Connections believe Austrian School has a “favourite’s chance” as he bids to give trainer Mark Johnston his first victory in the Sportpesa Chester Cup on Friday.
The half-brother to dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll ran out an impressive seven-length winner in the Queen’s Cup at Musselburgh, although that performance came on much faster ground than he is likely to encounter on the Roodee.
“He was so impressive at Musselburgh, but conditions will be a long way away from what they were there, so that’s an added doubt,” said Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father.
“In terms of has the horse got the ability to win the Chester Cup off his mark? 110 per cent yes.
“He’s the only one of ours who has a decent draw (five), but miss it half a beat and then 12 come in on top of you and all of a sudden stall five becomes an horrendous draw, so you need a lot of things to go right.
“I do think he can win it. He’ll need things to pan out favourably, but he goes there with a favourite’s chance.”
Austrian School is not the only runner for the Johnston team, with recent winners Watersmeet, Making Miracles and Lucky Deal also taking their chance.
“The other three are all in very good form,” said Johnston.
“Joe (Fanning) has won good races on three of them in the last month. He had the choice and went with Austrian School, it wasn’t easy and it would have been hard to get off Watersmeet and even Making Miracles
“We’ve got four good bullets at it, but the draw is very influential, even over that trip.
“Franny (Norton) will have to be at his best to get a good slot on Making Miracles from 16. If he can do so I think he’ll run a big race, but Lucky Deal is quite frustrating in many ways as he gives his races away in the first half.
“If John (Egan) can somehow get him in mid-div I’m sure he’ll go very close. If it turns into a quagmire he could pick up the pieces if it did fall apart.”
Ian Williams lifted the prize 12 months ago with Magic Circle and is well represented again with Speedo Boy, Shabeeb and Time To Study in his team.
Magic Circle was declared for the race, but connections opted to run in Thursday’s Ormonde Stakes instead.
“Shabeeb worked nicely with Magic Circle at Haydock last weekend,” said Williams.
“He shows a lot of pace and is a lovely, long-striding horse. I’m not convinced how he’ll manage Chester, but he’s certainly a horse with ability.
“Speedo Boy was a little disappointing in Dubai this winter. He will appreciate the rain and has acted well on a left-handed tight track. He’s in good form and goes there with a chance. He has the best draw of ours.
“Time To Study ran a great race last year when fifth behind Magic Circle and is a few pounds lower this year.
“The rain will help and he’s not badly drawn at all. Richard Kingscote rides Chester very well.”
Willie Mullins is a man to take seriously when he targets big races on the Flat, as he showed when sending out Low Sun to win the Cesarewitch at Newmarket last season.
John Cherry and Top Cees are among the very few to have won both that race and the Chester Cup.
The Ryan Moore-ridden Low Sun attempts the double and is accompanied by stablemate Whiskey Sour.
“Low Sun his first run back since winning the Cesarewitch. He he doesn’t look to have an ideal draw in 17 which will make it more difficult for him, but he’s got the right man on board to negate that,” said Mullins’ assistant, David Casey.
“He seems well and we’ll see how he gets on.
“Whiskey Sour has been running over hurdles and ran quite well at Cheltenham (fourth in the County Hurdle). He’s in good order.”