Nottingham report: St Leger runner-up Sir Ron Priestley scores on comeback

Wed 7 Apr 2021

By Graham Clark

Sir Ron Priestley set up an immediate return to Group race company after making a winning comeback after 571 days off the track, giving trainer Mark Johnston a record-equalling third victory in the MansionBet Barry Hills Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham.

Making his first appearance since filling the runner’s up spot in the 2019 St Leger, the son of Australia proved a cut above his rivals to claim an emphatic victory in the Listed contest, which Johnston had previously landed with Elegiac in 2019 and Winged d’Argent in 2005.

Although short-priced favourite Ocean Wind loomed up as a main danger half-way down the home straight of the 1m 6f prize, the 9-4 chance pulled out plenty when called on for his maximum effort by Franny Norton before passing the post with a length and a half to spare.

Charlie Johnston, son and assistant trainer, said: “We were very happy with him at home and Franny came in and sat on him about a fortnight ago. He was very heavy compared to where he would have run in the St Leger 18 months ago but I thought he looked a million dollars in the paddock beforehand.

“We thought time-wise, in terms of how much work we would need to get into him, a Sagaro or a Yorkshire Cup might have been an easier place to start in terms of having him 100 per cent fit. But for quite a while I had this ringed in the calendar and in terms of distance and opposition it would be the perfect starting point.

“I thought he was a little bit fresh early on and he never completely switched off and settled. He was just running fractionally with the choke out but I was confident the whole way round. I would have been disappointed with anything other than winning but the manner of it was everything you could have asked for.”

Sir Ron Priestley adds to Johnston’s enviable hand in the staying division with dual Group One winner Subjectivist and last year’s Ascot Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup runner-up Nayef Road also in his stable. However, a drop back in trip has not been ruled out for the five year old.

Johnston added: “Because of his half-brother (Subjectivist) we presume come the middle of June we will be running two and a half miles (in the Ascot Gold Cup) but I’m not sure he needs to go that distance. I’ve made an entry in the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket this week and I wouldn’t be scared of dropping back to a mile and a half.

“It’s a nice problem to have and when we go home we’ll discuss where we go in trip. I’m sure he would stay as he has got a phenomenal attitude and his last furlong was his best, but at the same time I don’t think he needs extreme distances to run at the top level. I’m just over the moon to have him back.”

Meanwhile runner-up Ocean Wind pleased his trainer Roger Teal, who had no complaints with the effort shown.

He said: “He ran a cracker. That was a good horse he was beaten by and though he was off the track for a long time you knew he would be fit. He lost nothing in defeat.

“I’m delighted with him and the first two pulled clear of the third. It was a strong Listed race and I’d say he probably wants a little more cut in the ground but he is up to this level.”

Annandale could follow in the hoofprints of stablemates Sir Ron Priestley and Subjectivist by taking in a trip to Haydock Park in June, after completing doubles for Mark Johnston and Franny Norton in the MansionBet Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap.

Appearing to need every yard of the mile and a quarter trip, the Australia colt went one better than on his seasonal return at Doncaster 10 days when getting up almost on the line to deny Taravara by a neck.

Charlie Johnston, son and assistant, trainer said of the 15-8 winner: “I thought he ran a lovely race on his comeback at Doncaster. He needs a mile and a half and I would be surprised if he doesn’t get 1m 6f, but this was the only possible entry we could give him before he was revised by the handicapper.

“I always thought he was going to get there but he needed every yard of it. The race I was thinking off before this is the 1m 6f handicap at Haydock that Sir Ron Priestley won in 2019 and Subjectivist was just touched off in last year.”

Sir Michael Stoute and Richard Kingscote also celebrated a double on the day when Astro King (16-5) got the better of last year’s Britannia Stakes runner-up Finest Sound by a short-head in the Download The MansionBet App Handicap.

Kingscote said: "Astro King is a nice, progressive horse and is lightly raced. He tried 10 furlongs a couple of times last season but it could be his bag this year."

Jockey Gavin Ashton celebrated what he hopes will be the first of many winners for his new boss Roger Varian after steering Batraan to glory in the MansionBet Watch And Bet Handicap at Nottingham.

The 24 year old jockey, who also works as a chef at The Kentford pub near Newmarket, gained his first winner since joining the Classic-winning handler on December 1st, securing victory aboard the son of Camacho in the five furlong dash.

Having been slowly away from the gates on his previous two outings, the 16-1 chance made a blistering start under Ashton, who has previously worked for the likes of Sir Mark Prescott and Ian Williams, before holding off the fast finishing Shalaa Asker by a head.

Ashton said: “The last two runs he has missed the kick and that was him just being playful in the stalls. He is a very straightforward ride at home just in the stalls he had not got it right. We did a bit of work with him and we left the blind on and took it off as late as we could and it worked a treat and he pinged out well. He got off to a flyer and that was key.

“I’ve had four rides for the boss now and it is good to get off to a great start. It is an unbelievable privilege to ride the horses. It was good to get a job with him and I didn’t expect a ride off him yet, it’s just crazy.

“I’ve kept my head down working hard through the winter and it is going very well. The pub opens next Thursday and if I’m not riding I’ll be sweating it out in the kitchen!”

Charlie Fellowes is confident there is “more left in tank” of Billyhilly, who made his stable debut a triumphant one on his first start since being gelded in the MansionBet Beaten By A Head Handicap.

Picked up for 10,500 guineas out of the Tattersalls Autumn Horses-In-Training Sale the son of Sea The Stars hit the ground running on his first start for Fellowes when taking a drop back to an extended mile in his stride to defeat Zlatan by a length and a quarter.

Fellowes said: “He has shown plenty of toe at home and I think gelding him has done him the world of good. He got a lovely position through the race and everything went pretty much perfectly. He looks like he is nicely handicapped and hopefully there is more left in the tank.”

Reigning All-Weather Champion Jockey Richard Kingscote secured his first turf winner of the season aboard the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Mashhoor, who burst through late on to get the better of Dubawi Sounds by a neck in the MansionBet Bet 10 Get 20 Novice Stakes.

Kingscote said of the 9-2 winner: “He travelled nicely through the race and showed a good attitude to go through the gap. It was building blocks today. It’s nice to get my first one on the turf.

“Jack Mitchell (on Noble Patron) was able to slip away but it is a long old straight and he got a bit lonely so we were able to pick him up. It was quick enough out there today and we are not used to ground like this at this time of year but he coped with it well.”

Bargain buy Atalis Bay demonstrated he had clearly trained on when giving weight away all round to secure the fourth success of his career in the MansionBet #morethanthenational Conditions Stakes.

The three year old son of Cable Bay, who cost owners Scuderia Blueberry SRL 800 guineas as a yearling, finished to good effect to collect the five furlong prize by a length and a quarter under Andrea Atzeni.

Alberto Baragiola, assistant to winning trainer Marco Botti, said: “We gave him a couple of months’ rest after the last race. We thought it would be a tough race but he has ran very well.

“As a two year old he was a little bit nervous but he was more relaxed than usual. He did everything right in the race. Today he looked more like a five furlong than six furlong horse.”

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