John Gosden reports Stradivarius to be in tip-top shape as the £1million-winning stayer bids to complete a lucrative season on a high in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Saturday.
The four-year-old scooped the seven-figure Weatherbys Hamilton-backed bonus with victories in the Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup.
Stradivarius was not quite his brilliant best when taking the latter race at York in August, but has had a refreshing break and has been pleasing his trainer at home.
“He is in tremendous form and I’m very happy with him,” said Gosden.
“He has put good condition back on. He comes in great order and we are thrilled with him.
“I think his win in the Gold Cup was the most satisfying moment of my year.
“He’s a diminutive horse and the fact he gave everything, pulled a shoe off and rammed it into his foot in the last furlong and still won was a pretty remarkable achievement.
“He’s all heart.”
However, the testing ground is a worry for his rider, Frankie Dettori.
“He has been a magnificent horse this year. He is a great stayer, he’s drawn well (stall one), and if he handles the conditions, then he will be there or thereabouts,” Dettori said in his Ladbrokes blog.
“Obviously the ground is a concern for us as his best ground is good to firm. However, he came third on similar ground last year and coped with it.”
Thomas Hobson won the Doncaster Cup in good style and his trainer Willie Mullins is hoping a similar performance can see the eight-year-old earn a decent slice of the cash on offer.
“He was impressive at Doncaster last time and is in good order,” said Mullins.
“It’s hard to expect he will win, but if he could run well and get a good share of the prize-money, then we’d be very happy.”
Aidan O’Brien sends a team of three-year-olds to take on the older horses. His trio is headed by Flag Of Honour. The Irish St Leger hero was supplemented at Monday’s confirmation stage.
“He’s in good form and seems to have come out of the Irish Leger well. We’ve been happy with him since,” said O’Brien.
“He got the Leger trip well and we thought there was a chance that he might even stay further.”
Naas Group Three scorer Cypress Creek and the lightly-raced Sir Erec, winner of a Listed contest at Limerick, give the Ballydoyle handler an interesting hand.
Gosden has another hot favourite on the card in Lah Ti Dar, who goes for the Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.
The older sister of two-year-old sensation Too Darn Hot may have lost her 100 per cent record in the St Leger, but nevertheless ran a tremendous race to finish second despite her obvious lack of experience.
“She got the idea of what she was supposed to be doing in the last furlong at Doncaster,” said Gosden.
“She is still a very a big, immature filly. Frankie said he set her to sleep and he couldn’t wake her up again, but I love the way she finished.”
One of her main rivals is Godolphin’s Kitesurf, who finished with a flourish to win the Prix Vermeille at ParisLongchamp last month.
“She has been in great form since her win in the Vermeille,” trainer Andre Fabre told www.godolphin.com.
“For a brief moment we were tempted to go the Arc route, but the interval between the Vermeille and Ascot works well.
“I think she’ll handle the conditions, but this will probably be heavier (on the round course) than she has previously encountered, so it’s not a certainty either.”
O’Brien runs six of the 11, but last year’s winner Hydrangea and Arc 10th Magical look the pic.
“Magical is in good form and we were very happy with her at Longchamp,” said O’Brien.
“She just had a bad draw in the Arc, but came out of it well and we’re looking forward to seeing her running again over a mile and a half.
“Hydrangea’s had a bit of a break and she seems to be in good form. It’s a while since she ran, but she seems to be in good form.
“She probably had a better preparation last year when she had a busier time than she did this year. She hasn’t run since the King George this year.”
Dean Ivory is hoping Flaming Spear’s run at Ascot just two weeks ago, when he was fifth to Raising Sand, will not have left its mark when the six-year-old bids to defy top weight in the Balmoral Handicap.
“It’s not long ago we last ran him, when he didn’t get the clearest of runs,” said Ivory.
“He seemed to handle the soft ground the other day when he ran there. You would not know how much that race took out of him until he runs on Saturday.
“He’s been lightly-raced and we’ve looked after him. I’d rather have it on the softer side than anything else.”