Super Stradivarius still a staying colossus

Flat racing has many fixed features, the racecourses remain the same, the fixture list changes only slightly, the whole travelling circus moves from track to track in an unchanged order season after season.

But the horses continually flow across the turf and off to stud in a cycle that affords us a relatively brief glimpse of the finest equine athletes before they are tasked with producing the next generation.

Bucking that trend is the beloved chestnut Stradivarius, who is in the thick of his sixth season in training having sportingly been kept in action by owner Bjorn Nielsen.

Stradivarius refused to buckle against Spanish Mission
Stradivarius refused to buckle against Spanish Mission (Nigel French/PA)

Nielsen makes up a third of the trio associated with the seven-year-old, with Frankie Dettori and John Gosden the other principal figures in the Stradivarius corner – though Gosden’s son Thady has recently been added to the Clarehaven licence.

Stradivarius’ career is one that no one has ever found good reason to end, regardless of his age and his status as an entire horse capable of becoming a sire.

He has won four Goodwood Cups, three Gold Cups, two Yorkshire Cups and now three Lonsdale Cups.

He has been beaten by a small margin and has been beaten by a longer margin and he has, without fail, dusted himself off and returned to another parade ring at another racecourse with all of the machismo of an undefeated heavyweight.

His age is not immaterial, however, and a beaten run in the Gold Cup at Ascot caused some to suspect that a changing of the guard may be afoot.

His trip to the Knavesmire, a track on which he is undefeated, was his chance to silence those suggestions and prove that there are pages yet to be turned in the Stradivarius story.

Frankie Dettori salutes the crowd as he returns aboard Stradivarius
Frankie Dettori salutes the crowd as he returns aboard Stradivarius (Nigel French/PA)

The Lonsdale Cup only attracted a field of four, with Trueshan a non-runner after the forecast rained failed to fall and produce his obligatory soft ground.

Two of those contenders were unable to trouble Stradivarius. The Grand Visir went off hard and fast but ultimately faded and Willie Mullins’ Stratum never really looked a danger.

It was Andrew Balding’s Spanish Mission that ensured the small-field affair was no walkover, throwing himself into a neck-and-neck duel with the reigning champion from the two-furlong pole to the winning post.

The naked eye could just identify Stradivarius’ white-striped face dipping across the line ahead of his opponent, and a photo finish then ensured his fist was raised by the judge and he was deemed the victor.

It was the sort of box-office finish every racing fan relishes, it was the last-gasp grit of a horse who seemed intent on proving that not only is his ability still intact, but also that his will to win is not fading in the slightest.

Jubilant scenes at York
Jubilant scenes at York (Nigel French/PA)

Dettori never attempts to conceal his emotions and this victory left the Italian at his most effusive, unsurprising perhaps considering that this partnership has been one of the defining features of the rider’s recent career.

“I just love the horse so much,” he said.

“He (Spanish Mission) passed me, I passed him, he passed me again and then on the line Stradivarius said ‘boom…I’ve won!’.

“He did it all himself, I kept him close to keep him interested as he likes to have a target, but with four runners I always knew what was going to happen.

“I had to play cat and mouse a bit with William (Buick, Spanish Mission) but when it really came down to it, he went again.

“He likes to chase one, we knew where the line was, he stuck out his neck and said ‘I’ve won this, thank you’.”

Gosden was similarly thrilled to see this stalwart of the staying division back to his brilliant best having been drawn into a tussle that required every ounce of his vim.

“Full marks to him, it was a great performance,” he said.

“He still enjoys his training, he’s very enthusiastic – a stronger-run race at his age, so he can come at them, probably suits him better.

“The horse will tell us, it’s not our decision, as long as he’s enjoying his racing and training and he’s very enthusiastic, which he is and he’s a very happy horse, he has a very good sense of humour as well, as long as you’ve got all of that then fine, we keep racing.

“The moment that seems to be fading, that’s when we stop.

“He used to sting like a butterfly and float like a bee, but he’s a little more rope a dope now!”

But the sting in the tail is evidently still present and Gosden’s willingness to discuss future entries suggests the Stradivarius era is not winding to a close just yet.

The Doncaster Cup and the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day at Ascot were both mentioned, races in which his appearance is likely to inspire the same rousing reception he enjoyed on the Knavesmire.

He may be ageing and he cannot rule the division forever, but Stradivarius remains ​the Goliath that nobody wants to see fall at the hands of David.

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