Tag Archive for: Sir Ron Priestley

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Sir Ron Priestley scores on comeback

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.”

German trip may beckon for Elarqam

Elarqam could be given the chance to claim an elusive first Group One success in next month’s Grosser Preis Von Bayern in Munich.

In what has been a largely frustrating campaign for the Mark Johnston-trained son of Frankel, connections are now considering supplementing him for the mile-and-a-half prize on November 8.

After failing to score in his first three starts this season, Elarqam took full advantage of a return to Group Three company last time out to open his account for the year in the Dubai Duty Free Legacy Cup at Newbury.

Johnston’s son and assistant Charlie said: “It’s frustrating, because in a normal year we would have gone to North America for either the Canadian International or Northern Dancer.

“A Group One is what is missing from his CV, and we thought those are the ideal places to have gone to try and get it.  As it is, he may now run in the Grosser Preis von Bayern – which is two weeks on Sunday.

“He is still in full work but he would need to be supplemented, so we would need to be 100 per cent happy with him for the next 10 days and for (owner) Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum and his team to be happy.”

Nayef Road will be campaigned to try to go one better in next year’s Ascot Gold Cup, after a decision was made to draw stumps for this season with the Galileo colt.

Johnston added: “Nayef Road is finished for the year now. It has been frustrating in some ways that he has picked up the baton from Dee Ex Bee and banged his head against the Stradivarius wall.

“In hindsight, maybe we should have saved him for Ascot on Champions Day rather than run in the Lonsdale, but at the time we thought that looked a good opportunity.

“After York we thought he had done enough for the year, so we will look to have him back next year to have a go at the Ascot Gold Cup again.”

Sir Ron Priestley will be given the chance to try and become a potential contender for the Ascot Gold Cup (Martin Rickett/PA Images)
Sir Ron Priestley will be given the chance to try and become a potential contender for the Ascot Gold Cup (Martin Rickett/PA Images)

Next season’s Ascot Gold Cup could be a target too for 2019 St Leger runner-up Sir Ron Priestley, who has missed the current campaign through injury after a deal to race in Australia fell through earlier this year.

Johnston added: “There were offers for him to go to Australia earlier this year. He passed the vets to go in February/March time, and that deal fell through.

“He has had two separate setbacks this year, one in the spring and then a completely unrelated one about a month ago – which has written this year off.

“The plan will be to bring him back as a five-year-old and try to make him into a Gold Cup horse.”