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.”