Kew Gardens will bid to give the mighty Stradivarius a run for his money in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot.
Stradivarius has dominated the staying division for the last 18 months – winning back-to-back renewals of the Yorkshire Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the Lonsdale Cup, and so earning the Weatherbys Hamilton £1million bonus in each of the last two seasons.
Having extended his winning run to 10 in last month’s Doncaster Cup, the John Gosden-trained chestnut is a warm order to defend his crown on British Champions Day – but in the Aidan O’Brien-trained Kew Gardens, he faces a new rival in a contest which will be live on Sky Sports Racing.
The Ballydoyle inmate won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, the Grand Prix de Paris and the St Leger at Doncaster last season, while so far this term he has filled the runner-up spot in the Ormonde Stakes, the Coronation Cup and the Irish Leger – his latest effort his first outing in over three months.
“We’ve always thought he’d stay two miles – he’s always looked like he would,” said O’Brien.
“The better the ground, the better his chance – but we’re very happy with him. He seems to be in very good from since the Irish Leger, and we’re looking forward to seeing him again.
“That was his first run since a break, so we expect him to step forward a nice bit for it.
“The fact they’ve changed the course to the inner track should help him, because he likes some nice ground.”
O’Brien also saddles the 2017 Irish Derby and St Leger hero Capri, who has appeared a shadow of his former self so far this year.
Gosden reports Stradivarius in rude health. The Clarehaven handler has already declared his intention to walk the track, before confirming his participation.
Gosden said: “He’s been in very good form since the Doncaster Cup.
“Horses like him who can travel so well and then quicken up are rare, and it’s what makes them a class apart. To do it at the end of these long races is a great attribute.”
Stradivarius carries the colours of Bjorn Nielsen, who fully appreciates the fortunate position he finds himself in.
He said: “He’s been a once-in-a-lifetime horse for me, truly incredible.
“I’m so lucky to own him. You always bond better with the good ones, especially those who are paying the bills. And he doesn’t bite me!”
Frankie Dettori has steered the popular five-year-old to nine of his last 10 victories and is looking forward to renewing the partnership.
Speaking in his Ladbrokes blog, the jockey said: “I am not worried about the ground for Stradivarius, because we will be racing on the inside track – although I have never raced on it.
“He can cope with soft, and I don’t think it will be any worse than soft on the day. I love the horse so much, and he has become the people’s favourite, so I just hope he does his stuff.”
Gosden has an interesting second string to his bow in the lightly-raced Royal Line. The five-year-old has won five of his nine starts to date, including last season’s November Handicap and the Group Three September Stakes at Kempton on his latest appearance.
Gosden added: “He won on the all-weather last time, but he’s a horse who loves soft ground, so no doubt he would not be too concerned by conditions underfoot.
“Stamina-wise, he is going into unknown territory – there’s no doubt about that. We haven’t run him over that far, but he finishes his races out strong over a mile and a half and gives the impression (he will stay).”
Roger Charlton’s Withhold lines up off the back of a dominant front-running victory in the Listed Rose Bowl at Newmarket last month.
The six-year-old also has wins in the Cesarewitch and the Northumberland Plate on his CV.
Charlton said: “I think there will be an awful lot of people at Ascot who will have never seen him in the flesh. He’s a magnificent beast of a horse, and I’m hoping he will be around next year, when I’m looking forward to running him in the Cup races.
“Stradivarius has won 10 races in a row and is phenomenal. He should win – but if we are second, third or fourth to him I will be thrilled.”
Sir Michael Stoute’s Mekong, Saeed bin Suroor’s Bin Battuta, the Willie Mullins-trained Max Dynamite and Cleonte from Andrew Balding’s yard complete the 10-strong field.