John Gosden believes Santiago represents a major obstacle for Stradivarius to overcome in his bid for a historic fourth Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup victory.
The Bjorn Nielsen-owned Stradivarius has dominated the staying division over the past few seasons and equalled the popular Double Trigger’s record of three triumphs in this two-mile Group One with a narrow verdict over regular foe Dee Ex Bee last summer.
Having destroyed his rivals when claiming a Gold Cup hat-trick at Royal Ascot last month, Stradivarius will be a warm order on his return to the Sussex Downs – but Gosden is taking nothing for granted, with Stradivarius set to concede more than a stone in weight to Aidan O’Brien’s Queen’s Vase and Irish Derby hero Santiago.
“I think he has probably got one of the biggest challenges of his career,” said the Clarehaven handler.
“If it was run on August 1 he would be giving Santiago 13lb, but because it is run at the end of July he is giving 15lb to a horse that won stylishly in the Queen’s Vase and went and won an Irish Derby. That is a big ask for Stradivarius – to give 15lb over two miles.
“Santiago looked pretty quick on his feet to me around Ascot, and I think he will handle the track. We know our fellow handles it.
“We got 13lb from Big Orange when Stradivarius won his first Goodwood Cup, so we benefited that year – now he has got to give 15lb away, the boot is on the other foot.
“That 2lb could make a difference over two miles if it is a tight finish, I will tell you.”
Before his latest Gold Cup romp, Stradivarius finished a respectable third behind subsequent Coral-Eclipse hero Ghaiyyath and Anthony Van Dyck in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket.
While the chestnut entire appeared to handle testing conditions well at Ascot, Gosden is looking forward to getting him back on a sounder surface.
He added: “I was forced to run him in the Coronation Cup, which obviously this year was run at Newmarket. Ghaiyyath broke the track record, and someone told me we equalled the track record in finishing third.
“Stradivarius does have the ability to be a mile-and-a-half horse, but he was caught out at Newmarket by a horse that had won in Dubai and was in top form – he was caught out probably more for fitness than he was for speed.
“Going to Ascot, there were sheets of water rolling across the M25 near Heathrow and I thought ‘this is no good’.
“I got to the track, and sure enough the ground turned soft, but he seemed to handle it well.
“Did the Gold Cup have its normal depth? Probably not. Having said that, he showed great style and class and quickened well.”
While Santiago has managed to provide O’Brien’s 14th Irish Derby since his Royal Ascot success, the Ballydoyle trainer insists the Goodwood Cup has always been a major target.
He said: “We always thought he might be a Cup horse, so we were very gentle with him last year.
“We thought the race in Ascot (Queen’s Vase) would suit him well. You have to have class to win an Irish Derby, but we always felt two miles would be within his grasp this year.
“We’ve had to be a bit gentle with him since the Curragh, but everything has gone very well.
“We just thought this would be a lovely race for him between the Irish Derby and the St Leger. Hopefully we’ll learn a lot about him, and the horse will learn a lot as well.”
Double Trigger’s trainer Mark Johnston saddles Gold Cup runner-up Nayef Road, who was some 10 lengths behind Stradivarius at Ascot.
Spanish Mission (David Simcock), Eagles By Day (David O’Meara), Euchen Glen (Jim Goldie) and Who Dares Wins (Alan King) complete the seven-strong field, with the latter stepping up in class after providing jockey Tom Marquand with his first Royal Ascot winner in the Queen Alexandra Stakes on his latest appearance.
Marquand said: “It is a stiff task. We are hoping the for the first day of Goodwood they will have the ground beautiful with a tiny bit of moisture in it.
“He has done nothing wrong and hopefully he can give us a good spin round. I don’t think it would be a surprise if he did finish placed, as he is a cracking horse that tries hard and we know stays well.”