John Gosden reports Stradivarius in fine fettle ahead of his seasonal reappearance in the Matchbook Yorkshire Cup on Friday.
The Bjorn Nielsen-owned five-year-old was the undoubted star of the staying division in 2018, winning each of his five starts.
After landing this Group Two prize 12 months ago, Stradivarius went on to claim the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, the Goodwood Cup and the Lonsdale Cup back at York – a run of victories which saw him earn a seven-figure bonus through the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million.
Just for good measure, he added the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup to his tally in October and he will be a warm order to pick up where he left off on his return to the Knavesmire.
Gosden said: “He’s been very happy and jolly in himself throughout (his preparation) and he’s looking forward to coming back here (York).
“He’s a fun horse to train – he’s very expressive – and he’s trained very nicely.
“We’ve had no setbacks with him.”
Any horse hoping to scoop the Stayers’ Million for landing the Gold Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the Lonsdale Cup must first win one of eight qualifying races across Britain, Ireland, Dubai, France and Germany – of which the Yorkshire Cup is one.
Frankie Dettori is hoping Stradivarius can keep his hopes of winning a second bonus alive in what is the first race in the Long Distance category of this year’s Qipco British Champions Series – but is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s very unusual to have a stayer with such a turn of foot,” said the leading jockey.
“He’s a great little horse. What he’s done has been remarkable and we are going to try to do it all again, but it’s going to be more difficult with more competition and more miles on the clock.”
Ispolini is a major contender for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby.
The Dubawi gelding has enjoyed a lucrative campaign already, having won twice at Meydan, and was last seen chasing home his Melbourne Cup-winning stablemate Cross Counter in the Dubai Gold Cup.
Appleby said: “I think dropping back in trip from two miles to a mile and three-quarters is going to suit as he is a horse that travels well and picks up well. In the Dubai Gold Cup, he was just outstayed by a better horse in Cross Counter.
“We know Stradivarius is a supreme stayer and we’ve all got him to beat, but if Ispolini brings that Dubai form to the table, he is going to be very competitive.
“He is a young horse and we hoped that stepping up in trip would carry on that trajectory. He came back from Dubai on Guineas weekend with a number of other horses and everything has been straightforward since, as it often is with these older horses.”
The Mark Johnston-trained Mildenberger is stepping up in distance after finishing third in the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket.
The son of Teofilo chased home Roaring Lion in the Dante Stakes at this meeting last year before injury curtailed his season.
“His first run of the year at Epsom was a non-event – he stumbled at the start and never got into it. His last run at Newmarket proved he is up to Group Two level and we had slight stamina doubts before that race, but we have no doubts now,” said Johnston.
“This looks a very tall order and a very hot race, but he deserves his place.
“He’s got the class, there’s no doubt about that.”
Irish hopes rest on Aidan O’Brien’s Southern France, who finished a close third in the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan on his seasonal bow.
Hugo Palmer’s Mootasadir is a fascinating contender back on turf after winning his last four starts on the all-weather.
David Elsworth’s Desert Skyline and John Ryan’s pair of outsiders, Sevenna Star and Aircraft Carrier, complete the eight-strong field.