Gold Cup king Stradivarius returns to Ascot for Sagaro opener

Stradivarius starts on the road to a possible fourth successive Ascot Gold Cup when he makes his seasonal debut in the Longines Sagaro Stakes at the Berkshire course.

John Gosden, who trains the horse with his son Thady, reports Stradivarius to be in good form but expects him to come on a lot for Wednesday’s comeback outing.

The seven-year-old has to recover from disappointing showings in his last two starts of 2020, although both were run on unsuitable ground.

Stradivarius had been his brilliant self before then, winning a third Gold Cup by 10 lengths and picking up a fourth Goodwood Cup in a row. He also warmed up for a crack at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with a good second to Anthony Van Dyck in the Prix Foy at ParisLongchamp.

“He’s ready for a return. Obviously the last two races were both run in exceptionally heavy ground. He wasn’t in love with it. There was no pace in the Arc, then they sprinted,” said Gosden.

“He ran very well in the Prix Foy and did nothing wrong before that.

“He’s a seven-year-old full horse now, so to that extent age is becoming a bit of issue – maybe less so if he was a gelding, but he’s a full horse.

“But he seems happy in himself and is his usually vociferous self, so we’re looking forward to running him.

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“He likes Ascot, obviously, and I feel the trip is right to start him off at two miles. He’s a bigger, heavier horse this year so he may well need his first race.

“We’ll see how he runs. If he needs another race, there’s the Yorkshire Cup – but we’ll see.

“He’s bigger, he’s a seven-year-old and he’s weighing heavier – so to that extent he may need two races before the Gold Cup. We don’t know.”

Nayef Road won this race last year when it was run at Newcastle, but he then had to play second fiddle to Stradivarius at both Royal Ascot and Goodwood.

The Mark Johnston-trained entire is having his first race since finishing third in the Lonsdale Cup at York in August.

“If Stradivarius comes back in the same form as last year then he’ll be extremely difficult to beat,” said the Middleham handler.

“We’ve run some very good horses against Stradivarius and come second. That said, we’ve got a much stronger team this year and it’s going to be very interesting to see.

“I’d say to beat Subjectivist and Sir Ron Priestley (this season), Stradivarius is going to have to be absolutely at his best. So, if nothing else we’re going to see if that’s the case.

“Nayef Road is fine. He did have a setback at the end of last season but he seems to have got over it well, and he’s ready to run.”

As for Subjectivist, who was successful in the Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup night last month, he is likely to bypass the Yorkshire Cup and head for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot following his convincing victory in the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan last month.

“He’ll probably go straight for the Gold Cup,” said Johnston.

Of the rest of the field, Charlie Fellowes has given Prince Of Arran stalls practice because his seasoned stayer has been slowly away in his last two races.

The Newmarket trainer believes it has worked the oracle and will help the eight-year-old show the kind of form that has seen him placed in the last three runnings of the Melbourne Cup. He was also second in this race in 2017.

Trainer Charlie Fellowes has been giving Prince Of Arran some stalls practice
Trainer Charlie Fellowes has been giving Prince Of Arran some stalls practice (Simon Cooper/PA)

“He loves Ascot, loves the quick ground. He’s done a bit of stalls work since his last two races, where I wasn’t pleased with the way he jumped out, and that seems to have done the trick,” said Fellowes.

“It’s a tough race, but we’re rated 114, and around Ascot he’s got his perfect conditions. He can run a good race. He’ll have to be very good to beat Stradivarius, but I think we can be in the mix behind him.”

Roger Teal is wary of the task facing Ocean Wind, who was running in bumpers in 2020 but has progressed through the ranks and finished second to the Johnston-trained Sir Ron Priestley in a Listed race at Nottingham last time.

“It’s a big step up for him,” said the Lambourn trainer.

“This horse never stops giving. We’ll see what happens on Wednesday and we can set our stall out for the rest of the season after that.

Ocean Wind (right) takes a big step up in class when taking on Stradivarius
Ocean Wind (right) takes a big step up in class when taking on Stradivarius (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“If he runs well in that company, we know which way we’re headed. If he’s not up to it, we know which other direction to go in. It will be interesting.

“It’s a quality field, but we like our horse and he’s done nothing wrong. He ran an absolute cracker last time. The extra two furlongs will suit him, and we’re happy with him.”

Desert Skyline, Island Brave and Stag Horn complete the seven-strong field.

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