Trainer Mark Johnston upbeat about Gear Up’s Derby hopes ahead of York Dante run

YORKSHIRE’S record-breaking trainer Mark Johnston is excited about course specialist Gear Up’s potential as he prepares the Group One winner for the Al Basti Equiworld Dante Stakes at York today.

This was Mark Johnston at York 2018 after he became Britain's most successful trainer. Photo: James Hardisty.

YORKSHIRE’S record-breaking trainer Mark Johnston is excited about course specialist Gear Up’s potential as he prepares the Group One winner for the Al Basti Equiworld Dante Stakes at York today.

Winner of the Acomb Stakes at last year’s Ebor Festival, having also struck at York on his debut, Gear Up surrendered his unbeaten record in the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket.

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But stepped up to 10 furlongs for the Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud, the colt showed great resolution to beat Andre Fabre’s Botanik by a short neck, with Prix Marcel Boussac winner Tiger Tanaka back in fourth.

Mark Johnston on his glalops at Middleham - he saddles Gear Up in today's Dante Stakes at York.

The Derby therefore looms this season, with today’s York trial very much a starting point for Gear Up’s three-year-old campaign. Ten horses have won this contest at York – a race that carries the name of the last Yorkshire winner of the Derby – before going on to claim Flat racing’s most historic contest at Epsom.

Yet it was in media interviews nearly three years ago, when Johnston stood on the brink of becoming the most successful trainer in Britain, that the Middleham trainer indicated that he would target races like Derby.

Though Poet’s Society provided Johnston with a record-breaking 4,194th win when winning at York in August 2018 under a certain Frankie Dettori, he has not had a domestic Classic winner since star filly Attraction won the 1000 Guineas in 2004.

“He’s got all the credentials, and we’re really looking forward to it,” said Johnston as he discussed Gear Up’s chances. “It’s almost a case of whatever happens (this week) he’ll be going to the Derby after.

“We went close with Dee Ex Bee a few years ago (runner-up at Epsom in 2018), but this horse is a Group One winner already and he’d be the first of those I’ve run in the Derby I think – I haven’t had that many runners in it all told.”

Gear Up’s Saint-Cloud victory indicated stamina will be a significant asset, and Johnston has been encouraged by his progression at home since.

“He did well over the winter,” he added.

“He was extremely green when he won at York first time – but when he went back for the Acomb nobody was expecting him to step up quite the way he did.”

Malton’s Richard Fahey who notched up 3,000 winners at Ayr on Tuesday, runs Pythagoras in the race.