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Johnston has Derby dreams for Gear Up after Criterium de Saint-Cloud success

Gear Up will be given the most traditional of Derby preps in the spring by Mark Johnston after returning to winning ways with a power-packed effort under James Doyle to repel the Andre Fabre-trained Botanik in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud. 

For Britain's winningmost trainer, this was a first top-flight victory for more than four years, since The Last Lion's Middle Park triumph in the autumn of 2016.

Gear Up, a son of Teofilo, had looked a smart prospect when winning the Acomb Stakes at York in August before finishing fourth of five behind New Mandate at Newmarket last month. 

"We've felt he was this calibre of a horse for most of the summer," said Johnston. "The Royal Lodge just didn't go to plan. Franny [Norton] felt he didn’t make enough use of him and it turned into a sprint. He wasn’t seen to best effect. It's no surprise he stays the Criterium trip [of a mile and a quarter] and he was coming away again at the line."

Johnston added: "It looks like he got that trip very well and he'll stay further, so he wouldn't want to come back in trip. Prior to the Derby he either has to run over a mile and a quarter in the Dante or come down in class. I think it will probably be the traditional Dante/Derby route."

Doyle was also impressed as Gear Up had to cope with much heavier ground than on his three previous starts. 

"He was still a bit green under pressure when we turned into the straight and he just wanted to hang to his left," said Doyle. "It took probably half a furlong to get him fully straightened up but once we did, he powered away nicely. 

"It wasn’t until a furlong out until he really knuckled down and started to get the hang of things."

Prix Marcel Boussac heroine Tiger Tanaka and Jessica Marcialis looked a big threat at the furlong marker but their effort flattened out and they were denied third on the line by Makaloun. 

Earlier Aidan O'Brien won a fifth Criterium International as Pierre-Charles Boudot shot four lengths clear of his rivals aboard Van Gogh.

Coral went 16-1 (from 25) for the Derby about the son of American Pharoah, while the same firm went 20-1 (from 25) in their Qipco 2,000 Guineas market. 

Van Gogh was last seen when second to One Ruler in the Autumn Stakes and his effort can be marked up here as he finished the race minus a near-fore shoe. 

"He's a big horse and has taken time to get it together," said O'Brien. "We see that every day at home. Every fortnight that passes you see massive improvement in him.

"He travels very well in his races and his mum [Imagine] loved to be held up and come late. It looks like he does too. That sort of ride seems to suit him, as you've seen on his last couple of starts."

O'Brien added: "He's still a big baby, though, so he's going to be a lovely horse next year when he matures. You could see when he hit the front he was looking around all over the place. He's more immature in his mind than in his body, so you'd have to be looking forward to next year with him. We were very impressed today."

Normandy Bridge was forced to make his own running and looked in danger of being swallowed up but fought all the way to the line to be second.

"In an ideal world he would have had someone in front of him but he lacks a bit of experience and halfway up the straight I thought he'd be fourth," said trainer Stephanie Nigge.

"He was very brave and I've always said he isn't really a two-year-old. Stepping up in trip will help him next year, and he showed the way he stayed on that he is not short of stamina."

Roger Varian was also among the winners at Saint-Cloud on Saturday as Believe In Love made it five wins from six starts for the year in the Group 3 Prix Belle de Nuit over a mile and six furlongs. 

Carrying the colours of Koji Maeda, Believe in Love powered into contention under Mickael Barzalona and always looked like holding Pontille.

"She's progressed with every run and it took until July of this year for her to really get going," said Varian. "She's owned by Koji Maeda's son and it's in the Japanese culture to keep horses in training as four- and five-year-olds. 

"Ultimately I expect her to go back to be a broodmare for them, and if we could add to her CV next year that would be great." 

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