal but still moved up to challenge as they met the rising ground.

In typical Johnston style, Sir Ron Priestley kept on battling against the rail – but Jim Crowley had still to ask for everything on Al Aasy.

However, as the line neared it, became obvious Al Aasy was up against a very determined opponent and would have to settle for second again – just as he did in last month’s Coronation Cup at Epsom.

Sir Ron Priestley (100-30) prevailed by a neck.

Johnston was relieved to see his 2019 St Leger runner-up return to his best after two lacklustre efforts of late, at this same Group Two level, since his victory in Newmarket’s Jockey Club Stakes.

“You couldn’t have any expectations, because he has had two disappointing runs – there’s no getting away from it,” said the Middleham trainer.

“After he won on the Rowley Mile course earlier in the year, we thought he’d be going a mile and six plus – so I didn’t really expect him to be here today.

“But those two runs left us scratching our heads – we’re still scratching our heads.”

The most likely explanation remains elusive for Johnston.

He said: “The easy answer is to say it’s the ground, and he needs a fast surface, but if you don’t like the ground you don’t like it throughout the race – not just in the last furlong or two – and at York this horse travelled to the front two out like he was going to walk all over them, and he didn’t get home.

“He was second in the St Leger and had a year off, and we were dreaming of Cup races. Now, we just don’t know (trip-wise) – we’ve got a very open mind.”

Johnston, whose brilliant Royal Ascot hero Subjectivist has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with an injured right foreleg, will consider further big-race targets over a variety of distances for Sir Ron Priestley.

“We said at the start of the year the Irish St Leger would be the principal target for him,” he added.

“But he’s in the King George – and if that was to go like the Eclipse, with a small field, we wouldn’t rule it out.

“We haven’t had a chance to speak to Paul Dean (owner) yet, but there is a vague possibility of supplementing for the Goodwood Cup.”

Subjectivist and Stradivarius on track for Goodwood showdown

Subjectivist and Stradivarius are all set to do battle once more in the £500,000 Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup on July 27.

Mark Johnston’s Subjectivist proved he is every bit as good as he looked in his previous wins in France and Meydan with a dominant performance in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

He foiled the bid of Stradivarius to join Yeats as a four-time Gold Cup winner, with John and Thady Gosden’s seven-year-old finishing only fourth, after what was a less than ideal passage.

“Subjectivist has had a very easy time of it since his run in the Gold Cup. He will have a gradual return back to full work, with the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup being the next target,” said Johnston.

“Looking back at the Gold Cup, it was a very exciting performance. Whichever way you look at it, whether it be the form, the time, the sectional times, the distance he won by, it all points to it being an absolutely top-drawer performance.

“In fairness, his win before that in Dubai was very good, but I suppose everybody is generally slightly sceptical of the Dubai form. But at Ascot he confirmed it by running a very similar race in terms of style. I don’t think there are any doubts about the horse now.

“It is well documented that I love the stayers, and it means a huge amount to me personally to have a horse like this. With horses who run in these big two-mile plus races, the big concern is can you keep them sound, but barring any injuries or problems, he is an extremely exciting horse to have.”

Regarding the rematch, Johnston is keen to get it on.

He said: “I think if you read my blog, you will see that I said ‘Subjectivist was bred by Susan Hearn, Barry Hearn’s wife, and if this was another sport, Barry Hearn would be promoting the rematch and we’d all be making a lot of money out of it!’. But seriously, a big clash between these two horses at Goodwood will be very good for racing.”

Also among the 27 entries are Andrew Balding’s Spanish Mission, the Joseph O’Brien-trained duo of Twilight Payment and Baron Samedi and last year’s Derby winner Serpentine, trained by Aidan O’Brien.

Quiet man Fanning celebrated by his peers after Gold Cup success

The warm reception Joe Fanning received from his fellow jockeys after he won the Gold Cup on Subjectivist at Royal Ascot spoke volumes of how much he is respected by his peers.

There was a mass exodus from the weighing room into the parade ring to greet the 50-year-old after his finest hour. Jockeys young and old, male and female, came out in force to applaud one of the quietest in their ranks.

Quiet, he may be – but at work during a race, Fanning is a fierce and well-respected competitor.

He does not shout his talents or exploits from the rooftops. He just goes about his job in a dedicated manner.

“I was surprised by the reception. They are a great bunch of lads. It was nice. It’s great to come here and win,” he said.

“To come to Royal Ascot and have any winner is nice, but to win the Gold Cup is very nice. It’s a very good race.”

Fanning did not ride Subjectivist in his first nine races, but has been aboard him for every one of his last eight.

The Dublin-born horseman has very much found the key to the new staying sensation and he took the crown in style from Stradivarius, who endured a nightmare passage in his bid to join Yeats as a four-time winner.

“He’s a horse that used to be a little bit keen, it’s best not to complicate things with him. If there’s no pace stride on with him, if there is pace just let him settle wherever he wants,” said Fanning.

“I always felt if the race collapsed in front, I’d let him stride on and I wouldn’t be clever on him.”

The horse had not run since winning the Dubai Gold Cup in March – but Fanning had not forgotten how impressive he was that day and employed similar tactics.

“In Dubai, the race collapsed and I took it up,” he explained.

“The plan was if he wanted to roll on, I’d let him roll on.”

Joe Fanning was presented with his trophy by the Princess Royal
Joe Fanning was presented with his trophy by the Princess Royal (Steven Paston/PA)

Though he was well clear in the straight, Fanning – who was presented with his trophy by the Princess Royal – did not take victory for granted.

“Even in the final furlong I was cautious something might come and challenge,” he said.

“There were some good horses in there, but I thought it would take a good one to come by me because I filled him up before the straight. I had plenty of horse under me and it took me a long time to pull him up.

“I was confident, but cautious as well.”

As for his enduring 30-year relationship with Mark Johnston and his Kingsley House stables in Middleham, Fanning said: “He’s a great man to ride for and Charlie (Johnston, son) is there now and the staff have been there years. It’s a great team. I’ve been there a lot of years now.

“I think I had a couple of winners for Mark in 1991 and went full-time in 1995.

“It’s great for the yard and Dr Jim (Walker, owner), who has been a brilliant owner with us for years.”

It was a first Gold Cup for Fanning, but a fourth for Johnston, after Double Trigger (in 1995) and two with Royal Rebel (2001 and 2002).

A big thumbs up from Joe Fanning
A big thumbs up from Joe Fanning (Steven Paston/PA)

Johnston praised Fanning for the ride he gave the horse.

“I was happy throughout,” he said. “We never tell to jockey to lead. It’s about going the pace that suits our horse and Joe is the master at it and when he sat in second and relaxed with the horse giving a beautiful lead in front it was perfect.

“With half a mile to go he was entering new territory, but you could see he hadn’t asked the horse for any effort yet. He gave him a beautiful ride round.

“Everybody talks about Steve Cauthen as a great front-running jockey, and I always put Jason Weaver up in the same sort of league, although he wasn’t around for so long, but I don’t think there’s anybody better than Joe Fanning. He is absolutely perfect at setting the pace.

“People kept saying is he going to lead today, is he not going to lead today? However many thousands of runners Joe’s had for us, we never tell him where he’s got to be in the field, and it was just a perfect pace all the way around.”

Sublime Subjectivist rules for Johnston and Fanning in Gold Cup

Subjectivist provided Mark Johnston with a fourth Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, as Stradivarius – chasing a fourth win of his own – met trouble in running and could only finish fourth.

Joe Fanning sat second throughout as Amhran Na Bhfiann set steady fractions at the head of affairs, while Frankie Dettori on Stradivarius was happy to let the race unfold in front of him.

Fanning kicked clear with over two furlongs to run, just before the field turned into the straight, and as the runners bunched up Dettori found a wall of horses blocking his path on the favourite.

Subjectivist – so impressive in the Dubai Gold Cup last time out and a Group One winner in France before that – took three lengths out of the field and was never likely to be found out for a lack of stamina.

As he kicked clear Amhran Na Bhfiann was weakening rapidly – right into Dettori’s path – and all of a sudden Stradivarius was up against it.

Tony Mullins’ mare Princess Zoe came out of the pack to chase Subjectivist and although Dettori tried valiantly to weave his way through, he found himself with too much to do.

Subjectivist (13-2) had five lengths to spare over Princess Zoe, with Spanish Mission a further half-length back in third, just ahead of the 5-6 market leader.

Johnston had won the race previously with Double Trigger in 1995 and Royal Rebel in 2001 and 2002, and had been second in numerous big races to Stradivarius with Dee Ex Bee and Nayef Road.

The Middleham handler said: “He was on the up last winter, he won the Group One in France on heavy ground which made people think he wanted heavy ground.

“When he went to Dubai and won on fast ground, he put up the performance of his life, so I knew coming here – but I couldn’t be confident – that if he could reproduce that he would take an awful lot of beating.

Celebration time for the Subjectivist team
Celebration time for the Subjectivist team (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“Someone asked me earlier if he would lead, but we never tell the jockeys what to do, we always go a pace to suit our horse and when he’s sitting second like today, in a nice rhythm, I thought it was perfect.

“With half a mile to go we were in unknown territory, but Joe hadn’t asked for an effort and we knew from Dubai how he can finish off.”

He added: “The preparation wasn’t smooth, 45 minutes after his race in Dubai he was stood in a stable on one leg and we thought it was really serious and then last week he fell over in Middleham, scraping his knees and the only positive I could take was that Attraction did the same before winning the Queen Mary!

“I think we’ll look at the Goodwood Cup. We’ll have an eye on the winter in Dubai and Saudi given the money on offer. The number one thing, I think, will be to work back from this next year.”

Weighing-room veteran Fanning was afforded a tremendous reception by racegoers and his fellow riders on his return to the winner’s enclosure.

He said: “He’s a very straightforward horse, very uncomplicated, and he did all the hard work.

“I just let horses find their own comfort zone. He can be a little keen, but with every race he’s getting more relaxed. I always say to Mark it’s better off letting him jump and find his own rhythm.

“It was a steady pace, but he relaxed which helped. Six (furlongs) out I started to push a little and I was never going to take him back.

“It was nice to see the lads come out of the weighing room to welcome me in, it’s nice to come here and win a big race.

“Having the crowd back is great.”

Of the immediate Stradivarius reaction, John Gosden said: “It didn’t go to plan.

“I thought the winner was most impressive, but we were a long way back, had the filly beside us and couldn’t get out.

“We were just caught too far back. Frankie couldn’t get out when he wanted to. You need these races to go right, it didn’t exactly go to plan in running, but full marks to the winner, I thought he was mightily impressive.”

Dettori said: “I ran into a pocket turning for home. When you get stopped in a two-and-half-mile race, you never get going again. The winner’s a good winner, but I’d love to have had another shot at it.”

Princess Zoe ran a huge race on ground that would have been quick enough for her, leaving Mullins rightly proud of her effort.

He said: “Everything will revolve around the Prix du Cadran, with whatever presents itself beforehand.

“I think we’ve been beaten by a great champion, and she’s run the race of her life.

“The owners have expressed a view to consider the Cheltenham Festival. She’s jumped a few on the q.t, and seems to enjoy it, but it’s whether her legs would stand it and it’s just a thought.”

Her rider Joey Sheridan said: “I’m over the moon for all the connections and she’s shown the people who doubted her just how good she is.

“We would never have beaten the winner, but on easier ground would have been closer.”

Andrew Balding was also thrilled with Spanish Mission, saying: “We’re thrilled with his run and might look at the Goodwood Cup.”

Jockey William Buick added: “It was a great run, because that trip stretches him. He gave me a great ride.”

Gallops scare for Subjectivist team

Subjectivist is still on course for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot despite giving connections a scare on Friday.

Trainer Mark Johnston revealed the second favourite for the big prize behind Stradivarius fell over on the way to the gallops but suffered only superficial damage.

“We had a scare on Friday, he fell over and skinned both knees and his hocks but just superficial grazes,” the Middleham handler told Sky Sports Racing.

“It happened on the way to the gallops. Obviously it was a big scare because it was him.

“There was no swelling and he cantered both yesterday and today, so all should be well.”

With that problem over, Johnston is now worried about the lack of a recent run for his talented stayer, who has not raced since winning the Dubai World Cup at Meydan in March.

“That is more of a concern because of the time he’s had in between, but he’d had a fair bit of time of before he went to Dubai and clearly thrived on it,” he added.

“If he can repeat that performance, then Stradivarius is going to have to pull it all out to beat him.”

Spanish Mission is too good in Yorkshire Cup

Spanish Mission made his stamina count to take the Group Two honours in the Matchbook Yorkshire Cup at York.

The five-year-old asserted in the closing stages to be a clear-cut winner over Santiago and Sir Ron Priestley, in the hands of William Buick.

Andrew Balding’s globe-trotter was having his third run of the year, after racing in Saudi Arabia and Dubai in the winter.

Buick had the 11-2 shot, winner of last year’s Doncaster Cup, at the back of the five-runner field as Wells Farhh Go made the running from Sir Ron Priestley.

There was little change in the order until in the straight when Wells Farhh Go weakened after being off the track for 587 days.

Sir Ron Priestley hit the front but could not put the race to bed and faded in the final furlong.

That left Spanish Mission to come home two and a three-quarter lengths clear of Santiago – with Sir Ron Priestley, the 6-5 favourite, only third.

Spanish Mission was cut to 16-1 from 33-1 for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot with Coral, and 10-1 from 25-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power.

The winning trainer’s wife Anna Lisa Balding said: “We’re absolutely delighted – it’s wonderful for the owners and Andy who looks after him.

“They couldn’t go to Saudi, so it’s great they’re here today.”

She confirmed too that a move back up in trip from this mile and three-quarters will be Spanish Mission’s next assignment, at Royal Ascot.

“Ascot’s obviously the plan, the Gold Cup,” she said.

“William was very impressed with him – what a lovely horse to have on the yard.

“He’s in great form (after his winter travels). He loves it, he loves to get some air miles I’d say!

“Dubai just didn’t work – it was the second time he’d run a bad race in Dubai.

“He’s got some pace too, hasn’t he? We’re just so pleased.”

Trainer Mark Johnston was out of luck with his two Yorkshire Cup runners
Trainer Mark Johnston was out of luck with his two Yorkshire Cup runners (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Trainer Mark Johnston said of Sir Ron Priestley: “He went to the front like he was cantering and had them all at it – and for whatever reason didn’t get home.

“We know he’s won over a mile and six (furlongs) before, so we know he stays – he stayed the trip as a three-year-old, never mind now.

“Why he should fail to get home today, I don’t know. There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with him, but we’ll see.

“(Stablemate) Nayef Road (finished last of five) was also a bit out of character. For all it was maybe a bit sharp for him, it was still out of character to be under pressure so quickly.

“Maybe they’ve gone an awful lot faster than we all thought. It will be interesting to see how the time comes out.”

Johnston launches formidable challenge in quest for second Yorkshire Cup

Sir Ron Priestley and Nayef Road give Mark Johnston a formidable hand in his bid for a second victory in the Matchbook Yorkshire Cup.

It is 19 years since Zindabad provided the Middleham trainer with his first and only previous success in the prestigious staying contest, but he appears to have every chance of doubling his tally at York on Friday.

Sir Ron Priestley is the clear favourite for the Group Two contest, having returned from more than a year and a half on the sidelines with victories in the Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham and the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket.

Johnston said: “We are very strong in the staying department – and we did think that Sir Ron Priestley, Nayef Road and Subjectivist might all meet in the Gold Cup. But that’s now looking very unlikely, because Sir Ron Priestley probably won’t go that far.

“It’s great to see him demonstrating so much speed, and his next runs after the Yorkshire Cup are quite likely to be at a mile and a half, with the Hardwicke Stakes a probable next target.

“It’s been very satisfying getting him back in such good form after missing last year – he’s given the impression he’s in the form of his life and he’s certainly rated higher than ever.”

Nayef Road is a serious threat to his stable companion in the the first race in the Long Distance category of this year’s Qipco British Champions Series, after being placed behind champion stayer Stradivarius in three of his last four starts.

Nayef Road winning last year's Sagaro Stakes at Newcastle
Nayef Road winning last year’s Sagaro Stakes at Newcastle (Tony Knapton/PA)

Earlier in the week, Johnston was expecting to save Nayef Road for another day following his third-placed finish in Ascot’s Sagaro Stakes, but has decided to let him take his chance after the Yorkshire Cup cut up to just five runners.

He added: “Nayef Road is in good enough form too and ran really well in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot, and it’s just a case of finding the best spots for all three horses.

“Like Dee Ex Bee before him, Nayef Road would have a lot more to show for his efforts if it wasn’t for Stradivarius, because they both finished second to him in the Gold Cup and the Goodwood Cup.”

The biggest danger to the Johnston pair is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Santiago.

Last year’s Irish Derby hero was third behind Stradivarius and Nayef Road in the Goodwood Cup, and can be expected to improve from his recent comeback fourth in the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan.

O’Brien said: “Hopefully he’ll have come forward from his first run at Navan.

“He was keen enough there, with it being his first run, and we know the trip is no problem.

“He won’t mind the ground – it was soft when he won at Royal Ascot last year.”

The small but select field is completed by Spanish Mission and the long-absent Wells Farhh Go.

Wells Farhh Go winning the 2018 Bahrain Trophy
Wells Farhh Go winning the 2018 Bahrain Trophy (Simon Cooper/PA)

Andrew Balding’s Spanish Mission returns to British action after finishing second in Saudi Arabia and fifth in Dubai on his last couple of starts, while Tim Easterby’s Wells Farhh Go makes his first competitive appearance since October 2019.

“He’s in good form and working well,” Easterby said of his runner.

“I said I’d bring him out when lockdown finished. He’s been back in training for a long time now.

“He picked up a little injury when he ran in the Ebor (in 2019) and, of course, he missed last year. We were going to run him at the back-end of last season, but we thought we’d wait.”

Sir Ron Priestley and Santiago feature in Yorkshire Cup

Sir Ron Priestley heads a small but select field of five runners declared for the Matchbook Yorkshire Cup at York on Friday.

Runner-up to Logician in the 2019 St Leger at Doncaster, Mark Johnston’s charge has since returned from over a year and a half on the sidelines looking better than ever – winning the Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham and the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket.

The five-year-old is the clear favourite to complete his hat-trick on the Knavesmire under Franny Norton.

Johnston also saddles Nayef Road, who has been placed behind champion stayer Stradivarius in three of his last four starts, most recently when third in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot a couple of weeks ago.

Irish hopes are carried by the Aidan O’Brien-trained Santiago. Last year’s Irish Derby hero was third behind Stradivarius and Nayef Road in the Goodwood Cup and can be expected to improve from his recent comeback fourth in the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan.

Wells Farhh Go returns to action in the Yorkshire Cup
Wells Farhh Go returns to action in the Yorkshire Cup (Simon Cooper/PA)

Andrew Balding’s Spanish Mission returns to British action after finishing second in Saudi Arabia and fifth in Dubai on his last couple of appearances.

The quintet is completed by the long-absent Wells Farhh Go, who makes his first appearance for Tim Easterby since finishing last of seven runners in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Ascot in October 2019.

A field of eight has been assembled for the Oak Farm Stables Fillies’ Stakes, where much interest will surround the Richard Hannon-trained Snow Lantern.

The Frankel filly is a daughter of the stable’s Classic-winning Sky Lantern and looked the part on her reappearance at Newbury last month.

Roger Charlton’s Nell Gwyn third Love Is You features among the opposition, as does the Charlie Appleby-trained Creative Flair.

Dante contender Gear Up has ‘all the credentials’

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.”

Johnston pair headline nine in Yorkshire Cup reckoning

Stable companions Sir Ron Priestley and Nayef Road are among nine confirmations for the Matchbook Yorkshire Cup on Friday.

Sir Ron Priestley has made a fantastic return from a year and a half off the track this season, with a successful comeback in the Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham followed by an impressive front-running victory in the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket.

Trainer Mark Johnston has given the five-year-old the option of turning out just under a fortnight later for the Group Two feature on the third and final day of York’s Dante Festival.

The Middleham maestro could also saddle the ultra-consistent Nayef Road, who made a promising start to his campaign when a close-up third behind star stayer Stradivarius in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot last month.

Aidan O’Brien also has a couple of contenders in Amhran Na Bhfiann and Santiago.

Last season’s Derby third Amhran Na Bhfiann recently made a winning return to action at Dundalk, while Irish Derby winner Santiago can be expected to improve from his comeback fourth in the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan.

Andrew Balding has both Morando and Spanish Mission, with Roger Varian’s Believe In Love the only filly in the mix.

The Ed Dunlop-trained Red Verdon and Wells Farhh Go from Tim Easterby’s yard complete the potential field.

High Definition left in Dante at confirmation stage

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.

Aidan O'Brien and Seamie Heffernan with High Definition
Aidan O’Brien and Seamie Heffernan with High Definition (PA)

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.

Dubai Fountain rewards favourite-backers in Cheshire Oaks

Dubai Fountain booked her Epsom ticket as she made a successful reappearance in the Weatherbys ePassport Cheshire Oaks at Chester.

Mark Johnston’s filly was the clear standard-setter on juvenile form, which included a fourth-placed finish on her most recent appearance in the Group One Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket in October.

The daughter of Teofilo was the 13-8 favourite for her comeback in the hands of Chester specialist Franny Norton, who after tracking the pacesetting Quenelle D’Or for much of the contest, committed for home before the home turn.

That decision from the veteran Liverpudlian may well have proved crucial, as the previously unbeaten Zeyaadah was briefly caught in a pocket before the gap came early in the home straight, by which time Dubai Fountain was in full flight.

Zeyaadah made inroads late on, but the Johnston runner had enough in the tank to keep her at bay by a length.

Paddy Power cut both the winner and the runner-up to 14-1 from 20-1 for the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom on June 4, with the brilliant Enable the last horse to win both races in 2017.

Johnston said: “Franny said it was very stop-start and he was happy to get a lead, but the pace was on and off which didn’t really suit.

“He was having to wake her up and then steady her again, so he could never get her into a nice rhythm – he felt it wasn’t her best performance, but it was good enough for me, I was happy with that.

“It will be straight to Epsom now, we were saying throughout last year we thought she was an Oaks filly rather than a Guineas filly.

“She obviously failed to win a Group race last year, but she ran some great races. We’ve been thinking about the Oaks for a long time.

“She was beaten just a length by the Guineas winner (Mother Earth) over a mile last year, when we always felt she’d be better over further.

“I don’t think the key to her chance was going up in trip, she’s good enough, otherwise you’d be saying that about every horse who ran in a trial. She’s been running at that level (Group One) there’s no reason to think she’s not good enough.

Dubai Fountain (second left) came out on top in a
Dubai Fountain (second left) came out on top in a “stop-start” Cheshire Oaks (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We’ll just have to hope there’s not one better!”

Norton said: “I didn’t find a rhythm straight away, but I was happy with where I was. Then I just felt it was all a bit muddly, a bit stop-start.

“Going down the gears and back up didn’t suit her, but once I revved her up three out it was game over. I could feel one coming, so she just needed a couple of flicks to keep her going.”

Zabeel Champion keeps up winning momentum

Zabeel Champion completed a quickfire hat-trick with the narrowest of victories on the second day of the Guineas Festival at Newmarket.

Following back-to-back triumphs at Ripon – most recently scoring comfortably last weekend – Mark Johnston’s colt was a 9-4 chance to add to his tally in the Back And Lay On Betfair Exchange Handicap.

The front-running Grand Bazaar and Frankie Dettori looked to have done enough to hold on as he raced inside the last half-furlong, but he was joined by both Zabeel Champion and 7-4 favourite Global Storm on the line.

Following a brief wait, the judged confirmed the Ben Curtis-ridden Zabeel Champion the winner by a nose from Global Storm, with Grand Bazaar just a short head further away in third.

Mark Johnston was delighted with the victory of Zabeel Champion
Mark Johnston was delighted with the victory of Zabeel Champion (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Johnston said: “Jaber (Abdullah, owner) has sometimes not been too happy that we’ve been stepping him up to a mile and a half – and coming out of the dip, I thought he’d be telling me I got it wrong, but luckily he stayed on at the end.

“Today it looked like he could stay even further – it looked like he was beaten a furlong out.

“I suppose we’ll look at a handicap at Royal Ascot, depending on what the handicapper does. He is in the Hardwicke Stakes as well.

“He wasn’t entered at Ripon last Saturday until 11.50am and he wasn’t entered here until about 11.59am.

“If everything else keeps failing to turn up, then he’ll keep turning up!”

River Alwen (centre) gets up to score at Newmarket
River Alwen (centre) gets up to score at Newmarket (Mike Egerton/PA)

River Alwen finished with a flourish to land top honours in the Better Odds On Betfair Exchange Handicap.

Western Symphony looked the likely winner after kicking for home racing out of the dip, but Jamie Spencer had kept a little up his sleeve aboard 5-1 shot River Alwen, who had finished fourth on his seasonal debut at Newbury a fortnight ago.

Richard Hannon’s charge was doing his best work in the final half-furlong on the Rowley Mile and got up to score by a length.

Spencer said: “He did well. He benefited from Newbury, he needed that run and was a bit fresh.

“He was dropped 2lb for that and this was a winnable race.

“I think 10 furlongs is his trip, but he will get more adaptable to middle-distances as he goes along.

“He should progress and improve again.”

Dig Two got off the mark in pleasing fashion
Dig Two got off the mark in pleasing fashion (Mike Egerton/PA)

Dig Two stepped up on his racecourse debut to open his account in the Betfair British EBF Maiden Stakes.

The Hugo Palmer-trained youngster was close to the pace set by My Dubawi in the closing stages and comfortably put the race to bed once set alight by James Doyle.

Dig Two (17-2), who was sixth at Windsor three weeks ago, bounded clear to score by two and three-quarter lengths from Secret Strength, the 11-8 favourite.

Doyle said: “I’m very pleased with him and I’m sure he will take a good step forward again.

“I’m not sure what Hugo’s plan is with him. Beforehand it didn’t look the strongest of events, but the time was good and he showed a willing attitude.”

Parachute looks to heading for Royal Ascot
Parachute looks to heading for Royal Ascot (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Connections of Parachute could look to the Royal meeting following his determined success in the Betfair Weighed In Podcast Handicap.

Ed Walker said of his 3-1 winner: “He is a funny horse as he doesn’t do a stroke at home. I’ve been saying, tongue in cheek, to the owners (Highclere Thoroughbred Racing) that he reminds me of English King who was a lazy workhorse that perks up on the track and this guy seems the same.

“I’d love to go for the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot as I think that would be perfect for him. I don’t know whether we would go again or just freshen him up for Ascot. He is a progressive horse that has very solid form.”

Sir Ron Priestley dominates from the front in Jockey Club Stakes

Sir Ron Priestley opened up a number of exciting options in making every yard of the running to land the Betfair Exchange Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket.

Second in the 2019 St Leger to Logician, Mark Johnston’s five-year-old entire was forced to miss the whole of 2020 through injury.

He returned to action at Nottingham recently with a good win at Listed level and bounded into an early lead under Franny Norton, where he was tracked by stablemate Thunderous.

Sir Ron Priestley has a big year ahead
Sir Ron Priestley has a big year ahead (John Walton/PA)

Pyledriver – third in last year’s Leger – was sent off the 15-8 joint-favourite along with the winner and emerged as the biggest threat in the closing stages.

Martin Dwyer pulled him out to challenge and he briefly looked like making Sir Ron Priestley fight for it, but when Pyledriver began to run around under pressure, the Johnston raider kicked on again to win by two and a quarter lengths in impressive fashion.

Paddy Power cut the winner into 8-1 from 10s for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot – but another target may be on the agenda at the showpiece fixture.

Assistant trainer Charlie Johnston said: “Given what he did as a three-year-old, and largely because of who his brother (Subjectivist) is, we spent most of the winter thinking he was going to be a Cup horse this year.

“The Further Flight was a stepping-stone to the Yorkshire Cup and the Ascot Gold Cup – that is certainly the plan we had in our heads going to Nottingham.

“The way he travelled and picked up at Nottingham made us think a little bit and off the back of that we made the entry here and in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot.

“Today was a great opportunity to find out what we should be aiming for for the rest of the year.

“In a small field on a track like this there were going to be no excuses and we were going to come out of here either knowing he wasn’t good enough at this trip and we were going to have to go back to Plan A of being a stayer, or the result we have had.

“He’s not in the Coronation Cup, which is a slight frustration in hindsight. The Yorkshire Cup and the Hardwicke will be the next two places, I’d have thought.

“This result means that certainly in the short-term he can stay away from his brother. I wouldn’t rule them out meeting at Goodwood further down the line.”

On his injury problems, he added: “He had a suspensory ligament issue in the spring of last year and we were trying to get him back for the Long Distance Cup at Ascot at the backend.

“Then he fractured pelvis around September time. They were two unrelated injuries, but combined, it kept him off the track for over 18 months.

“The next 24 hours are always nerve-racking with a horse with a history like that, so fingers crossed.”

Sir Ron Priestley switches back for Jockey Club challenge

Mark Johnston is fascinated to see how Sir Ron Priestley fares when dropped back down in trip for the Betfair Exchange Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday.

The lightly-raced five-year-old has tackled a mile and a three-quarters in his last three races, including when runner-up in the 2019 St Leger at Doncaster.

He was out for 571 days after that fine effort, but made a triumphant return to action in the Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham three and a half weeks ago.

Sir Ron Priestley is seen as a contender for staying honours this year, but Johnston believes the Australia entire is not devoid of speed.

“As Sir Ron Priestley’s last two runs have been over a mile and six, we were thinking of stepping him up to two miles plus, but he’s not short of speed and looks to have at least run up to form at Nottingham,” he said.

“It will be very interesting to see him back over a mile and a half.”

The Middleham handler also saddles Thunderous, who makes a quick reappearance after running below par in the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown last week.

Johnston added: “Thunderous was very disappointing the other day at Sandown, but there was no obvious reason for it so we might not shy away from bringing him back quickly.”

Pyledriver was third in last year’s St Leger and William Muir, who now trains in partnership with Chris Grassick, is looking forward to getting the stable star back on track.

“Everything has been brilliant right the way through. These are the days you look forward to,” said Muir.

“The ground has never worried me for this horse. He’s such a light mover, he only just touches the ground. The ground doesn’t really concern me.

“If you look through his form, he won on firm ground at Salisbury first time out at two, then he won a Listed race on very soft ground at Haydock.

“He’s come on stronger physically. I’ve not wound him up for this as his only race of the season – this is a starting point.”

Pyledriver returns to action
Pyledriver returns to action (David Davies/PA)

Though failing to feature in last year’s Derby, a return to Epsom and Group One company is on the agenda for Pyledriver, with Muir earmarking the Coronation Cup on June 4 as his next port of call after Newmarket.

He added: “Without a shadow of a doubt he will go back to Epsom for the Coronation Cup, as long as he is OK.

“When he came down the straight after getting hampered early on, he handled it OK. The track there doesn’t worry me in the slightest.”

The William Haggas-trained pair of Al Zaraqaan and Pablo Escobarr complete the small but select line-up, with the former reverting to turf following a hat-trick of wins on the all-weather.

Charlie Appleby expects Lazuli to prove a tough nut to crack in the Betfair Palace House Stakes.

The winner of a Group Three at Newbury on his final start of 2020, the gelded son of Dubawi ran once at Meydan over the winter – finishing third behind Equilateral in the Dubai Dash.

“I’m delighted with him and five furlongs is his trip,” said Appleby.

“He only had the one start at Meydan. He met with a minor setback after that, which meant he missed his second start there.

“His preparation for Saturday has been great, he looks great and he’s fresh and well.

“I think he’s the one they’ve got to beat.”

Judicial has been a fine servant to connections
Judicial has been a fine servant to connections (Dan Abraham/PA)

Judicial is reported to be in good form as he makes a fourth successive appearance in the Group Three contest.

Julie Camacho’s consistent sprinter has finished second twice and seventh so far and has been giving encouraging signs he will run another big race on Saturday.

Camacho’s husband and assistant, Steve Brown, said of the nine-year-old: “He’s in good form and he’s training well. We’ve seen nothing to suggest he’s slowing down. He’s had a smooth prep and we’re looking forward to it.

“He’s got some positive history in this race and it’s always a nice place to start him. There are obviously some very useful horses in there, but nothing that stands out as being a lot better than him.

“It will be nice to see him out on the track again and we hope he retains his enthusiasm for racing.”

Robert Cowell’s trio of Arecibo, Aljady and Dubai Station also feature in a nine-strong field.