RUNNER-UP in last year’s Derby at Epsom, Mark Johnston had some reservations about running the classy Dee Ex Bee at Sandown last month but those concerns proved unfounded as he confirmed his Ascot Gold Cup claims with a workmanlike victory in the Group 3 Henry II Stakes over two miles. Gold Cup favourite Stradivarius will prove a much tougher opponent at Ascot but Dee Ex Bee will certainly be among his chief threats, with Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed’s 4yo homebred son of Farrh thriving over staying trips this season. Johnston was always likely to take this contest given the winner and his stablemates, Chester Cup winner Making Miracles and Austrian School, outnumbered the opposition, but the hot favourite dictated throughout and only ever did enough under Silvestre de Sousa.
The Middleham trainer said: “I think he’s a bit lazy; we probably saw that last time as well when William Buick said exactly the same. Silvestre said every time he came away from Austrian School he dropped the bit and he’d have to almost take him back there to get him racing again. “My son and assistant, Charlie, and I both said early on we wanted Austrian School to go up there to take him on and make it more of a race of stamina, but then in the straight when he attempted to he couldn’t get there. “It looked slow to me but then I was surprised Making Miracles was unable to go the pace and Austrian School unable to get up there and get at Dee Ex Bee, so it must have been a bit quicker than we thought.” Big Orange and Trip To Paris have used this race in recent years as a springboard to Gold Cup glory, as did Johnston’s Double Trigger in 1995.
He added: “The extra 4f at Ascot for the Gold Cup will be nothing but a positive. “We had some reservations about coming here for a five runner race; from the point of view of the horse’s rating, value, reputation, he probably had not a lot to gain tonight and everything to lose. The aim is to try and win the Ascot Gold Cup and if we want to do that he needed another run.” Regal Reality looked more likely to be withdrawn with his antics than win the official highlight, the 1m2f Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes, before giving Sir Michael Stoute a hat-trick and a tenth win in the feature. The homebred 4yo Intello colt, who looked likely to refuse to go to the start when digging his toes in at the end of the walkway having already not entered the parade ring, was foot perfect in the race under Ryan Moore, who bided his time before sweeping past Matterhorn.
Chris Richardson, managing director of owners Cheveley Park Stud, was doubly delighted as the winner was showcasing his sire Intello, who stands at the stud. Admitting to nerves with the winner’s behaviour beforehand, Richardson said: “He is a little tricky at home but has a huge amount of talent and the team has done a great job with him here. “He has his own personality and is still immature mentally. If he finds something different to his routine he will question it.” Juvenile filly Flippa The Strippa booked a Royal Ascot date next month after she looked better than the bare form of her length defeat of JM Jackson in the 5f Listed National Stakes.
Silvestre de Sousa confirmed the visual impression that Flippa The Strippa had run green and hung towards the rail when bursting into a clear lead in the final furlong. Trainer Charlie Hills is leaning towards the Queen Mary for Christopher Wright’s grey filly rather than the longer option of the Albany at Ascot. If she takes up the Queen Mary option, Flippa The Strippa will be bidding to emulate 2013 winner Rizeena, who went on to success in that fillies’ feature while the 2014 winner Tiggy Wiggy finished second. Wright was quick to point out the filly is not named after a real life character. “The name just sounded good with Strippa springing to mind as she is by Outstrip,” he said. King Of Comedy looks a 3yo colt going places judging by his striking success in the Listed Heron Stakes over a mile.
The market leader was keen in the early exchanges under Frankie Dettori but was still travelling powerfully as they turned for home before quickening up smartly when given the office approaching the furlong marker. Roseman chased in vain back in second but was no match for the winner, while Sangarius shaped with promise on his seasonal reappearance back in third. Notably, it was a 1-2-3 for sire Kingman who is fast becoming one of the most promising young stallions in Europe.