Mark Johnston’s Subjectivist put up an impressive performance to win the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan.
The four-year-old, winner of the Group One Prix Royal-Oak on heavy ground when last seen at ParisLongchamp in October, demonstrated his adaptability on this much quicker surface, and put down a marker for all this summer’s top staying races.
Joe Fanning had the 5-1 shot prominent throughout as For The Top initially led the Group Two field.
Subjectivist took over to go clear in the straight and had a yawning five and three-quarter lengths to spare at the line – as outsiders Walderbe and Away He Goes stayed on best of the well-beaten rest to be second and third respectively.
Johnston confirmed he found Subjectivist’s dominant performance a joy to watch throughout.
“Always, from past the winning post first time I thought ‘this is perfect, I’m very happy, he’s going really well,” said the Middleham trainer.
“When he hit the front, I was thinking ‘well, I’m glad I’m not the trainer of one of the other horses!
“I just thought frankly, as proved to be the case … anybody who thinks they can go and catch this horse from back there and make up that sort of ground … I just thought it was absolutely perfect.
“It wasn’t as if he’d been running too free, or he’d been driven to the front. He eased to the front with five lengths to spare over the field, and it just couldn’t have been better.”
The trainer of former Ascot Gold Cup winners Double Trigger and Royal Rebel, and last year’s runner-up Nayef Road, believes Subjectivist could be lynchpin of a successful new era for his yard in the staying division.
Acknowledging huge respect for John Gosden’s three-time Ascot winner and title-holder Stradivarius, Johnston is nonetheless up for the challenge.
“You can never underestimate Stradivarius, because he’s beaten some fantastic horses – including Dee Ex Bee – and we thought in Dee Ex Bee, we had the absolute perfect Cup horse,” he said.
“Stradivarius made short work of him. But it’s not all about one horse, and we go into 2021 with this horse and Nayef Road – the nearest thing to Stradivarius last year – so it’s just very, very exciting.
“We love the Cup division. With Double Trigger and then Royal Rebel, we were always right up there with some of the best horses in the staying division.
“We’ve had a few relatively quiet years. But I just feel we are going into it (this year) with the best team in the world.
Fanning – making his first trip to Meydan – always felt in control on Subjectivist.
“He is a little bit keen – (but) he switched off nicely,” said the winning jockey.
“It was a nice even pace, and down the back I was going so well I just let him roll on a little bit because I knew he’d stay very well on this ground.
“I was very confident turning into the straight I had plenty left.
“I didn’t want the race to slow up, and I had so much horse before the straight. So I got a breather into him, then kicked, and was pretty comfortable.
“I’ve never been to Dubai before. I thought he had a big, strong chance – so I was glad to come over.”
Fanning had no doubts about Subjectivist on this quicker surface, either.
“Everyone thinks he wants soft, heavy ground – but I think he’s the type who’ll go on anything,” he said.
“So I was never worried about the ground here – I think he’s a very versatile horse.”
Johnston’s overdue Meydan victory came in a necessarily hushed atmosphere as coronavirus restrictions continue to limit attendances.
He added: “It doesn’t matter where we are in the world – this is not normal.
“Dubai World Cup night would normally be one of the biggest meetings in terms of attendances that we go to in the year.
“So this is very, very different – so sad for Dubai.”
In the year of the meeting’s 25th anniversary, it was also run following the death this week of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum – deputy ruler of Dubai and owner and breeder of many of world racing’s greats over the past 30 years.
“After Sheikh Hamdan’s death, we all wondered if it could go ahead – and we were told it would, because that’s what Sheikh Hamdan would have wanted,” said Johnston.
“All the odds were stacked against there even being a race meeting tonight – and it’s the 25th anniversary. So what better time to win?”