Aidan O’Brien has confirmed his Royal Ascot and Irish Derby hero Santiago will engage in a fascinating clash with Stradivarius in next week’s Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup.
The John Gosden-trained Stradivarius has dominated the staying division over the past couple of seasons – and fresh from winning his third Gold Cup at Royal Ascot last month, the six-year-old will be a hot favourite to claim a record fourth win in Tuesday’s two-mile Group One.
However, having followed up victory in the Queen’s Vase at the Royal meeting by providing his trainer with a record 14th Irish Derby success late last month, Santiago appears a serious threat – particularly in receipt of 15lb from Stradivarius.
O’Brien said: “It was always the plan to come here after Ascot, and we took in the Irish Derby on the way. He seems to have come out of the Irish Derby well – we’re very happy with him at the moment.
“We always thought the Goodwood Cup was a race that would suit him. He’s a horse we always thought would stay very well – that’s why he ran him first time out this year at Ascot over a mile and six (furlongs).
“He’s a very straightforward horse to handle and to train and he’s very clean-winded. He’s a very exciting horse, and we always viewed him as possibly a Cup horse for next year, so this is all good experience for him really.
“If everything goes well, he’ll probably go straight from here to the St Leger, because there isn’t really anything for him in between.”
While quarantine restrictions in Ireland mean O’Brien himself will not be making the trip to Goodwood, he is planning to send a formidable equine squad for the five-day fixture.
Wednesday’s feature event is the Qatar Sussex Stakes, which was already shaping up to be one of the races of the season before O’Brien stated his intention to launch a three-pronged assault.
The Ballydoyle handler plans to saddle last month’s Queen Anne victor Circus Maximus, 2000 Guineas second and St James’s Palace Stakes third Wichita, as well as Vatican City – who was second to Sussex Stakes favourite Siskin in the Irish 2,000 Guineas before finishing eighth in the Derby at Epsom.
“We always thought this race would suit Circus Maximus, Wichita and Vatican City,” said O’Brien.
“The original plan with Vatican City was go straight to Goodwood after the Irish Guineas. We decided to let him take his chance in the Derby, but he didn’t stay.
“We could have dropped him back to a mile and a quarter in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh on Sunday – but we had three others in that, and he is from a family of milers, which is why we’re thinking of running here.
“We think Wichita is coming forward all the time and we’re delighted with Circus Maximus. He never wins by too far – he’d just about put his head in front, but we’re looking forward to running him.”
O’Brien’s runaway Chesham Stakes winner Battleground is a likely starter in Tuesday’s Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes, while Lancaster House could be his sole representative in the Qatar Lennox Stakes on the same afternoon.
O’Brien said: “Battleground seems to be well since Ascot. We were delighted with him in the Chesham – he’d only had one run beforehand, and we were a little bit worried about that, but Ryan (Moore) was very happy with him, and he seems to have come out of it very well.”
The main supporting race to the Sussex on Wednesday is the Markel Insurance Molecomb Stakes, in which Chief Little Hawk has been pencilled in to run for the all-conquering team.
On Thursday, Magic Wand is considered a “very possible” runner in the Qatar Nassau Stakes – while Admiral Nelson could take up his Qatar Richmond Stakes entry, and Mogul is set for the John Pearce Racing Gordon Stakes.