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Johnston has 'incredible team' to face Stradivarius after Subjectivist strike

Subjectivist: led all the way to win the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak
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Subjectivist defied a mid-straight drift to land the Prix Royal-Oak under Joe Fanning, earning trainer Mark Johnston his second career Group 1 in France barely 24 hours after Gear Up landed the first across the River Seine at Saint-Cloud. 

In doing so he held at bay fellow three-year-old Valia and the veteran Holdthasigreen, while Prix du Cadran heroine Princess Zoe was an honourable fourth for trainer Tony Mullins and her loyal band of owners. 

Subjectivist was given a quote of 20-1 for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot next year by Paddy Power, a race for which Johnston looks to have strength in numbers as he bids to deny Stradivarius a fourth success. 

The final French Group 1 of this craziest of seasons appeared entirely in keeping with the unpredictable nature of what had gone before, with the blacksmith called to the Longchamp winner's enclosure to unbend Subjectivist's off-fore shoe, while trainer Mark Johnston was obliged by quarantine rules to watch events unfold on his phone at Le Bourget airport, 13 miles away.

None of that will matter to Johnston or Fanning, after Subjectivist rebounded from an underwhelming effort in the William Hill St Leger to underline his credentials as a coming force in the staying division.

The Longchamp blacksmith straightening out a shoe on Subjectivist in the winner's enclosure after the Prix Royal-Oak

Johnston said: "He's hung in the straight and if he'd lost we would have been very upset, but as he's won it doesn't really matter. It’s fantastic. 

"Staying has always been the plan for him and he's just done it a little bit sooner than we had originally planned. The idea was that he would always be a Cup horse for next year and he's proved himself a Cup horse already." 

Next June it will be 19 years since Royal Rebel provided Johnston with the most recent of his three Gold Cups, but Subjectivist will form part of a powerful squad come the spring trials.

"We'll have to juggle his programme a bit with his half brother Sir Ron Priestley and Nayef Road and we'll obviously try to keep them apart in the run up to the Ascot Gold Cup," said Johnston. "It's just incredible to have a team like that going forward.

"And who knows? I don't think Dee Ex Bee will come back from Dubai but it's not impossible. We've all thought Stradivarius has been unbeatable over the last few years, but I've got quite a few to have a go at him with next year." 

Joe Fanning and Subjectivist after winning the Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp

With the elite sports exemption for Group 1 participants not extending to allow trainers to attend next week's sales in Newmarket, Johnston flew his jockey to France by private plane but didn't go through customs, leading to his unusual vantage point.

He said: "It's very strange to win two Group 1s in two days and to not be there for either of them. Jim Bolger couldn't be at Doncaster and last week we saw that Aidan O’Brien couldn't be at Newmarket either. It's just what's happening at the moment, needs must."

Alain de Royer-Dupre said he had "no regrets" about Valia's performance in second and she looks set to be an interesting project back at a mile and a half for the trainer in his final season with a licence in 2021.

Tony Mullins and Seamie Heffernan discuss tactics with the owners of Princess Zoe ahead of the Prix Royal-Oak

Princess Zoe was being pushed along by Seamie Heffernan turning in but never gave up and was beaten less than five lengths.

"Seamie said that the horse in front got a softer lead than we had hoped," said Mullins. "She came at her and possibly with the quick turnaround, we didn’t have the firepower that we had before.

"I'd be quite confident that we'll come back and take him on when we’re a fresh horse. I'd be quite happy to say we'll give him all he'll want of it. You'll see plenty more of her."

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We've all thought Stradivarius has been unbeatable over the last few years but I've got quite a few to have a go at him with next year
E.W. Terms