Mark Johntson Image Credit: GN Archive

The Curragh, Ireland: For someone who is yet to experience the euphoria that a Derby success brings, Mark Johntson sounds remarkably bullish about the chances of his Dubai-owned contender Dee Ex Bee.

Owned by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, Dee Ex Bee (a word play with Dubai’s anagram DxB), is the 7/2 second favourite for Saturday’s €1.5 million Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Group 1).

This, despite the fact that Dee Ex Bee finished three lengths in front of the 4/7 favourite, Saxon Warrior, in the English equivalent earlier this month.

However, Johnston remains unmoved and talked up the chances of his trainee maintaining his supremacy over the home contender and Aidan O’Brien-trained Saxon Warrior.

“I have got the utmost respect for Aidan O’Brien and he wouldn’t be running Saxon Warrior if he didn’t think he could reverse the form, but we are the one guaranteed to stay so we are going there more than hopeful that Saxon Warrior can’t reverse the form,” Johnston told the media.

“We are hopeful the Curragh will suit him better and that we will see the best of him on Saturday. He is a big horse and I’m sure he will enjoy the Curragh a lot more, I’m pretty confident he’ll handle fast ground as well.”

William Buick, who won the Epsom Derby for Godolphin aboard Masar, was booked to ride Dee Ex Bee at The Curragh but with Godolphin supplementing Royal Ascot scorer Old Persian for the Irish showpiece, champion jockey Silvester de Sousa has been asked to continue his partnership with Shaikh Hamdan’s colt.

“William Buick was going to ride him but with Charlie Appleby declaring another horse [Old Persian], we have switched back to Silvestre, the same jockey as in the Derby, so it couldn’t be better,” Johnston told At The Races.

“Everything has been great since Epsom, perfect. Any rain would have suited us but at the same time, we don’t think he needs it, so we’re happy to go.”

Commenting on the decision to back up Old Persian, who returns to action just eighth days since he won the King Edward VII Stakes at the Royal meeting in England, his trainer Charlie Appleby said: “The signs are all very positive, you can’t fault the way he’s come out of Ascot. He’s eaten up and exercised well.

“He bounces back from his runs very quickly, and we are confident that the horse is going to be very competitive.”

O’Brien, who has won the Derby no less than 12 times and most recently with Capri twelve months ago, holds six of the 14 entries.

Besides Saxon Warrior, the Irish handler has left in The Pentagon (25/1), Queen’s Vase winner Kew Gardens (10/1) and three other recent Ascot runners — Delano Roosevelt (16/1), Rostropovich (25/1) and Nelson (25/1).

Meanwhile, Donnacha O’Brien will partner Latrobe (25/1) for his brother Joseph, a dual winner of the Irish Classic as a jockey.

Knight To Behold, who contested the Epsom Derby, also takes his chance for trained Ed Dunlop. “We are going to ride him a little differently. We are going to try to get him to relax so he can get home. He was doing too much at Epsom and we will be more conservative this time,” the trainer said.