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Dee Ex Bee primed to go the distance in Gold Cup

19 Jun 2019

Mark Johnston says his four-year-old will not fail for lack of stamina in clash with Stradivarius.

Dee Ex Bee and Silvestre De Sousa win the Matchbook VIP Henry ll Stakes at Sandown. Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

Mark Johnston believes Dee Ex Bee has what it takes to topple defending champion Stradivarius and provide him with a fourth Gold Cuptriumph at Royal Ascot on Thursday.

Johnston scooped the two-and-a-half mile showpiece, which forms part of the Long Distance category of the QIPCO British Champions Series, with the outstanding Double Trigger in 1995 and landed it in successive years with the less vaunted Royal Rebel in 2001 and 2002.

He says Dee Ex Bee is a different kind of physical specimen to that pair but has no doubt that last year’s Investec Derby runner-up has rock-solid credentials after upping him in trip this season and watching him land the Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot and the Matchbook VIP Henry II Stakes at Sandown.

“I was at the Highchere Ascot preview dinner on Thursday night and John Gosden was saying about his horse [Stradivarius] doing a spin on the Limekilns but our horse has done nothing but canter,” he said. “He’s had two races and they were exactly the two races I wanted. We went to Sandown for the Matchbook VIP Henry II Stakes last time with the simple logic being that if he missed it he would have to have a gallop, and we thought it better to have a race and earn some money at the same time.

“The Gold Cup is going to be a lot tougher, of course it is, but the Sagaro and Henry II, to my mind, are the two recognised trials and he’s won them both. From those races the one indication we got was the further the better. We are relishing the extra half mile, not concerned about it.”

He added: “Double Trigger was very much the classical stayer,  about 16.2 (hands) and he won all his races weighing 476 or 477 kilos – it was a one-kilo weight band. He was tall and lean, which is what you expect for a stayer. Dee Ex Bee is far more thicker set and heavier, but on form and pedigree he’s got all the credentials.

“We said all along that a horse who has run second in the Derby and fourth in the St Leger is your ideal candidate for Cup races as a four-year-old. He’s been what we have been dreaming of for many years and he’s all we imagined he would be.”

The winningmost trainer in the history of British racing last had a Gold Cup runner in 2014, when Oriental Fox finished fifth at 50/1. Asked if he was looking to be involved again with a leading fancy, he replied: “Absolutely, absolutely. It’s still to this day the race I most want to win at Royal Ascot.

“James Willoughby [the racing writer and analyst] tells me that in one of Double Trigger’s Goodwood Cups he ran the fastest final furlong of the meeting – so faster than the five-furlong sprinters. The sprinters! That’s what’s special about these staying races – you get everything in one race, including a fast finish. And the stayers do tend to be around a bit longer, so the public get to know them.”

Being around longer also gives connections longer to learn about foibles and traits. “The one quirk he has got is that when he’s being saddled, or is standing around, he stands on his shoes and rips them off,” Johnston said. “He did that on several occasions up to and including the Irish Derby last year, so now he has his feet taped up when he is being saddled in the stables. And the tapes don’t come off until he’s walking around in the parade ring, so we seem to have got around that.”

Something else that will have to be got around is Stradivarius, who carried all before him last year when he won the Matchbook Yorkshire Cup,Gold Cup, the Qatar Goodwood Cup (for the second successive year), the Weatherbys-Hamilton Lonsdale Cup and the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup on QIPCO British Champions Day.

His exploits also earned his connections a £1millon bonus from Weatherbys Hamilton, and a repeat is a possibility after he landed a second Matchbook Yorkshire Cup last month. In total, Stradivarius has won seven races that fall under the QIPCO British Champions Series umbrella – only two less than the record nine achieved by the mighty Frankel in 2011 and 2012.

Aidan O’Brien is seeking an eighth Gold Cup triumph in 13 years after the victories of Yeats (2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009), Fame And Glory (2011), Leading Light (2014) and Order Of St George (2016). He relies on Capri, who won the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby and the William Hill St Leger in 2017; Flag Of Honour, who won last year’s Comer Group International Irish St Leger; plus Cypress Creek.

Godolphin have also enjoyed great success in the Gold Cup, with Classic Cliche (1996), Kayf Tara (1998 and 2000), Papineau (2004) and Colour Vision (2012) all successful for them. This time Sheikh Mohammed’s operation rely on Cross Counter, who made history by becoming the first British-trained horse to win the Melbourne Cup in November.

The four-year-old Teofilio gelding showed his exertions that dizzy day had not left a mark when landing the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan in late March. Charlie Appleby, his trainer, said: “He’s a horse that has done well from three to four and I don’t think he’s plateaued out. What he’s done over two miles, you cannot fault him. Stepping up in trip again you don’t know, but if he improves for it then it opens up even more possibilities.”

Magic Circle also ran in the Melbourne Cup but trailed home well beaten after breaking a blood vessel. He had previously won the Chester Cupand Henry II Stakes, and the seven-year-old pleased Ian Williams, his trainer, when third on his return in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester, when half a length behind Kew Gardens.

“He will appreciate any cut in the ground, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be firm or too fast for him,” Williams, whose High Action finished fourth in the 2006 Gold Cup at 100/1, said. “With the exception of one (Thomas Hobson, who is 9), he’s the old man of the gang and his form with Aidan’s (O’Brien) horse (Kew Gardens) at Chester looks solid enough over a trip that was inadequate for him.

“We are happy with him and it’s great to have a runner in the race. It doesn’t look like Australia has left a mark on him. I couldn’t have been happier with him at Chester and the trip is certainly no disadvantage for him.”

Dr Marwan Koukash, the owner of Magic Circle, once threatened to collect the Chester Cup in his underpants but will have to curb such celebrations if his horse wins as the trophy is presented by Her Majesty The Queen. Williams said: “He’ll contain himself, don’t worry about that!”

Called To The Bar, winner of three Group races and runner-up in the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak last year, will attempt to become the first French-trained winner since Westerner in 2005, while Thomas Hobson, runner-up to Stradivarius in the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cupon QIPCO British Champions Day last October, would be the joint-oldest winner since the great race was founded in 1807. The only other nine-year-old to win was Beeswing in 1842.

Willie Mullins, the trainer of Thomas Hobson, would be completing a famous “Gold Cup” treble as he saddled the winners of the Magners GoldCup at Cheltenham and the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup in the spring.