Stradivarius returned to action with a smooth success in the Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot.
Now a seven-year-old, Bjorn Nielsen’s superstar stayer showed all his old enthusiasm remains intact.
Kept in training in an attempt to emulate Yeats by winning a fourth Gold Cup back at the Royal meeting in June, the Sea The Stars entire cemented his claims as still being very much the one to beat.
Ridden by his old ally Frankie Dettori, he was content to let Stag Horn and Nayef Road set an honest gallop.
With half a mile to run Dettori had been shuffled to the back of the six-runner field, which meant he had to go from the inside rail to right around the pack just after the turn into the straight.
As Stag Horn dropped away John and Thady Gosden could watch on contently as Dettori was still going sweetly with over a furlong to run on the 4-6 favourite.
His customary turn of foot was in evidence as he went two lengths clear and while he did begin to tire as Ocean Wind and Nayef Road closed in, Dettori did not need to get serious and just kept him up to his work to beat Ocean Wind – who ran well up in class – by a length.
As the chestnut had been well beaten in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and on Champions Day in his final two outings, the Gosdens will have been pleased with what they witnessed and the general reaction from the bookmakers was to cut Stradivarius to 6-4 to win a fourth Gold Cup.
Gosden senior said: “He (Nielsen) is incredibly sporting. To have a horse like this who has won three Gold Cups and four Goodwood Cups and a number of other races has been a dream come true. The old horse has got his enthusiasm still, as you can see. The last two races were bottomless ground and bottomless ground and he didn’t like either of them.
“Frankie has been and sat on him since he has got out of quarantine twice. I’ve been thrilled with him all winter, he’s happy with him. All the people who work around the horse – we’ve all been very pleased with him. The horse has been his normal self.
“He ran a great race with poor old Anthony Van Dyck in the Prix Foy on decent ground. Then it was like a bicycle velodrome race in the Arc, when they trotted then sprinted in heavy ground and he didn’t like it and then the ground here was close to unraceable (on Champions Day), so I ruled those two races out.
“So I had every confidence that the enthusiasm was there. Frankie was over the moon with him – he travelled well and he thought ‘Oh, I’d better not let them get too much rope on me, and the next thing I gave him a click and he’s taken four lengths out of them in half a furlong and I hit the front too soon,’ so that’s a good sign.
“He is comfortable over this trip (two miles). He ran third to Ghaiyyath in a track-record time in the Jockey Club Stakes first time out last year in order to give him a prep. He was in the mix until the last furlong, but it was a track record and he was probably four and a half lengths off the track record over a mile and a half on fast ground.”
All roads now point towards the Gold Cup, without another run, according to Gosden.
He said: “He’s fine. He’s got the speed, but obviously he likes the Gold Cup distance, and I think we’ll come straight back here for the Gold Cup – I don’t see the point in running him anywhere else in between.
“His best surface is good ground like most horses. The summer soft, which we had last year, he can deal with. But when you get autumn, bottomless ground, no – that is not his scene. He has too good an action for that.”
A delighted Dettori said: “These horses are what you get up for. He’s been in great form at home and he has the same old enthusiasm he has always had. I wanted to be close and didn’t want them to get away from me, but he has got a turn of foot and when I asked him to quicken, he got there too soon. He is an incredible horse.
“Bjorn was a little worried that he may not have the enthusiasm, but he has always had that and he’s shown me no signs that he has lost that. John has been very happy with him all winter and he has the ability to win over shorter trips than the Gold Cup.
“Yeats won four Gold Cup and people said that would never be done again, but for us, the dream is still alive!”