A small but select field has been assembled for the Hurworth Bloodstock Coronation Cup at Newmarket on Friday.
The mile-and-a-half showpiece has been switched from its traditional home of Epsom due to the impact of the coronavirus shutdown on the regular calendar, but has still attracted a top-class field, including Ascot Gold Cup hero Stradivarius.
Not since he was beaten in a Chester handicap in May 2017 has John Gosden’s star stayer run over a mile and a half.
His trainer said: “As I’ve said to everybody, Stradivarius is in good form and we are looking forward to getting him going.
“It is the shortest trip he has run over for some time, but we need to have a prep race before the Gold Cup.
“The essential thing is that we have this prep race before he tries to defend the Gold Cup.”
Anthony Van Dyck would arguably have benefited from the race being run at Epsom, as he enjoyed his finest hour in the Investec Derby 12 months ago.
The Galileo colt is one of two runners for Aidan O’Brien along with Broome, who was fourth to his stablemate in the blue riband.
O’Brien said: “I don’t know much about the mile and a half at Newmarket, but I would imagine you’d need to get a mile and a half very well to get the trip. We haven’t had a lot of runners over that trip in Newmarket.
“We just thought soft ground at Ascot (in the King George last year) wasn’t the right thing to do with Anthony Van Dyck, and he paid for it. But he’s in good form now, we’re happy with his work and the plan would be to keep him on good ground.
“He’s doing everything right at the moment.”
Having taken this race last year, supporters of Defoe might also have preferred to be at Epsom, but Roger Varian’s six-year-old has winning form at Newmarket and his trainer is unperturbed at the switch, although he is mindful of the opposition.
Varian said ahead of a race which again forms parts of the Qipco British Champions Series: “Defoe is a horse who tells you when he’s right and is giving us the right messages. He’s on his racing weight, he’s come good in his skin and he seems to have a bounce with him.
“He’s tuned-in for the race, but it might take a career best to win it because the race looks a touch stronger this year.
“He seemed to really love Epsom last year, when he put it to bed in a few strides and won going away. But, saying that, he’s run well at Newmarket the couple of times he’s performed there and I don’t think the track holds too many fears for him.”
Reflecting on his narrow defeat in Dubai in the spring, Varian said: “It was a very pleasing run. It was a messy race and he probably should have won on another day.
“I thought he would come on considerably for that run and, of course, we were looking at the Sheema Classic (which was subsequently cancelled) three weeks later. As a Sheema prep, I thought it was ideal bar the result.
“He came home and had a few easier weeks because we knew we would not be racing until June with him, even if racing started in May. He’s ramped up the last few weeks and did a nice piece of week last week on the watered gallop. I could not be more pleased with his condition.”
Likely favourite is the Charlie Appleby-trained Ghaiyyath, a horse who has shown flashes of brilliance at his best.
Appleby said: “He wintered in Dubai and had a prep run in the Dubai Millennium, which he won very well. The plan was to go there and then on to the Sheema Classic.
“He came back probably about six weeks ago now and looks fantastic. It’s so nice to see these five-year-olds around. We saw what Blue Point did for us last year, it’s just nice to have those older horses in the yard.
“He’s a horse that we’re very excited to see race this year. He’s got proven form up the Rowley Mile as a winner of the Autumn Stakes as a two-year-old. He’s in great order – he’s an exciting horse.”