Mark Johnston is using a well-trodden path with Dee Ex Bee by taking in the Matchbook VIP Henry II Stakes at Sandown en route to possible Gold Cup glory at Royal Ascot.
Johnston’s past winners of the stayers’ showpiece – Double Trigger (in 1995) and Royal Rebel (2001 and 2002) – both contested the two-mile Group Three before their date with destiny.
Dee Ex Bee bids to cement his stature on Thursday as one of the main rivals to defending champion Stradivarius, having won the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in pleasing fashion three weeks ago.
“We were very pleased with him at Ascot ,and there was a case for going straight to the Gold Cup on the back of that,” said Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father.
“(But) he’s a horse that took his racing well last year, and we felt going the best part of seven weeks between the Sagaro and the Gold Cup wouldn’t be an ideal preparation – and another race would benefit him.
“It also didn’t look like a particularly deep race, so it seemed a logical thing to bring him here as a prep run for Gold Cup. It fits in perfectly.
“Dad was quite keen – it’s a tried-and-tested route.
“All of his three Gold Cup winners ran in this race on the way there. That was probably a determining factor in the back of his mind.”
The Johnston stable is also responsible for Austrian School and Making Miracles, as they attempt to dominate the six-runner field.
Making Miracles heads to the Esher track on the back of a six-length romp in the Chester Cup on rain-softened ground – while Austrian School will have conditions more in his favour after floundering on the Roodee.
The half-brother to dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll was previously impressive when winning the Queen’s Cup at Musselburgh.
Johnston added: “The other two horses are making that step out of handicap company into Group-staying company.
“But they are rated 108 and 110 – so short of the Northumberland Plate and the Cesarewitch, there’s nowhere for them to go in handicap company really
“They have to bridge that gap up – (and) I think there’s got to be every chance both horses are capable of doing that.”
Johnston is hoping to have a clearer indication of their prospects after this next assignment, though.
“Making Miracles was obviously very impressive at Chester,” he said.
“I think we don’t want to get too carried away with that form. The handicapper was quite harsh on him really in the circumstances, considering the ground and the way the race panned out.
“Austrian School was always a horse we thought a huge amount of and expected him to bridge the gap between handicaps and Group races this year -and that’s why he’s got the entry in the Gold Cup.
“Everything transpired against him at Chester. But we’re happy to draw a line through that and we probably couldn’t get much more different conditions from Chester two weeks ago to what they are going to get at Sandown. That will be much more up his street.
“It’s not a big field, and not a particularly deep field. If they are going to be able to hold their own in this company this year then they should at least be in the frame or give Dee Ex Bee something to worry about.”
The Ian Williams-trained Magic Circle won the Chester Cup and Henry II Stakes 12 months ago, and shaped well on his first run since the Melbourne Cup when third to Morando in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Mekong and Fearsome from Nick Littmoden’s yard complete the line-up.