Stradivarius suffered his first defeat in almost two years as Kew Gardens came on top in a pulsating climax to the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup.
The remarkable Stradivarius has completely dominated the staying division over the past couple of seasons – with back-to-back wins in the Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup seeing him scoop the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million in both 2018 and 2019.
Having added the Doncaster Cup to his glittering CV last month, John Gosden’s popular chestnut was the 8-13 market leader to stretch his unbeaten run to 11 – a streak which goes all the way back to him finishing third behind Order Of St George in this race two years ago.
Everything appeared to be going according to plan for the market leader for much of the two-mile journey, with Frankie Dettori seemingly content to bide his time as Withhold and Kew Gardens’ stablemate Capri forced the pace.
Aidan O’Brien’s Kew Gardens – winner of the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, the Grand Prix de Paris and the St Leger at Doncaster last season and runner-up spot in the Ormonde Stakes, the Coronation Cup and the Irish Leger so far this term – was the 7-2 second-favourite in the hands of the trainer’s son, Donnacha, and travelled strongly to the lead soon after the turn for home.
Dettori swiftly went in pursuit and Stradivarius looked set to emerge triumphant after ranging alongside and even poking his head in front racing inside the final furlong.
However, Kew Gardens refused to yield and after a thrilling duel, the pair passed the post almost as one before the judged confirmed the Ballydoyle inmate the winner by a nose, giving the successful rider his first career victory on Champions Day.
Gosden’s second string Royal Line was five lengths away in third.
O’Brien said: “We were training him for the Gold Cup and he got an injury and it all went pear shaped so we’re just so lucky to get him back. He pulled all the muscles in his back just before Ascot.
“He barely made it back for the Irish St Leger and that race just didn’t go right. He’s an incredible horse.
“It’s possible he’ll be around next year. The lads will decide what they want to do. There is a big chance he will be.
“He’s a very brave horse, so I’m delighted.
“I’d say the Gold Cup next year would definitely be the target if he stayed in training next year.
“I would imagine that’s it for the season.”
Gosden said: “It was too soft and he was not entirely happy on it. He didn’t really love it through Swinley Bottom. It was very bold and sporting of Mr (Bjorn) Nielsen to run him, but he just found the ground too soft.
“He did well to win it last year as they went no pace. This year he found it too much of a slog in the ground. He has run a wonderful race and has come back in and had a whinny, so he is happy.
“Take nothing away from the winner, we headed him and he’s come back. It’s not his ground, Frankie said he wasn’t very happy through Swinley Bottom.
“We came fairly close (to pulling him out), but it’s Champions Day and we would have let the day down a bit if we didn’t run Stradivarius.
“He has been beaten a nose, so there is no disgrace in that. It is just not his ground. We will be back for the Ascot Gold Cup on good to firm in good shape.
“Royal Line has run a great race.”