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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.