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Article 19th April 2023 Newmarket

By Graham Clark

Charlie Johnston admits he is considering taking the ‘ambitious’ route towards the Betfred Derby at Epsom Downs with Group One winner Dubai Mile by launching his 2023 campaign in next month’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

Having initially pencilled in the Al Basti Equiworld Dante Stakes at York as the starting point for Roaring Lion colt the first season handler is beginning to come round to owner Ahmad Al Shaikh’s vision of running him in the mile Classic on Saturday 6th May instead.   

Last season’s Criterium de Saint Cloud winner warmed up for his next assignment when participating in racecourse gallop alongside stablemates Struth (Jason Hart) and Hope You Can Run (Andrea Atzeni) ahead of racing at Newmarket today, day two of the bet365 Craven Meeting.

Working over a mile under Daniel Muscutt the three-time race winner, who finished second over course and distance on his penultimate start in the Group Two Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes, finished well on top of his two exercise companions once sent on.

Johnston said: “We’ve been having a debate internally all spring as to what is the best route for this horse. We are all well aware and are pretty confident that his optimum trip this year will be a mile and a half plus. I’m pretty certain of that.

“Even in his work there you can see he is not travelling hard on the bridle in behind the other horses. He is a very laidback horse who is behind the bridle and his last furlong is his best furlong.

“Once you have won a Group One as a two year old your route to the Derby is narrowed down quite dramatically. You either have to step down in grade quite dramatically or you have to go to the Guineas.

“From an early point it has either being Guineas then the Derby or the Dante then the Derby. The way they are in the calendar this year doing all three is pretty unrealistic.

“I’ve spent most of the time leaning on side that he should go Dante/Derby, but I think Ahmad (Al Shaikh, owner) is always keen to take on a challenge and to take the ambitious route. When you have got a Group One winning two year old winning the Dante is not going to add anything to this horse’s stallion profile.

“The only thing that could add to this horse’s profile is being third in a Guineas. It would be a big asset to him. We are all well aware that this horse is being trained and campaigned as a top class mile and a half horse.

“It is just what we do in the early season to get him there.”

One thing that Johnston believes would stand Dubai Mile in good stead should he decide to take up his entry in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas is his previous course form.

He added: “One big asset here you can never take for granted is that he has run over the course and distance and Danny (Muscutt) said you don’t even notice the dip on him. He just floats down it and out the other side.

“We know he handles the conditions. The Guineas is not a race you go into as a prep race but in many ways it would be a prep race for the Derby.

“I’d love a soft ground Guineas as then he really would be a player as he handles testing conditions.

“There are more conversations to be had with Ahmad and his team as to where we are going.”

While Dubai Mile has already established himself at the top level Johnston admits that he has taken them by surprise in some ways given his low key start to life.

He added: “This is a horse on his homework, as a two year old you would have thought was a 70 horse. He went to a restricted novice at Redcar first time out then he went to a restricted novice at Windsor to get off the mark.

“He is never a horse that has travelled like a demon at home. He saves it when it matters.

“The main thing is the horse is in great order and I couldn’t be happier with the horse. He is in good fettle with himself and he has wintered very well.”

Charlie Hills intends to wait until next week before making a decision over the participation of the unbeaten Cicero’s Gift in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas.

The son of Muhaarar, who followed up his debut Newbury success at Wolverhampton last month, received a sighter of the track when taking part in a seven furlong gallop at the course under Kieran Shoemark alongside stablemate Saratoga Gold before racing.

Hills said: “He had a nice little blow afterwards and that is just what we wanted. He has won his two starts and we are just trying to feel our way to see exactly where we are and find out a bit more about him.

“Today he behaved great and we got a nice bit of work there and he did what we asked him.

“I didn’t want to put three quick races into him early on in the year as it is going to be a long season and we wanted to keep him as fresh as we can as this stage of the season.

“We will see how the week unfolds with the trials and we will have to make a decision next week. There is a conditions race at Goodwood the same weekend so that could be another route to take.

“You could look at Goodwood, and he is also in the Dante, but then you could look at the Hampton Court at Ascot or something like that. He is a nice horse though and there is only one Guineas.”


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