MARK JOHNSTON has enjoyed a fine season with his staying types and the Middleham-based trainer looks to hold another strong hand in the Listed feature of Saturday at York, the Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Grand Cup.
Johnston saddled three of the first four home in the Group 3 Henry II Stakes at Sandown last month, with Dee Ex Bee landing the spoils as Austrian School and Making Miracles finished third and fourth respectively.
Both Austrian School and Making Miracles are set to lock horns again on the Knavesmire, which will be their fourth clash of the season.
The score currently stands at two-one to Austrian School, who put eight and a half lengths on his stable companion in the Queen’s Cup at Musselburgh, although Making Miracles comprehensively reversed that form when romping home in the Chester Cup.
Charlie Johnston, assistant trainer to his father, believes the duo will be closely matched in the £50,000 prize this weekend, although he thinks the drop back to one mile and six furlongs will be more in favour of Austrian School.
“I think trip wise, coming back to a mile and six will probably suit Austrian School in particular,” Johnston said.
“I think he has another gear that Making Miracles doesn’t have and maybe just a bit more class and speed – he showed plenty of the latter when he won at Musselburgh.”
Reflecting on his Sandown exploits, Johnston added: “Austrian School has a neck to find with Mekong on that form, but he’s quite versatile regarding ground. I expect him to go well and this is on the way to either the Northumberland Plate or the Curragh Cup at the end of the month.”
A similar programme awaits the strong staying Making Miracles, who had been mooted for a potential tilt at Royal Ascot’s Queen Alexandra Stakes before connections opted to target the Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Grand Cup.
“We know Making Miracles stays very well and he, too, will be going onto the Northumberland Plate,” Johnston added.
“There is some good prize money to be picked up and I hope both of them will be in the shake-up.”
Tomorrow’s £50,000 prize has attracted eight declarations, including Henry II runner-up Mekong, who is trained in Newmarket by Sir Michael Stoute, and Raheen House, who will make his first outing for William Haggas.
Later on the card, Kingsley House is set to saddle top weight Blown By Wind in the £100,000 Pavers Foundation Catherine Memorial Sprint Handicap.
The son of Invincible Spirit chased home fellow progressive three-year-old Awe in a competitive Newmarket contest last Saturday and Johnston is hopeful his colt can make another step of improvement tomorrow.
“We were very pleased with his run at Newmarket and I think time will tell trying to give 11lb to Awe was a big ask,” Johnston said.
“Unusually for one of ours, I think he’ll still come forward again, even from his second run.
“He had a long time off after getting injured in midsummer last year and I think he went to Leicester first time at about 560 kilos – we wouldn’t send many horses to the races that heavy.
“He’s done really well from two to three and he’s a great big brute of a thing now.”
In respect to the return to six furlongs, Johnston added: “Obviously it was seven furlongs last week and James Doyle was very happy with him at that trip. But he did say afterwards he has enough speed to come back to six.”
A maximum field of 22 runners has been assembled for the Pavers Foundation Catherine Memorial Sprint Handicap, the most valuable prize on Macmillan Charity Raceday. First held in 1971, the annual event has raised over £8 million for the charity.
Saturday’s seven-race card is scheduled to get underway at 1.50pm.