Charlie Appleby has outstanding big-race prospects at Royal Ascot next week – with last year’s Derby winner Masar joined by a top-class team, including Barney Roy and Blue Point – but the Gold Cup has long been high on his wish-list, and he hopes he has found the right horse in Cross Counter.
Appleby’s time with Godolphin does not stretch as far back as Kayf Tara’s wins in 1998 and 2000, but he was very much part of the team when Colour Vision beat Opinion Poll in their one-two of 2012.
Godolphin have not had a serious Gold Cup contender since then, so all the more reason for Appleby to be relishing Cross Counter’s clash with Stradivarius and Dee Ex Bee – success in which would take him to the halfway point for the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million won by John Gosden’s grand stayer last year.
Appleby said: “The Gold Cup is the number one staying race of the entire calendar, and we are delighted to have a runner this year who we are confident can be competitive. It would be a huge thrill if he were to win it.
“It looks a particularly strong Gold Cup this year – but Cross Counter’s preparation has gone very well, and we are hopeful. His Dubai Gold Cup win qualified him for the Weatherbys Hamilton bonus, and if he wins we’ll definitely be going on to Goodwood and York to see if we can win it.
“This has been his target since Dubai, because we want to see if he can be a proper European Cup horse – but if he doesn’t stay the two and a half miles, then needless to say we’ll be having a good look at going back to Flemington to try and win the Melbourne Cup again.”
At this time 12 months ago, Cross Counter had raced only three times – winning two novices at Wolverhampton as a two-year-old and finishing second to Elwazir in another at Sandown on his reappearance. Even his subsequent Royal Ascot fourth to Baghdad in the King George V Handicap gave little indication of his full potential, so who could have guessed that he would now have earned the thick end of £3.5million?
November’s Melbourne Cup success was quite something, especially given a wide draw and poor track position for the majority of the race – as once he was extricated and taken to the wide outside, he flew home to run down Marmelo and win going away. The Dubai Gold Cup had less depth to it, but his defeat of Ipsilini was thoroughly convincing too.
He also had no trouble dismissing the Gold Cup third-favourite Dee Ex Bee – admittedly a different proposition this year over longer distances – in Goodwood’s Gordon Stakes last August, beating the Derby second by more than four lengths in a new course record.
Kerrin McEvoy rode Cross Counter in the Melbourne Cup and will be at Royal Ascot next week, but it will be James Doyle who replaces the injured William Buick on Thursday. He has never ridden him in public, but the same could have been said of his partnership with Big Orange two years ago, and that proved no handicap at all.
The Royal Ascot floodgates opened for Doyle when Al Khazeem launched a day-two treble in 2013, and he has won 10 races at the meeting – with Kingman, Barney Roy and Poet’s Word also successful at Group One level.
Doyle has another enviable book of rides – and although he looks likely to miss out on Arc runner-up Sea Of Class, there should still be some nice chances for William Haggas when he is not required by Godolphin.
He would sooner not be getting chances like Cross Counter at the expense of such a close friend, so he will be only too pleased to vacate the seat if the gelding is still in bonus contention when Goodwood comes around.