It’s Gear Up for Mark Johnston in Epsom Derby challenge

MARK JOHNSTON’S Gear Up will bid to become the first Yorkshire-trained winner of the Derby since Dante in 1945 when the colt lines up at Epsom on Saturday week.

This was Gear Up and Silvestre de Sousa making a winning debut at York last summer. Photo: York Racecourse.

Owned by Teme Valley, connections believe the Cazoo Derby’s premium on stamina will play to the strengths of the colt who, like Dante, is trained in Middleham.

They’ve made the decision to contest the Premier Classic after a frustrating fifth place finish behind Hurricane Lane – one of the Derby favourites – in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.

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Gear Up missed the break under Ben Curtis and was unable to assert himself in the Grade Two race which celebrates the legendary Dante and where 10 previous winners have subsequently gone on to triumph at Epsom.

Mark Johnston (left) in the York winners' enclousre with Derby contender Gear Up. Photo: York Racecourse.

Jockey bookings for Epsom could be intriguing given that so many Johnston runners look to dominate from the start and test the stamina of their rivals – this explains why the prolific trainer has saddled more winners than anyone else in Britain.

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The day Dante mastered the Derby for Yorkshire in front of the King and Queen

Former champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa was in the saddle when Gear Up made a winning debut at York last summer before landing the Tattersalls Acomb Stakes at the Ebor Festival.

The horse rounded off 2020 with victory in the Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud in France under James Doyle who is due to ride Charlie Appleby’s One Master in the big race.

Gear Up ridden by jockey Silvestre De Sousa (centre left yellow helmet) on the way to winning the Tattersalls Acomb Stakes during day one of the Yorkshire Ebor Festival at York Racecourse last August.

Yet, while Doncaster’s St Leger is the long-term target, Charlie Johnston, assistant trainer to his father, says “Gear Up is still Epsom bound”.

“Although he is a 33-1 shot I think, he deserves his place in the line-up as a Group One winning two-year-old and it would be no surprise to see him finish in the money,” he ventured.

“I don’t think he needs that kind of severe testing ground on which he won his Group One on last season, it is more the fact it inconveniences other horses. The extra test of stamina here will suit him as we expect him to be a strong stayer at a mile and a half.”

Although more was expected of Gear Up in the Dante, it was a performance that suggested a step up in trip would merit further improvement. Johnston added: “I thought it was one of those runs that was not a bad run but it was not a particularly good run – it was just okay.

“I thought he was in a reasonably good pitch and I would have not swapped him three furlongs out. I thought of those chasing the leaders he looked the most likely at that point.

“The eventual first and second had another gear than him from two out and he plugged on one pace at the finish. He is sure to be better over an extra two furlongs.”

Meanwhile a step up to a mile and a half is also expected to “play to the strengths” of the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Noon Star, who remains on course to make her Group One debut in the Cazoo Oaks on Friday week.

The impeccably bred filly, who is by Galileo and out of six-time Group One winner and 2009 Oaks runner-up Midday, filled the runner’s up spot in the Group Three Musidora Stakes at York having previously made a winning re-appearance at Wetherby.

Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Juddmonte, said: “The family are happy for the filly to go for the Oaks, so in principle she will go but the final decision will be made over the weekend.

“It was a bit of a muddling race at York, but that having being said it was the same for everyone. We would have liked to have seen more pace but it didn’t materialise.

“There is plenty of stamina in her pedigree and from that point of view a mile and a half in either the Oaks, and/or Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot should play to her strengths as it were. It was a smart enough race at York and she has come out of it in good shape.”

Roger Teal is excited to see how his star sprinter Oxted performs over five furlongs in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot next month.

Oxted provided jockey Cieren Fallon with a first Group One win when landing the Darley July Cup at Newmarket last season.

However he has failed to add to his tally so far this term, but has performed with credit to be placed in the Abernant Stakes at Newmarket and the Duke of York on the Knavesmire.

Campaigned almost exclusively over six furlongs, Teal feels the time is right to test Oxted over the minimum distance for the first time.

“He’s worked on the grass this morning and I was very happy with him, so all roads lead to Ascot at the moment,” said Teal. “I think he’s just been racing a bit aggressively and we’re going to take a step back. Whether it’s the right thing to do or wrong thing to do, we’ll find out at Ascot.”

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