An overcast afternoon in Berkshire — hardly the picturesque location Mark Johnston would have anticipated as he wrote his name into the history books.
We’re almost a year on from Subjectivist’s victory in the Royal Ascot Gold Cup, and with everything that had gone on in the world at the time — races still reduced to restricted crowds due to the coronavirus pandemic, constant changes in restrictions, the introduction of a vaccine — things looked like they would never be getting back to normal. 12 months on, and the race once again rears its head, this time with that sense of familiarity restored ahead of an exciting season.
The jumps campaign came and went in a flash and with the boisterous crowds once again packing out stands, this year at Ascot will have that extra bit of excitement about the Gold Cup — especially after Subjectivist’s win last year. He had it all to do, that four-year-old from Middleham Moor, but in his victory, he also denied Stradivarius a fourth consecutive win at Ascot, a race that John Gosden had begun to dominate.
The combination of Frankie Dettori and Gosden, now sharing his license with his son Thady, made it look like an impossible coup. While this was a two-mile and four-furlong race and plenty could happen, especially with the plethora of previous Group 1 winners involved, the duo always seemed to come out trumps.
Upon winning that unbelievable third title, and the fact it was another consecutive win — in a pandemic and in tough conditions, essentially everything that could have gone wrong on the day went wrong — made Dettori and Gosden all the more emotional, with the former singing the praises of the treble champion.
“I am so proud of the horse. He is a joy to be around.” Dettroi said. “He will go down as one of the great stayers like Yeats and Sagaro and who knows, maybe we will try for the four next year.”
“Even with no crowd, I am quite emotional. It is a very proud moment.”
Indeed, it looked like Stradivarius would take some serious stopping with the form he was in. Despite turning eight years old, he was still head and shoulders above the rest in terms of a favourite in the horse racing betting odds, so it is all the more impressive what Subjectivist was able to conjure up.
Before the trip to Ascot, Subjectivist was certainly an outsider. His only race in 2021 had been back in March, and while he did win the Dubai Gold Cup it wouldn’t compare to the tough conditions on British shores. Ahead of the race not many would have backed the four-year-old but even when Stradivarius endured a nightmare start, things still looked too good to be true.
He and outsider Amhran Na Bhfiann, tipped at 40/1 and massively overachieving, had managed to pull ahead, while Dettori was enduring one of the worst runs at Ascot in his career, four minutes that were so uncharacteristic of the Italian, especially on a course that he had been so dominant on.
Perhaps crumbling under the weight of his own expectation, an opportunity presented itself to Joe Fanning, aboard Subjectivist and intent on snatching victory. Kicking on three out, he snatched another two or three lengths to put himself in pole position, and suddenly, it was done. Victory.
It was clear how much the race meant to Johnston, who sung the horse’s praises after an afternoon to remember. “We thought in the wintertime that Subjectivist was so much on the up. He won in France last season on heavy ground and people were thinking he needed heavy ground to excel.”
He added: “I was really happy throughout the race. We never tell the jockey to lead, we just say to go the pace that suits our horse and Joe is the master at it. When he is sitting second like that, settled and relaxed with a horse giving him a beautiful lead in front, I thought it was perfect.