Stradivarius bids to put Royal Ascot disappointment behind him by claiming a remarkable fifth victory in the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup.
With three Gold Cups at Royal Ascot, back-to-back wins in both the Yorkshire Cup and the Lonsdale Cup and a Doncaster Cup thrown in for good measure, it is fair to say the seven-year-old’s status as one of the sport’s great stayers has long since been assured.
John and Thady Gosden’s charge came up short in his attempt to emulate Yeats with a fourth Gold Cup success last month, but he will be a hot favourite to get back on the winning trail and bring the house down on his return to the Sussex Downs on Tuesday.
“He didn’t have much of a race at Ascot, so that race didn’t seem to knock him back too far physically,” said John Gosden.
“He’s won four Goodwood Cups in a row, which takes some doing. It’s going to be a fascinating race, with some very nice horses turning up, and you’re always going to need some luck in running around Goodwood – given it’s not exactly a big, open galloping track.
“Goodwood is quintessentially different – rolling in and out, left, right and has cambers. It should make for an exciting day on Tuesday.
“He’s been a pleasure and a lot of fun to train through the years – but as a seven-year-old full horse, he probably knows a great deal more about the game than I do!
“It’d be wonderful if he puts in a big performance and runs well or wins, but even to have him there for a fifth time is an achievement for everyone here in itself.”
Stradivarius is set to renew rivalry with several horses who also contested the Gold Cup at the Royal meeting, but sadly not the impressive winner Subjectivist – who will miss the rest of this season because of injury, with his future beyond that uncertain.
In Subjectivist’s absence, trainer Mark Johnston saddles his half-brother Sir Ron Priestley and Nayef Road, but admits neither matches up to his sidelined stable star.
“I’d have put Subjectivist alongside Attraction and Shamardal as one of the three best I’ve trained,” said Johnston.
“He was one of those rare horses with which you weren’t really concerned about the opposition, because he was better than anything out there, and I can’t obviously say the same about Nayef Road or even Sir Ron Priestley.”
Sir Ron Priestley is a previous winner at Goodwood and has won both the Jockey Club Stakes and the Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket this season.
However, sandwiched in between those runs were disappointing efforts in the Yorkshire Cup and the Hardwicke Stakes, and the five-year-old has to prove his stamina on his first start over two miles.
Johnston added: “We agonised over paying £25,000 to supplement Sir Ron Priestley – and I had to convince myself I was doing it for the owner, not myself, because there’s some uncertainty about the trip.
“In the Yorkshire Cup it looked very much as if he didn’t stay, but it’s hard to equate that with his St Leger second or his Nottingham win, and at the beginning of the year we had no doubt he would stay two miles.”
Nayef Road was runner-up to Stradivarius in last year’s Goodwood Cup, but has not been in the same form so far this term.
“Nayef Road’s recent runs have been mixed, but in some of them he’s shown a glimmer of his best and he deserves to be there on past performance,” added his trainer.
“I don’t think any of us would be surprised if he was in the shake-up, but he’d need a personal best and Stradivarius to be below form if he were to win.”
Spanish Mission finished one place ahead of Stradivarius when third in the Gold Cup, but trainer Andrew Balding is more hopeful than confident that he will confirm that form at Goodwood.
He said: “This has been the plan for a long time, and we are really pleased with him – we just wouldn’t want too much rain.
“Stradivarius is a fairly awesome opponent – and if he’s anywhere near his best he’s going to be very tough to beat – but on his Yorkshire Cup win and his Gold Cup third, Spanish Mission ought to be very competitive.”
With soft ground set to prevail on the opening day of the meeting, the horse rated the biggest threat to Stradivarius by bookmakers in a race which forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series is Alan King’s proven mud-lover Trueshan.
Last season’s Long Distance Cup scorer missed the Gold Cup after the rain failed to arrive in time, instead carrying a big weight into sixth in the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle the following week.
“To see Trueshan at his best, it’s a case of the more rain the better,” said King.
“He looked very good at Ascot on British Champions Day and we’ve been very pleased with him this year. I was very pleased I ran him at Newcastle in the Northumberland Plate, because you can’t keep these horses simmering away forever – and he had a proper race there.
“Everything has gone very smoothly in the build-up since, and we’ll see what happens.”
Aidan O’Brien runs last year’s Derby hero Serpentine, Irish Derby winner Santiago and recent Curragh Cup scorer Amhran Na Bhfiann, all of whom finished down the field in the Gold Cup.
“We’re just not really sure with Santiago whether he gets the two miles,” said O’Brien.
“He could have to go back to a mile and six, and he could have to go back to a mile and a half.
“He had a very good run in the Goodwood Cup last year (finished third) and he’s been very well since Ascot. We’re very happy with him and very happy with his work.
“Amhran Na Bhfiann is a horse we think likes to be ridden forward – and we think going back to two miles is going to suit him.
“He ran in the Gold Cup, and we made plenty of use of him. Maybe, over that trip, we might have made too much use of him.
“We think he’s a horse who is progressing with every run.”