Last year’s Investec Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee (Mark Johnston/William Buick, 11/8 Fav) laid down a marker for the G1 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot (G1, 2m 4f, £500,000, Thursday 20th June) with a very impressive success in the G3 Longines Sagaro Stakes on Royal Ascot Trials Day at Ascot on Wednesday 1st May.
The four-year-old Farhh colt, who was well-backed and races in the grey colours of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, raced in second as the running was made by Weekender (John Gosden/Frankie Dettori, 11/4).
William Buick kicked ahead entering the straight on Dee Ex Bee and his mount lengthened well in the final furlong to score by three and a quarter lengths from Raymond Tusk (Richard Hannon/Jamie Spencer, 20/1), with another three-quarters of a length back to Cleonte (Andrew Balding/Silvestre de Sousa, 11/1) in third. The winning time was 3m 24.97s.
Yorkshire-based Mark Johnston, winning the Longines Sagaro Stakes for the third time following back-to-back wins for Double Trigger (1995 & 1996), said: “Let’s not forget that Double Trigger finished third in the St Leger, whereas this horse was fourth in the St Leger. This is exactly what you need for the Gold Cup, a proper G1 horse.
“We have said there are similarities. They were both St Leger horses who did not quite make in the St Leger and were then stayers the next year.
“I did not think he looked that comfortable early in the race, being niggled long before Frankie was niggling in front, but William said he had gone a mile and four or five and then the horse started coming underneath him. That is just what we wanted to hear.
“William said it is not surprising, looking at that performance, that he was getting beaten in G1s over a mile and a half because he said he settles into a rhythm and that’s it. He plugs away and keeps finding a little bit more with no sudden turn of foot.
“This is a trial and sometimes I look at races and think ‘what would have happened had they gone a bit further’ and I think had they gone further today, the winning margin would have been bigger.
“You cannot put Dee Ex Bee up there with the Double Trigger and Royal Rebel yet, but as I said before, this is a horse who ran in the Derby and the St Leger, and for many years during my early days as a trainer, those sort of horses weren’t being kept for the Gold Cup.
“Nowadays, they are again and that is exactly what you need. I have not had one for a few years and thankfully I have got one again – a St Leger horse staying in training to go for the Gold Cup. It is what I have been dreaming of for the last 10 years.
“The plan was always to target staying races this year. If he was going to stay in training with me, this was always going to be the intention – we said that at Doncaster in the St Leger and it was even something we were thinking about long before the St Leger.
“The £1-million stayers’ bonus (offered by Weatherbys Hamilton) is something which will take an awful lot of winning.
“There has been a lot of nonsense talked about his form in the second half of the year after the Derby. Of course, it was disappointing because we were dreaming he was going to win the St Leger and he finished fourth. He was only beaten by some very good horses, he mixed it at the highest level and was beaten at Goodwood by a horse who won the Melbourne Cup.
“I am known for having stayers and it has been a long time since we have had one at the very top of the tree. Double Trigger can claim some credit for putting staying races back on the map and it has got tougher and tougher since those days highlighted by the years of Yeats.
“You need a proper G1 horse and you can’t come with a horse who is climbing through the handicap to go to the Ascot Gold Cup -you need a G1 horse. A Classic is also important and this horse is one who brings Classic form to the table.”
Buick said: “Dee Ex Bee is a strong stayer and races in a lovely rhythm that enables him to get these trips. He will get even further, which hopefully we’ll see in June.
“He has a lovely attitude and, as you can see, is a fine, big horse. He is going to be a stayer to be reckoned with and I think he will keep getting better as the season progresses.
“He is an exciting horse to have for the whole team.”
Godolphin’s Colour Vision (2012) and Estimate (2013), owned by The Queen, are the two most recent winners of the G3 Longines Sagaro Stakes to go on to success in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in the same season.
Mark Johnston has saddled three winners of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot courtesy of Double Trigger (1995) and Royal Rebel (2001 & 2002).