Sir Ron Priestley switches back for Jockey Club challenge
The lightly-raced five-year-old has tackled a mile and a three-quarters in his last three races, including when runner-up in the 2019 St Leger at Doncaster.
He was out for 571 days after that fine effort, but made a triumphant return to action in the Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham three and a half weeks ago.
Sir Ron Priestley is seen as a contender for staying honours this year, but Johnston believes the Australia entire is not devoid of speed.
“As Sir Ron Priestley’s last two runs have been over a mile and six, we were thinking of stepping him up to two miles plus, but he’s not short of speed and looks to have at least run up to form at Nottingham,” he said.
“It will be very interesting to see him back over a mile and a half.”
The Middleham handler also saddles Thunderous, who makes a quick reappearance after running below par in the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown last week.
Johnston added: “Thunderous was very disappointing the other day at Sandown, but there was no obvious reason for it so we might not shy away from bringing him back quickly.”
I've not wound him up for this as his only race of the season - this is a starting point
Pyledriver was third in last year’s St Leger and William Muir, who now trains in partnership with Chris Grassick, is looking forward to getting the stable star back on track.
“Everything has been brilliant right the way through. These are the days you look forward to,” said Muir.
“The ground has never worried me for this horse. He’s such a light mover, he only just touches the ground. The ground doesn’t really concern me.
“If you look through his form, he won on firm ground at Salisbury first time out at two, then he won a Listed race on very soft ground at Haydock.
“He’s come on stronger physically. I’ve not wound him up for this as his only race of the season – this is a starting point.”
Though failing to feature in last year’s Derby, a return to Epsom and Group One company is on the agenda for Pyledriver, with Muir earmarking the Coronation Cup on June 4 as his next port of call after Newmarket.
He added: “Without a shadow of a doubt he will go back to Epsom for the Coronation Cup, as long as he is OK.
“When he came down the straight after getting hampered early on, he handled it OK. The track there doesn’t worry me in the slightest.”
The William Haggas-trained pair of Al Zaraqaan and Pablo Escobarr complete the small but select line-up, with the former reverting to turf following a hat-trick of wins on the all-weather.
Charlie Appleby expects Lazuli to prove a tough nut to crack in the Betfair Palace House Stakes.
The winner of a Group Three at Newbury on his final start of 2020, the gelded son of Dubawi ran once at Meydan over the winter – finishing third behind Equilateral in the Dubai Dash.
“I’m delighted with him and five furlongs is his trip,” said Appleby.
“He only had the one start at Meydan. He met with a minor setback after that, which meant he missed his second start there.
“His preparation for Saturday has been great, he looks great and he’s fresh and well.
“I think he’s the one they’ve got to beat.”
Judicial is reported to be in good form as he makes a fourth successive appearance in the Group Three contest.
Julie Camacho’s consistent sprinter has finished second twice and seventh so far and has been giving encouraging signs he will run another big race on Saturday.
Camacho’s husband and assistant, Steve Brown, said of the nine-year-old: “He’s in good form and he’s training well. We’ve seen nothing to suggest he’s slowing down. He’s had a smooth prep and we’re looking forward to it.
“He’s got some positive history in this race and it’s always a nice place to start him. There are obviously some very useful horses in there, but nothing that stands out as being a lot better than him.
“It will be nice to see him out on the track again and we hope he retains his enthusiasm for racing.”
Robert Cowell’s trio of Arecibo, Aljady and Dubai Station also feature in a nine-strong field.