Straight to Epsom - Johnston dreaming of Oaks as Dubai Fountain wins cosily
For all the success Britain’s winningmost trainer Mark Johnston has achieved in his glittering career, a domestic Classic has eluded the Scotsman since Attraction’s 1,000 Guineas triumph in 2004.
Fast-forward 17 years and another filly, Dubai Fountain, looks to have given Johnston a prime opportunity for Epsom glory with a smooth success at Chester, which had bookies going as low as 12-1 for the Cazoo Oaks next month.
There had been plenty of confidence in the 13-8 favourite during the week and that proved well justified as she backed up some strong juvenile form which saw her finish a neck behind subsequent 1,000 Guineas winner Mother Earth when fourth in the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket on her last start.
"It will be straight to Epsom," Johnston said in the aftermath. "We've been saying throughout last year we felt she was an Oaks filly rather than a Guineas filly. Franny [Norton] felt it wasn't her best performance, but it was good enough for me.
"She failed to win at Group level last year but ran some good races. She finished just behind the Guineas winner over a mile, screaming out for further, so it's got to be the next step."
Days after 54-year old Kevin Manning’s and 50-year-old Frankie Dettori’s Classic victories at the weekend, Franny Norton became the latest to fly the flag for the older guard of the weighing room.
Nobody has mastered Chester's unique tight turns like the track's most successful jockey and the 50-year-old had to put all his experience to good use to overcome a muddling pace.
"I struggled to get her into a nice rhythm early on and then it was stop-start," the jockey reflected. "I had to shut down the gears and then pick them up again, but once she picked up and felt the other horse on the side of her it was game over then. I just gave her a couple of little flicks to keep her up to her job."
Also Oaks-bound could be the runner-up Zeyaadah, who may have lost her unbeaten record for trainer Roger Varian but did her reputation no harm with an excellent run from off the pace after being given the widest draw of all in stall seven.
Carrying a 3lb penalty as a result of her Listed win at Newmarket last year, she finished just a length behind the winner and is now as short as 8-1 (from 20) for the Oaks with William Hill.
"She ran a super race giving weight to the winner," said jockey Jim Crowley. "I had to wait for a split turning in and it was a great first run. I expect her to improve plenty for it.
"The winner is a good horse and she was giving weight to her. She handled the track well and has improved over the winter. She should be a good spin around Epsom, hopefully."
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