Stradivarius will be following in some illustrious hoofprints if he can claim a second victory in the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup at York.
John Gosden’s star stayer enjoyed a faultless campaign in 2018 – winning the Yorkshire Cup, the Gold Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the Lonsdale Cup to land a huge bonus through the inaugural Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million.
For good measure, the five-year-old added the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup to his seasonal haul, and has continued in the same vein this term – with successful defences of the Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup further strengthening his grip on the division.
Stradivarius will be a warm order to scoop the £1million bonus for a second time on Friday – and become the sixth dual winner of the Lonsdale Cup after Further Flight (1992 and 1993), Double Eclipse (1995 and 1997), Celeric (1996 and 1999), Persian Punch (1998 and 2001) and Opinion Poll (2010 and 2011).
Now aged 27, Celeric is enjoying his retirement at Chieveley Manor Stud near Newbury under the watchful eye of former senior steward Christopher Spence, who had the pleasure of breeding him and racing him for seven successive seasons before bringing him home.
Spence said: “Celeric is still a great character and a real show-off. He’s in great health and has the life of Riley, looked after beautifully by Mandy Sims, who was on the stud when he was born and foaled him. She absolutely loves him, as you can imagine.
“He’s had a girlfriend for company the last 10 years or so – a thoroughbred mare who never raced – and this summer they were joined by Elysium Dream, who has been a winner for my son Johnno with Richard Hannon and has just gone back to Richard’s. They all got on very well.”
Celeric plied his trade in what seemed something of a golden age for staying horses, as a contemporary or near contemporary of household names like the brothers Double Eclipse and Double Trigger, the dual Gold Cup winner Kayf Tara, and the hugely popular but often luckless Persian Punch.
He more than held his own in that company too, his 13 wins including a three-quarter length defeat of Classic Cliche in the 1997 Gold Cup at Ascot, a Jockey Club Cup, a Northumberland Plate and six memorable victories at York.
Spence has some great memories of Celeric’s racecourse career, when he was trained by his brother-in-law David Morley, and then by John Dunlop following Morley’s untimely death in 1998.
He said: “Celeric was a fantastic stayer, and we had some wonderful times. He’s by Mtoto, and he inherited that same late kick, which is unusual in horses that stay as well as he did.
“He used to like to hang around out the back and come with a late burst of speed – and although it didn’t come off every time, he always looked very good when it did.
“He loved York and Ascot, but he hated the ups and downs of Goodwood. A flat track always suited him best, and he won six times at York.”
By the time he ran in his first Lonsdale Cup as a four-year-old in 1996, Celeric had already won three times at York – giving 13lb to the three-time Champion Hurdle hero Istabraq, no less, in a handicap as a three-year-old and winning two more good handicaps there at four.
Spence added: “Celeric won well when he ran in the Lonsdale for the first time, and when he went back there the next two times he was hit hard by the penalty system for his wins in the Gold Cup and also the Yorkshire Cup.
“He had to give Double Eclipse 9lb when he was only fourth in 1997, and the following year he was giving Persian Punch 6lb when he was headed on the post – having come with his usual late run.”
Celeric did, however, regain the Lonsdale Cup crown in 1999 when he edged out hot favourite Arctic Owl by a length in the hands of Pat Eddery. It proved to be his final career victory, before being retired the following year.
Spence said: “Pat loved Celeric, and they enjoyed a great rapport.
“He was on board too of course for the Gold Cup win, and winning a race like that has to be the career highlight for an owner/breeder such as myself – a Group One and such a showcase race at the meeting, and also a great family occasion with my wife’s brother training him.
“We partied that night, oh Lord yes.”