Sir Ron’s Jockey Club Stakes win tops May Day treble
By John Scanlon
With a Roll of Honour featuring the likes of Persimmon, Sceptre, Ardross, Unfuwain, Shirocco, Silver Patriarch and Defoe as past winners, the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes has long been established as one of the best quality early season middle distance events.
In fact, when the race was first established back in 1894, it was held in the autumn over ten furlongs, but soon extended to a mile and six furlongs in 1901. The switch to a mile and a half on the Rowley Mile course and a Springtime slot in the racing calendar came in 1963.
This year’s renewal of the race took place on May 1. Among the field of five horses going to post at Newmarket were two Johnston Racing entries, Sir Ron Priestley and Thunderous, each attempting to give the yard its fourth winner of the race after Jukebox Jury (2010), Universal (2013) and Communique (2019).
Sir Ron Priestley was fresh from his success in the Listed Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham in April. That win over a mile and three-quarters came after a huge lay-off through injury, and there were concerns pre-race that the Paul Dean’s Australia entire was very heavy when compared with his racing weight at the time of the St Leger.
Thunderous was attempting to atone for a disappointing reappearance in the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown just over a week earlier. Highclere Thoroughbred Racing’s Night Of Thunder colt was looking to show something closer to the form of his Dante win last July.
Heading the opposition was Pyledriver, winner of the King Edward VII Stakes and Great Voltigeur Stakes last term, who finished third in the St Leger before dropping back down in trip to contest the Champion Stakes. Al Zaraqaan, impressive in landing a Kempton handicap in March, also looked a dangerous opponent. In all, a quality field of five went to post.
Straight from the start, Franny Norton on Sir Ron Priestley and Ryan Moore on Thunderous set out in front and had soon crossed to the far rail, pursued by Martin Dwyer on Pyledriver. Sir Ron Priestley was in his element, bowling along in front on ground he seemed to be enjoying. Increasing the tempo with three furlongs to race, Sir Ron Priestley initially looked likely to be challenged by Thunderous, who was pushed along by Ryan Moore, but two furlongs out Pyledriver was switched off the fence to launch his challenge.
Responding gamely to the challenge, Sir Ron Priestley pulled out more for Franny Norton, keeping on really strongly to score by two and a quarter lengths from Pyledriver, with Thunderous staying on well for third, two lengths adrift of the second.
This was Sir Ron Priestley’s seventh career success, and his first at Group 2 level. Connections were also delighted that Thunderous had shown improved form from Sandown, especially on this, his first start over a mile and a half.
Having finished second in the St Leger as a three-year-old, Sir on Priestley was always likely to be considered for a campaign in the Cup races, but the way he travelled and picked up in the Nottingham race encouraged connections to believe he might be competitive at the top level over a mile and a half. His performance in the Jockey Club Stakes has confirmed that impression, opening up a whole new range of targets for the horse.
His immediate target may be the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, but connections are mindful of other opportunities. ‘I wouldn’t rule out the Yorkshire Cup as it offers reasonable prize-money in these times,’ Mark told the Klarion after the race, ‘but then races like the Hardwicke and the King George would be what I’d have in mind for him.’
Interviewed by ITV Racing in the aftermath of the race, winning jockey Franny Norton paid tribute to the horse’s attitude. ‘He’s certainly got options, nice options,’ Franny enthused. ‘He’s just an out and out warrior. It doesn’t matter what trip, he’ll run his heart out for you.’
The obvious by-product of such a campaign for Sir Ron is that it would avoid a clash with his half-brother Subjectivist, whose principal target remains the Gold Cup at Ascot.
The Group 2 win was just the first leg of a May Day treble achieved across the whole country.
At Goodwood, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed’s Desert Safari won a five furlong handicap under Joe Fanning.
The Slade Power gelding, now a four-year-old, took the lead with a furlong to run and kept on well to outpoint Stone of Destiny by a head.
The race gave Desert Safari both his first win on turf, and, surprisingly, his first win at the distance. Joe Fanning was delighted with the win. ‘Desert Safari is a nice horse and the trip seemed to be ideal,’ Joe told the Klarion. ‘He’s got plenty of speed and I think he can hold his own in a better grade. He has plenty of ability.’
The treble was completed at Doncaster where another four-year-old, Mountain Brave, was a comfortable winner of a six furlong handicap.
Conceding weight to all six of her rivals, the Sepoy filly, owned by East Layton Stud and James Lambert, made all the running under the in-form Ben Curtis.
Quickening off the front two furlongs out, Mountain Brave was never really extended and kept on to score by a length and a quarter from Danzan.
This was a fifth career success for Mountain Brave, who is effective over both six and seven furlongs.