Subjectivist may head straight to Gold Cup

Easy Meydan winner Subjectivist is likely to head straight for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Mark Johnston’s four-year-old backed up his Group One win in France with another profitable overseas success in last weekend’s Dubai Gold Cup – a near all-the-way success under Joe Fanning by almost six lengths.

His rivals can count themselves unlucky, however – because his initial target had been Saudi Arabia.

“He had a fantastic campaign last year – we always thought of him as a genuine St Leger horse, but that was probably his most disappointing effort through the year,” said Johnston’s son Charlie.

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“We campaigned him quite aggressively last year – he ran in the Gordon, the Voltigeur, the March and then the Leger, so it was a busy summer.

“There is an element to say he’s best when he’s fresh – but he’s also just a bigger, stronger horse this year. Last year you could struggle to keep condition on him, but this year he’s taken all the work we have thrown at him.

“Plan A was Saudi, and we were annoyed he didn’t get in there – we couldn’t fathom the logic.

“I know Phil Smith framed the staying race as a handicap – and because of weight for age, it worked against him. But there were horses running that had been getting beaten in handicaps and went off 50-1, while he’d won a Group One on his last start.

“As soon as he didn’t get in, as he was half-ready in early February, Meydan was an opportunity for another big pay day – and it was a fantastic performance.”

Looking towards the summer, Subjectivist has two big aims.

Johnston added: “We’ve given him a Yorkshire Cup entry – but one of the main attractions to Dubai was that he had no penalty for his Group One, while he would have in a Sagaro, Henry II or Yorkshire Cup.

“I think Plan A will be to go straight to Ascot, because we’ve proved we can have him in the form of his life fresh. I think the two he’ll definitely go to are Ascot and Goodwood in the summer.

“There’s certainly lots to look forward to. He nearly won at Royal Ascot (King George V Stakes, last year), and Mogul only just caught him at Goodwood – both of those were over a mile-and-a-half. We always said he would get better with age.”

Subjectivist streaks to Dubai gold

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.”

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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.

Goodwood Festival – Day One
Stradivarius may lie in wait for Subjectivist this summer (Dan Abraham/PA)

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?”

Subjectivist seals Group One-winning weekend for Mark Johnston

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.

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“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.”