Alan King admits only time will tell how much a slog in the Paris mud took out of both Trueshan and Stradivarius ahead of their mouthwatering rematch in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup.
Trueshan will be favourite to make it back-to-back wins in the Champions Day opener, having inflicted a comprehensive defeat on legendary stayer Stradivarius in the Prix du Cadran.
The pair renew rivalry just a fortnight later – and while King has been happy with his stable star since his French triumph, he acknowledges the two-week gap is not ideal.
“We haven’t done much with him since Longchamp, but he had a little breeze on Wednesday and Dan (Horsford), who rides him every day, was happy with him,” said the Barbury Castle handler.
“We’re under no illusions, it’s only two weeks since the two of them had a hard race, but it’s Trueshan’s last race of the season, so he’s got all winter to get over it.
“We think he’s OK, but we can’t really be certain until we get on the track. We’ve tried to keep him as fresh as possible and we’ll see what happens on Saturday.”
While conditions will not be quite as demanding as they were in the Bois de Boulogne, King has no concerns regarding the going in Berkshire.
He added: “The ground will be fine. I can’t see it drying out too much. I’ve always said I’d run him on good ground, so I’m not that worried.
“We’re happy, but there is that question mark and there’s no point pretending otherwise.”
Stradivarius has dominated the staying division in recent seasons, with his illustrious CV including three Gold Cups, four Goodwood Cups, three Lonsdale Cups, two Yorkshire Cups and two Doncaster Cups.
John and Thady Gosden’s seven-year-old also won the Long Distance Cup in 2018 and was narrowly beaten by Kew Gardens in 2019, but finished a long way behind behind Trueshan 12 months ago.
John Gosden has spoken of his regret at sending his entire to Paris earlier in the month, with conditions set to be more in his favour this weekend.
“We very much wish that we hadn’t run there, as it looks as if he will get ground closer to what he wants at Ascot,” said the Clarehaven handler.
“We are not mad keen on coming back after just 14 days, but once it was clear he wasn’t handling the ground (at ParisLongchamp), Frankie (Dettori) didn’t get after him too much.”
The Tony Mullins-trained Princess Zoe is also making a quick return to action, having finished fifth behind Trueshan and Stradivarius when defending her Cadran crown.
Mullins said: “Trueshan is the one to beat. I’m hoping that we’ll be competitive with Stradivarius, who was a great champion, but he’s coming near the end of his peak.
“We’re going to give it a go. Coming back two weeks after the Cadran is a major factor – it’s a worry for Trueshan and it’s also a worry for us.
“We’re hopeful that Princess Zoe will run as well, if not better, at Ascot.”
William Haggas saddles both Hamish and Roberto Escobarr, with the former holding particularly strong claims judged on his defeat of the high-class Hukum in the September Stakes at Kempton last month.
“If you want to take the Hukum line at face value, Hamish would definitely have a chance. I don’t think we saw Hukum at his best at Kempton, but Hamish is a good horse all the same,” said Haggas.
“I believe the ground is going to be on the soft side of good, probably dead, and that will suit Hamish.
“He’s in good form, he did his last bit (on Wednesday morning) and he looks great.
“Roberto I’d have to say is better on top of the ground, so it might be a bit dead for him.
“But he’s a very genuine stayer and we’re going to put some cheekpieces on him on Saturday and a tongue-tie and hope that that can eke out a bit of improvement.
“Whether it will eke out the stone improvement he needs to be competitive, I don’t know. But he will run and we look forward to it, he looks really well.”