Old friends can always be relied upon to help restore a sense of normality in challenging times, as Stradivarius demonstrated with a record-breaking fourth Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup success.
In a much-altered season, John Gosden can be thankful for two of his established stars continuing to perform at the highest level – giving both his team and racing something to savour in a campaign which has been anything but ordinary.
With equine superstar Enable securing an unprecedented third King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, it was the turn of her equally-talented stablemate to take centre stage in the two-mile showpiece he has made his own under Frankie Dettori.
Although faced with having to give Aidan O’Brien’s Irish Derby winner Santiago 15lb, the 4-7 favourite justified his price tag in displaying the qualities of a real champion – forcing his way out between rivals late on and flying past Nayef Road before scoring by a length.
Gosden said: “I think to have two six year-olds it is a weighty responsibility, there is no doubt about it, but how fortunate we are to have them.
“They are amazing horses, that have both been sportingly kept in training. In the year we have had with this sinister disease it is nice to have old friends around.
“I felt enormous pressure on Saturday because she had been kept in training and if she hadn’t won something like a King George to set a record there it would have been something pretty devastating to drive home to.
“I think of Sagaro, trained Francois Boutin, I think of Ardross. They didn’t do all the different things he has and then there is the old boy Yeats who won four Gold Cups. I don’t think there has been one with a record like this. He is amazingly consistent.
“I had a lot of respect for Santiago today as he is a big, fine, strapping horse and is not a typical Authorized as they are usually quite narrow. Giving that weight away – 15lb not 13lb – I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had chinned us and I was ready for that.”
Under the care of another trainer both Stradivarius and Enable may not have produced the goods at the highest level for as long as they have, a testament to the manner in which Gosden has handled both horses throughout their glittering careers.
He said: “The secret is they are two fantastic horses with great minds on them. They’ve stood the training. It is all about their mental strength and their ability. I think you are sensitive to their requirements. That is the key thing.
“Anyone training horses or people working with animals, that is what it is about. Working with animals is about understanding them and psychologically tuning in with them is the key thing in training.
“Most people can get a horse fit, but if you can have them mentally in the zone with the physiological side and the mind as well that is probably the key.”
Plans are now in place to revert Stradivarius back to a mile and a half in the Prix Foy at ParisLongchamp on September 13, ahead of a potentially mouthwatering clash with Enable in the following month’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Gosden said: “You want to ask the jockey (Dettori) that (who would win) and he will go all schtum. I kept getting asked about Cracksman and Enable. She is the best mile-and-a-half horse I’ve trained in my life and ever will do, and he is the best Cup horse.
“He handled the soft at Ascot. I would say if you got a soft Arc she would handle it better than him, but he would give her a race.”
There might have been a few anxious moments for Dettori in angling for a run aboard Stradivarius when appearing boxed in, but his owner Bjorn Nielsen was confident once the pair were in the clear there was only ever going to be one outcome.
Nielsen said: “When he went to move upsides it was pretty much over as he is a little lion and he doesn’t waste any energy beforehand.
“It was impossible to say if you were going to be able to give 15lb to the three-year-old or not. I said though, ‘is this horse going to be able to outstay us?’ – ‘no’. Is he going to be able to out-sprint us, ‘no’.
“I felt he (Santiago) would have to be a better horse than Stradivarius. A horse like him turns up once in however many years. He would have to arrive on the scene and effectively be another Stradivarius.”
It has been a lifelong dream for Nielsen to breed the winner of the Derby and while Stradivarius was unable to fulfil that vision as a three-year-old, he hopes he could deliver him with the next best result over that trip in France on October 4.
He said: “The Derby is the Derby. I would always prefer to win the Derby, but you would never complain about winning an Arc and who knows if this horse is good enough against mile-and-a-half horses, though I do think he ran well against Ghaiyyath at Newmarket.
“He ran some very fast fractions in the middle of the race. He has the speed and we will see what the going is on the day, as his preferred surface is top of the ground, but in a race like that where they go fast it can be stamina test and it might play to us more if there is cut in the ground.”