Stradivarius will face seven rivals when he seeks to become only the third three-time winner of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot on Thursday 18th June.
The outstanding stayer has ruled supreme for the past two years in what is always one of the great races of the summer and, if successful, will join exalted company as only Sagaro (1975, 1976 & 1977) and Yeats (2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009) have won the race, first run in 1807, more than twice.
Stradivarius has already won 11 races that fall under the QIPCO British Champions Series umbrella and is odds-on to increase that tally after an encouraging return at Newmarket this month when he was third to Ghaiyyath in the Hurworth Bloodstock Coronation Cup over 1m4f. Blessed with abundant stamina, he and his regular rider Frankie Dettori will have another mile to cover on Thursday.
Dettori, 49, who will be seeking an eighth Gold Cup triumph, was more than satisfied with Stradivarius’s reappearance run behind Ghaiyyath at Newmarket. He said: “It was like running Mo Farah against Usain Bolt, it wasn’t fair! He’s been a two-mile plus horse for the last three years and, dropping in trip, I thought it was a good effort. It goes without saying that he’s the horse I’m most looking forward to riding at the meeting. He’s 2-1 on, won two Gold Cups, he’s one of the yard favourites, and he’s one of my favourites.”
Charlie Appleby is responsible for two of Stradivarius’s opponents in Moonlight Spirit and Cross Counter but recognises the task at hand. He said: “Stradivarius is the ultimate professional and I thought he ran a lovely race in the Coronation Cup. We’ve all got him to beat but, as we all know, it’s all about who turns up with their A Game on the day.
Cross Counter did not finish far behind Stradivarius in the Gold Cup or Qatar Goodwood Cup last year and is officially rated only 4lb inferior to him but, intriguingly, Appleby’s stable jockey, William Buick, has opted to ride Moonlight Spirit, an unexposed four-year-old who has been gelded since last year.
Moonlight Spirit finished a staying-on fourth in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot last year before signing off his campaign by finishing runner-up to Technician in the Group 2 Qatar Prix Chaudenay over 1m7f at Paris Longchamp. The Martyn Meade-trained winner, who he will meet again, franked the form by subsequently landing the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak.
Appleby said: “He’s got a progressive profile and William will ride him on the back of that. He’s not exactly a young pretender but he’s open hopefully to more improvement. He’s by Dubawi and you don’t need me to tell you what they [his progeny] do as they get older.
“He got touched off on his last start by Technician, who went on to win a Group 1, and he was always shaping like a Cup horse last year. My hunch is that he will get the trip, although at this level only time will tell. Obviously, we are pitching him in at the deep end but I feel that if you take Stradivarius out then it’s wide open.”
Cross Counter became the first British-trained winner of the Melbourne Cup in 2018 and was not beaten far when defending his crown last year. Appleby was satisfied with his latest run, when fifth in a richly endowed handicap in Saudi Arabia.
Appleby said: “He went off favourite but I was pleased with that that run as he was fresh, carrying top weight and up in the van in a race where they went a decent gallop. He just got a bit tired.
“I was confident he was always going to come forwards and [Dubai] World Cup night [which got cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic] was our target. We’ve eased back and built him up again since then, much as we’ve done with Barney Roy [who runs in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday]. We are back on level weights and hoping his run style will be more relaxed.”
Nayef Road finished third to Logician in the William Hill St Leger at Doncaster in September and made a perfect start to this campaign when landing the Group 3 Betway Sagaro Stakes at Newcastle, when Prince Of Arran (third) and Withhold (seventh) finished behind him. The line-up is completed by Mekong, who finished fourth in the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup on at Ascot in October last year.
All races at Royal Ascot this week will be run behind closed doors with strict protocols in place.
Stradivarius vs Yeats: Who is the greatest stayer of all time?
Racing distance covered:
Andrea Atzeni, Frankie Dettori
Mick Kinane, Kieran Fallon, Johnny Murtagh
Number of Gold Cup wins:
(2020 Hurworth Bloodstock Coronation Cup)
(final Gold Cup victory)
Article courtesy of QIPCO British Champions Series. Images courtesy of Ian Yates (www.eyewhy.co.uk) and Ascot Racecourse.