The Gold Cup underpins Royal Ascot every year – and never more so than in 2021 as Stradivarius seeks to emulate Yeats as the greatest to grace the race.
As John and Thady Gosden’s brilliant and hugely durable stayer bids to equal Yeats’ all-time record as a four-time Gold Cup winner, if he is successful there will be an extra element to set him apart even from Aidan O’Brien’s superstar – because Stradivarius will have triumphed at five successive royal meetings.
Twelve months before his first triumph in the centre piece of the week, the then three-year-old served notice of his staying potential with a late surge to a narrow victory over his contemporaries in the 2017 Queen’s Vase.
It was, of course, a portent – since which Stradivarius, with Frankie Dettori his most able and highly appropriate partner, has been unstoppable three times over.
He finished minus a shoe, and lame, yet in front nonetheless in 2018, defied concerns about rain-softened ground in 2019 and then last year posted the most impressive of all his victories – by 10 lengths from the re-opposing Nayef Road.
Come what may this time, the Gold Cup will of course headline Ladies’ Day as ever – but elsewhere on the card, the small matter of the fastest two-year-olds, in the opening Norfolk Stakes, finding the right three-year-old filly in the Ribblesdale and the handicap conundrums of the Britannia and King George V ensure there is something for everyone.
All over bar the shouting for Stradivarius?
Stradivarius will be milking the limelight long before he gets to the finish line, or even the starting stalls, in the Gold Cup. The superstar stayer routinely prefaces his best performances on his way to the paddock, shouting and strutting – a habit John Gosden attributes to the seven-year-old entire’s very healthy testosterone levels. Regardless of how much attention the chestnut draws to himself before the race, he will receive a significant amount more if he is successful in taking a fourth consecutive Gold Cup and matching the efforts of the great Yeats in the process.
Ward the key to Norfolk Stakes?
American trainer Wesley Ward loves a Royal Ascot winner, but so far this year he has not had one. He holds a major chance in the Norfolk Stakes, however, through the once-raced and unbeaten pair of Lucci and Nakatomi. But this looks a renewal that is well up to scratch, and dangers abound to the Ward pair. None more so than Aidan O’Brien’s Cadamosto, while there is lots to like about the home defence, including Second Wind (William Haggas) and Instinctive Move (Clive Cox), to name just two.
Noon’s time to star?
By Galileo out of Midday, Noon Star is certainly bred to be something special. Her second to Snowfall in the Musidora now looks decidedly less disappointing than it seemed at the time and she gets her chance to show she could have played a part in the Oaks, after a blood disorder ruled her out in the week of the Epsom showpiece. The O’Brien-trained Divinely was third at Epsom, so a fascinating clash awaits.
What might have been with Mohaafeth?
In contrast to Noon Star, Mohaafeth actually made it to Epsom, for the Derby – only for the rain to leave William Haggas making the difficult decision to take him out just over an hour before the premier Classic. He looks a very talented son of Frankel on what he has shown so far – but the big question is just how much will his chance be compromised if the forecast rain comes?
Arise, Sir Lamorak
Sir Lamorak had the look of a Derby ‘dark horse’, but never made it to Epsom. Not one of the O’Brien team’s headline acts – so far anyway – he won at Dundalk in March and was a stylish handicap winner at Leopardstown after that. He could yet prove to be very good.