Stradivarius will face 10 rivals when he bids for back-to-back victories in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
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 £1million bonus through the inaugural Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million.
The five-year-old added the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup back at Ascot in October to his seasonal haul, just for good measure, and picked up where he left off when battling to a second Yorkshire Cup victory last month.
Stradivarius will be a hot favourite on Thursday to become the first horse since the great four-time winner Yeats (2006-2009) to successfully defend his Gold Cup crown, but will find a clutch of talented opponents lying in wait.
Charlie Appleby saddles last year’s Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter. The son of Teofilo proved ‘the race that stops a nation’ had not left a mark when making a winning return in the Dubai Gold Cup in March.
Dee Ex Bee has been seriously impressive since stepping up to two miles – landing the Sagaro at Ascot and the Henry II Stakes at Sandown. He bids to provide Mark Johnston with a fourth Gold Cup following the previous triumphs of Double Trigger (1995) and dual winner Royal Rebel (2001 and 2002).
Aidan O’Brien – trainer of Yeats and also successful with Fame And Glory (2011), Leading Light (2014) and Order Of St George (2016) – saddles Capri, Cypress Creek and Flag Of Honour, but Kew Gardens is a notable absentee.
Joseph O’Brien’s Master Of Reality and the Willie Mullins-trained Thomas Hobson are the other Irish raiders, while Pia Brandt’s Called To The Bar carries the hopes of France.
Richard Hannon’s Raymond Tusk and Magic Circle – trained by Ian Williams – complete the field.