Mark Johnston is under no illusions about the task facing Dee Ex Bee as he prepares to renew rivalry with Stradivarius in the Qatar Goodwood Cup.
Runner-up in last year’s Investec Derby at Epsom, Dee Ex Bee firmly established himself as a leading stayer in the first half of this season with impressive victories in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot and the Henry II at Sandown.
Hopes were high he could provide his trainer with a fourth victory in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot last month, but he was ultimately unable to resist the late surge of the remarkable Stradivarius – who has dominated the staying division for the last two seasons.
John Gosden’s charge will be a hot favourite to become the first three-time winner of the Goodwood Cup since the hugely popular Johnston ace Double Trigger managed the feat in the mid to late 1990s, when he returns to the Sussex Downs on July 30.
Speaking at a Goodwood media event at his yard on Wednesday morning, the Middleham maestro admitted he is more hopeful than confident that Dee Ex Bee can prevent Stradivarius bringing up the hat-trick.
Johnston said: “I’m very, very happy with Dee Ex Bee. He hasn’t done anything fast (since Ascot), but he’s looking really well.
“We know it’s a tall order and we know it’s not ideal coming back in trip. Going into the Ascot Gold Cup the extra half-mile was a question, but he confirmed he got every inch of the trip and wouldn’t have minded a bit more.
“There’s absolutely nothing we can do about Stradivarius. You can’t belittle him in anyway. Somebody asked me the other day if we were looking for chinks in his armour, but I’m not sure he’s got any chinks in his armour.
“He’s won two Ascot Gold Cups, so you couldn’t question his stamina. All you could say is maybe Dee Ex Bee has got more.”
As is so often the the case with Johnston runners, Dee Ex Bee set out to make all at Royal Ascot.
A change of approach in an attempt to reverse the form seems unlikely, with Johnston firmly of the view that tactics are overrated.
“I get the impression that other trainers do (think about tactics), but I think horses are more akin to Formula One cars than human athletes. There’s no psychology in it,” the trainer added.
“Some of the greatest trainers in the world will disagree with me, but in my opinion tactics don’t win you races, they only get you beat.
“My opinion is that the horse who runs the two miles of the Goodwood Cup or the one mile of the Guineas fastest, wins. I worked that out before anybody gave me a trainer’s licence and that’s the policy I have applied for 32 years.”
With other opportunities available on the staying scene, Johnston could have been forgiven for swerving a rematch with Stradivarius – but the proud Scot is never one to shirk a challenge.
He said: “We did consider going for the Doncaster Cup and the Prix du Cadran, which might not have Stradivarius in them, but you never run away from one horse – and if we didn’t take him on nobody would.
“Let’s hope Dee Ex Bee gets Goodwood fever like the rest of us.”