Via Hong Kong Jockey Club
Stradivarius bids to confirm his superiority in Thursday’s (20 June) G1 Ascot Gold Cup (3991m) but trainer John Gosden is watching the skies with trepidation.
First run in 1807, the marathon is the traditional heart of the Royal meeting and success is highly prized. Stradivarius is a worthy wearer of the stayers’ crown.
Last year, having won the G2 Yorkshire Cup (2771m), Stradivarius won the Gold Cup and by subsequently winning the G1 Goodwood Cup (3200m) and G2 Lonsdale Cup (3251m) he won a £1 million bonus.
With this year’s Yorkshire Cup already in the bag, connections will be hoping to capture the same bonus again. But Gosden’s biggest concern for his all-conquering stayer is rain drops falling at Ascot ahead of the big race.
The trainer said: “It’s a good race this year with a lot of quality and depth but my main concern is if the ground is soft. Stradivarius is at his best on fast ground and we may not get that this year.”
Stradivarius’s qualities are now well known. He not only stays well and has a good turn-of-foot for a stayer but is also a great battler, responding to his rider’s urgings, putting his head down and giving his all.
Gosden observed: “He is not a very big horse but he is a very brave one. He tends to drop the bit at some stage during a race but then picks up and stays on well.”
Stradivarius has won his last six races, all at either G1 or G2 level. This year the main challenges are expected to come from Cross Counter and Dee Ex Bee.
Cross Counter put up an exceptional performance to win last year’s G1 Melbourne Cup over 3200m as a three-year-old – one of only two of that age in the 24-strong field. Godolphin’s representative then came back from a break to win the G2 Dubai Gold Cup (3200m).
The question is will Cross Counter stay the trip? His pedigree is not encouraging but his racing history suggests he has a good chance of doing so.
Trainer Charlie Appleby said: “We all know what Stradivarius can do and it will be a challenge to beat him but we are hopeful.
“Cross Counter has got acceleration, as we saw when he won the Melbourne Cup, and he outstayed Ispolini when he won the Dubai Gold Cup. That made me feel that he’s got a good chance of staying further than 3200m, especially as he has shown the right attitude. William Buick (on board for the Dubai Gold Cup) thinks he’ll stay.”
Appleby added: “Cross Counter will be dropped in and held up, not because of concerns about the trip but because that is what suits him.”
The other obvious potential obstacle to Stradivarius’s reign is Dee Ex Bee. The Mark Johnston trained four-year-old is not bred to stay long distances but seems to relish them.
Last year, Dee Ex Bee finished runner-up in the G1 Derby (2405m) then fourth in the G1 St Leger (2905m). This season, stepped up to 3200m, he has won both the G3 Sagaro Stakes and G3 Henry II Stakes, showing himself to be an improving, relentless galloper.
Aidan O’Brien, who has won the Gold Cup seven times in the last 13 years, including four in a row with the great Yeats, has a typically strong hand, headed by Kew Gardens and Southern France. The former won last year’s G2 Queen’s Vase (2831m) at Royal Ascot and went on to win the St Leger but has not run beyond 2900m and is not bred to stay farther.
Stablemate Southern France, runner-up to Kew Gardens in last year’s Queen’s Vase and third in the St Leger, demonstrated his staying credentials when running well for a three-year-old in the 3600m Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket. He made Stradivarius battle in a slowly run Yorkshire Cup last start and is an interesting rival.