Two marvellous days gone and today the royal meeting welcomes the stayers for the Ascot Gold Cup.
Yeats holds the record for most wins in the race after his success in 2009 made it four in a row. Aidan O’Brien’s colt, a son of Sadler’s Wells, was once the favourite for the Epsom Derby, but found fame as the outstanding stayer of his generation.
Sir Henry Cecil dominated the race in the late 1970’s and early 80’s with legendary stayers Le Moss and Ardross. As a three-year-old Le Moss announced himself as a quality stayer by winning the Queen’s Vase at the royal meeting and though defeated in the St Leger the die had been cast.
The following season he was totally dominant over extended trips. Ridden by Lester Piggott he took the Ascot Gold Cup beating stable companion Bucksin in the process. He went on to win the Goodwood Cup and completed the stayers ‘Triple Crown’ when successful in the Doncaster Cup in September, a feat he was to repeat the following season. Indeed it was to be that five-year-old campaign that defined him as one of the great stayers.
His trio of clashes with the Irish racehorse Ardross proved to be sensational. Ardross was bred in Ireland by Paddy Prendergast and burst onto the scene in 1980 as a high class stayer. During that summer he came within a whisker of defeating the mighty Le Moss, yet lost by less than a length on each agonising occasion. The battles will live long in the memory. The titanic struggles began at Royal Ascot, when the Irish horse chased Le Moss all the way up the straight before going down by three-quarters of a length.
In the Goodwood Cup the style of race and result were virtually identical. Again the older ‘champ’ set the pace and kicked for home early in the straight. Another thrilling battle ensued, but once again Le Moss was not for passing, with less than a length separating the two at the line. Hard to believe then that the third meeting in the Doncaster Cup proved to be a carbon copy of the previous two clashes. Again Le Moss led from start to finish with Ardross getting closer than ever, yet never looking likely to pass his relentless foe.
Sir Henry Cecil’s horse was retired to stud at the end of 1980, and proved successful as a sire in the National Hunt sphere. He was the Damsire of Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander.
For Ardross the following season would see a change of handler and a change of fortune. He switched ownership and was sent to be trained by Sir Henry Cecil. It was no surprise to see him take over the mantle of champion stayer, winning the Yorkshire Cup in May before taking the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. He then won the Goodwood Cup before dropping back in trip to win the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury. A crack at the Arc followed with a very respectable fifth place finish.
A similar path was trod the following year in his final campaign as a six-year-old. It proved to be a sensational summer, again taking the Yorkshire Cup, the Ascot Gold Cup, and the Geoffrey Freer Stakes. To this he added the Doncaster Cup, the Henry II Stakes at Sandown and the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket. Not only was Ardross an outstanding stayer, he had become one of Europe’s very best middle-distance performers. He took his chance again in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and came agonisingly close to winning when just failing to reel in the French filly Akiyda.
His incredible racing career was over and he retired to stud, and like his famous foe Le Moss, proved to be a better sire of ‘Jumpers’. Champion hurdle winner Alderbrook proved to be his most famous progeny. But he was also responsible for Karinga Bay, who went on to sire this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree; a fitting legacy for one of the greatest Ascot Gold Cup winners.