the RELIEF was plain to see as Permian atoned for his Epsom Derby disappointment to provide trainer Mark Johnston with a landmark 40th triumph at Royal Ascot.
Still fretting that he did not saddle a winner at last year’s meeting, Johnston – racing’s great accumulator of winners – finally got on the scoresheet this year on the penultimate day.
And yet the manner of this hard-fought victory in the Group Two King Edward VII Stakes – a race widely regarded as Royal Ascot’s ‘Derby’ – epitomised the approach of the Middleham yard and its ‘always trying’ motto.
This was Permian’s sixth run of the season. If they’re fit enough, they run. After finishing third on his reappearance at Bath, he came to the fore when winning York’s Dante Stakes before having a still inexplicable ‘off-day’ at Epsom.
Yet, less than three weeks later, the colt was always prominent under jockey William Buick before kicking for home on the final bend, the injection of pace proving decisive.
Though favourite Crystal Ocean, and then Khalidi, mounted late challenges, there was no doubting the resolution of Permian, who has now won six of his 12 starts.
And, typically, the horse isn’t finished yet – Johnston has signalled his desire to win a Group One race with a horse owned by the family of Sheikh Mohammed after first prize of £128,000 compensated connections for the cost of supplementing Permian in the Derby in vain.
“I’m enormously pleased with him,” said Johnston, whose first Royal Ascot winner came courtesy of Gold Cup hero Double Trigger in 1995.
“The Dante is a great race and going to the Derby with a Dante winner, you obviously go there with high hopes. We were fairly sure it wasn’t his running in the Derby and we took a gamble coming here, but it paid off.
“There was disappointment in his Derby run as a lot of people said don’t come and try again here at Royal Ascot, so I had a lot of days thinking over that – it was only a late decision.
We had a blank year at Royal Ascot last year, one of three since 1994, so it was a bit of a relief to get on the scoresheet – that was the main thing as I was dreading the idea of another blank year.Trainer Mark Johnston
“We had a blank year at Royal Ascot last year, one of three since 1994, so it was a bit of a relief to get on the scoresheet – that was the main thing as I was dreading the idea of another blank year.
“He showed a good turn of foot two furlongs from home and kept on well despite a diminishing margin at the line.
“William said he would stay all day. We’ve taken a slight step back in grade by coming to this race after the Derby, but his next run now has to be in Group One company – he needs that Group One tag on his neck. We will just have a think about where we go next, though it won’t be the Irish Derby.”
Those words were echoed by Buick whose week began with a victory in the Group One Queen Anne Stakes on the Richard Fahey-trained Ribchester – the Malton horse is now regarded as the best miler in Europe.
Buick was keen to pay tribute to a horse who showed great resolution to turn the mile-and-a-half contest into a real stamina test.
“He’s won that really well. Mark and the team have brought him in tremendous shape,” said the jockey, who went on to record his fourth winner of a memorable week, and 20th Royal Ascot victory in total, by landing the concluding Duke of Edinburgh Stakes on Charlie Appleby’s Rare Rhythm.
“They show they can run horses and bring them to the top table. I think Permian has improved all the way along, Mark gave me a lot of confidence before the race in the sense that he just wanted this horse to go forward and get across.
“You don’t want to be travelling too wide round here, so we got a nice pitch and steadied the tempo down. I know Mark and the team were surprised how badly he ran in the Derby and I wasn’t any help because I had no explanation really. He certainly felt like a much better horse today.”
Even though John Gosden’s Stradivarius confirmed his St Leger credentials by winning the Queen’s Vase, this was another day – like so many – dominated by Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O’Brien, the all-conquering Coolmore stud and jockey Ryan Moore.
First Caravaggio maintained his unbeaten record with a superb display in the Commonwealth Cup, winning the six furlong sprint for three-year-olds from the classy Harry Angel and the Buick-ridden Gimcrack winner Blue Point. The victor was stood on his hind legs when the stalls opened and had to play catch-up.
And then dual Guineas winner Winter added to her illustrious reputation by landing the Coronation Stakes under Moore, with stablemates Roly Poly and Hydrangea second and third.
Such domination is all the more reason to celebrate horses as gutsy as Permian – and the competitive instincts of trainers like Mark Johnston – when they do win at Royal Ascot.