Thunderous storms home in thrilling Dante

Late charge completes big-race double for Johnston and Norton.

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Thunderous edged out Highest Ground in a thrilling finish to the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.

The Night Of Thunder colt battled on courageously to wear down Sir Michael Stoute’s unbeaten three-year-old and complete a big-race double at odds of 59-1 for trainer Mark Johnston and jockey Franny Norton. They had taken the preceding Musidora Stakes with Rose Of Kildare.

Thunderous showed he had come on for his belated seasonal debut at Newmarket 12 days earlier- when he had lost his 100 per cent record.

He was handily placed as Cormorant made the running and kept his position as they headed for home in the straight, before Highest Ground (8-11 favourite) hit the front.

But the latter could not put the race to bed, and Thunderous (13-2) knuckled down to his task and got on top in the dying strides to score by a neck. Juan Elcano was two lengths away in third place.

Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father, said: “That was fantastic. He’s had his ups and downs, this horse – he was unbeaten as a juvenile and then had an injury after winning at Newbury (in August), just as we were starting to dream of races like the Royal Lodge and the Vertem Futurity Trophy.

“He had another setback in March – although the consequences of that weren’t quite as dramatic, because there was no racing in the early part of the year.

“Certainly when we left Newbury last year we felt he was a Derby horse. Just the way things have panned out, we’ve never had a clean run at that, but he’s a horse we’ve always thought a huge amount of – and he’s got a big future.

“He’s very laid-back, and we were quite rushed getting him to Newmarket. The picture has been changing so fast this year, it’s hard to make plans – but when it was announced that this race would move to this slot, we felt it was a good place for him.

“We knew going to Newmarket he was short of 100 per cent, but knew running him there would give us the best chance of winning here today – that’s how it’s proved.”

On future plans, Johnston added: “We’ll have to look at Group Twos and Group Ones now.

“His attitude and racing style would suggest he could be (a St Leger horse), (but) his pedigree wouldn’t give you a lot of confidence for that sort of distance.

“It’s hard to make plans this year. There’s the Grand Prix de Paris, possibly. It’s a nice problem to have, and we’ll enjoy making plans.

“It’s great to be back at York. Everything is very different – prize-money is not what it would be, but everyone is trying to make the most of this difficult situation.

“These races still matter a huge amount, and to win them both today still means a huge amount to the team.”

Norton said: “We’d normally be coming out of today with the favourite for the Oaks and the Derby! We’ll see where we go from here.

“He was off the bridle, but he was behind the bridle a little bit at Newmarket as well. He had to dig in deep today, but he did.

“I was quite confident and comfortable where I was. He loved that ground, and I think there’s more to come – I don’t think he’s quite there just yet.

“He’d stay further, but we’ll find out how he is when we get him home – whether he’s sharpened up. He’s obviously taken a step forward from Newmarket.”

There was a sting in the tail for Norton as he was hit with a nine-day ban and fined £850 for using his whip above the permitted level from two and a half furlongs out.

Thunderous storms home in thrilling Dante
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