Connections of prolific all-weather performer Matterhorn believe he can show his star quality when he lines up in the Matchbook Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown on Thursday evening.
The four-year-old was a revelation on synthetic surfaces over the winter, notching up seven wins – including a seven-length demolition of the high-class Wissahickon in the Easter Classic on All Weather Finals Day.
He made just his second start on turf when chasing home Forest Ranger in the Huxley Stakes at Chester – and Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father Mark, feels Matterhorn can perhaps topple Thursday’s likely favourite Regal Reality, who hails from the in-form Sir Michael Stoute yard.
He said: “I know we are biased, but we felt if you ran the race again at Chester, things would have panned out differently – and he quite possibly could have won.
“He was just in the wrong place as the race was developing. Forest Ranger got first run on him, and he was making ground all the way to the line.
“It was a good run and a nice run, in that it confirmed the horse is a group-class horse on turf as well as on the all-weather. You would expect the testing conditions at Chester not to play to his strengths, so back on a quicker surface will be a help.
“You’ve got to respect the Stoute horse (Regal Reality), but I think he’s the one they have to beat.”
Danceteria will be making his first start for new co-owner Australian Bloodstock, after it was announced a deal had been struck with Clive Washbourn earlier this week.
A trip to Australia later in the year could now be the ultimate target for the four-year-old gelding, who delighted trainer David Menuisier when winning a nine-furlong Listed heat at Maisons-Laffitte last month.
He said: “He will be racing for new connections – it’s very exciting. The horse is in very good form, and I thought he did something very special at Maisons-Laffitte.
“He won his race over about 50 yards – and I know Mr (Andre) Fabre really fancied the second (Mer Et Nuages), so that looked a very good race. We’ve always thought a lot of this horse, and he has been training well since.”
Of Danceteria’s Australian aspirations, Menuisier added: “We are discussing things at the moment. I’m not quite sure what the plans are, but he could go for one of those big races in Australia.
“We don’t have to really work back from that point of the year until maybe August or September, so we will see what happens. He is entered in all the big races, and we think he could be up to that level.”
Six runners go to post, with Regal Reality seeking to give Stoute an 11th win in the race as he tackles 10 furlongs for the first time. Andrew Balding’s Here Comes When, the James Fanshawe-trained Bombyx and Elwazir for Owen Burrows are all making their seasonal returns.
Here Comes When shoulders a 3lb penalty for a Haydock Group 3 triumph in September and will be trying 10 furlongs for the first time in conditions that Balding admits may not be his optimum.
He said: “The ground is probably faster than ideal for him. But it will be safe ground there, and we need to get a run into him somewhere and somehow.
“The trip is further than ideal, but he wants to get out. He just had a little niggle, because he struck into himself a couple of months back – that is why he hasn’t been out sooner.
“We just want to get that run into him to make sure that when the rain does come, he will be ready to run on it. It’s a small field, but he is often keen on adrenaline first time out. It will be good just to get a run into him.”
HENRY II STAKES
Mark Johnston is using a well-trodden path with Dee Ex Bee by taking in the Matchbook VIP Henry II Stakes at Sandown en route to possible Gold Cup glory at Royal Ascot.
Johnston’s past winners of the stayers’ showpiece – Double Trigger (in 1995) and Royal Rebel (2001 and 2002) – both contested the two-mile Group 3 before their date with destiny.
Dee Ex Bee bids to cement his stature on Thursday as one of the main rivals to defending champion Stradivarius, having won the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in pleasing fashion three weeks ago.
“We were very pleased with him at Ascot ,and there was a case for going straight to the Gold Cup on the back of that,” said Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father.
“(But) he’s a horse that took his racing well last year, and we felt going the best part of seven weeks between the Sagaro and the Gold Cup wouldn’t be an ideal preparation – and another race would benefit him.
“It also didn’t look like a particularly deep race, so it seemed a logical thing to bring him here as a prep run for Gold Cup. It fits in perfectly. Dad was quite keen – it’s a tried-and-tested route.
“All of his three Gold Cup winners ran in this race on the way there. That was probably a determining factor in the back of his mind.”
The Johnston stable is also responsible for Austrian School and Making Miracles, as they attempt to dominate the six-runner field.
Making Miracles heads to the Esher track on the back of a six-length romp in the Chester Cup on rain-softened ground – while Austrian School will have conditions more in his favour after floundering on the Roodee.
TIGER ROLL RELATION
The half-brother to dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll was previously impressive when winning the Queen’s Cup at Musselburgh. Johnston added: “The other two horses are making that step out of handicap company into group-staying company.
“But they are rated 108 and 110 – so short of the Northumberland Plate and the Cesarewitch, there’s nowhere for them to go in handicap company really They have to bridge that gap up – (and) I think there’s got to be every chance both horses are capable of doing that.”
Johnston is hoping to have a clearer indication of their prospects after this next assignment, though.
“Making Miracles was obviously very impressive at Chester,” he said. “I think we don’t want to get too carried away with that form. The handicapper was quite harsh on him really in the circumstances, considering the ground and the way the race panned out.
“Austrian School was always a horse we thought a huge amount of and expected him to bridge the gap between handicaps and group races this year -and that’s why he’s got the entry in the Gold Cup.
“Everything transpired against him at Chester. But we’re happy to draw a line through that and we probably couldn’t get much more different conditions from Chester two weeks ago to what they are going to get at Sandown. That will be much more up his street.
“It’s not a big field, and not a particularly deep field. If they are going to be able to hold their own in this company this year then they should at least be in the frame or give Dee Ex Bee something to worry about.”
The Ian Williams-trained Magic Circle won the Chester Cup and Henry II Stakes 12 months ago, and shaped well on his first run since the Melbourne Cup when third to Morando in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester. Sir Michael Stoute’s Mekong and Fearsome from Nick Littmoden’s yard complete the line-up.