John Gosden is praying the rain stays away from Ascot to give Stradivarius the best possible chance of claiming a momentous third Gold Cup.
The superstar chestnut has dominated the staying division for the past two seasons, winning back-to-back renewals of the Gold Cup, Yorkshire Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup to claim the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million in both 2018 and 2019.
Having made a pleasing start to the new campaign when third in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket almost a fortnight ago, Stradivarius is the hot favourite to become the first horse since four-times winner Yeats to claim a Gold Cup hat-trick under Frankie Dettori.
However, Gosden has admitted to having a couple of significant concerns.
“He’s in good form. I thought he ran a remarkable race in the Coronation Cup. It was a track record for the mile and a half and we were really thrilled with the way he ran,” said the Clarehaven maestro.
“He seems to have been fine since, but the 13-day gap is not ideal. You would much prefer a three-week gap, but I didn’t really want to be going to a Gold Cup over two and a half miles without a prep race and at least it was at home (Newmarket). He did a little breeze on Saturday morning and seems very happy within himself.
“Kew Gardens beat us over two miles on the inner track, where it was soft ground, and I just hope we don’t get ground like that again, as Stradivarius is a top-of-the-ground horse and needs that to be seen at his best. I’d be more worried about the ground than anything else.
“A lot of good horses that he has beaten in previous years like Torcedor, Big Orange and Vazirabad have gone away, but I always have respect for the opposition in the race and any of those are capable of giving us a race. But we know he gets the trip well.”
Dettori already has seven Gold Cup wins on his CV and like Gosden, the Italian was thrilled with Stradivarius’ performance over an inadequate trip in the Coronation Cup, saying: “It was like running Mo Farah against Usain Bolt – it wasn’t fair!
“Stradivarius has been a two-mile plus horse for the last three years and, dropping in trip, I thought it was a good effort.
“It goes without saying that he’s the horse I’m most looking forward to riding at the meeting. He’s 2-1 on, won two Gold Cups, he’s one of the yard favourites, and he’s one of my favourites.”
The Martyn Meade-trained Technician rounded off last season with a couple of big wins in France, including a Group One success on his latest appearance in the Prix Royal-Oak at ParisLongchamp in late October.
Meade said: “He’s raring to go and in top form. He seems very well in himself at home and has had a straightforward preparation, with this being a big target.
“It looks like he’ll get his ground, which is great. There’s obviously Stradivarius in there, but you want a good race and it gives us something to aim at.
“It’s our first run of the year, but the only real option was the Coronation Cup and I’m glad we didn’t run there as the last thing we’d have wanted was for him to have a hard race.
“We’ve been able to keep him up to his work at home and all being well he’s going to Ascot at the top of his game.”
Charlie Appleby saddles the 2018 Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter, who was not too far behind Stradivarius at Ascot and Goodwood last summer, as well as Moonlight Spirit, who runs for the first time since being gelded.
Interestingly, William Buick has sided with Moonlight Spirit, leaving James Doyle to partner Cross Counter.
“Stradivarius is the ultimate professional and I thought he ran a lovely race in the Coronation Cup. We’ve all got him to beat but, as we all know, it’s all about who turns up with their A-game on the day,” said Appleby, who trains Coronation Cup winner Ghaiyyath.
“Moonlight Spirit has got a progressive profile and William will ride him on the back of that. He’s not exactly a young pretender, but he’s open hopefully to more improvement. He’s by Dubawi and you don’t need me to tell you what they (his progeny) do as they get older.”
Cross Counter was last seen finishing fifth when favourite for the Longines Turf Handicap on the undercard of the Saudi Cup in Riyadh in late February.
Appleby added ahead of a race that forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series: “He went off favourite in Saudi Arabia, but I was pleased with that that run as he was fresh, carrying top weight and up in the van in a race where they went a decent gallop. He just got a bit tired.
“I was confident he was always going to come forwards and (Dubai) World Cup night (which was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic) was our target.
“We’ve eased back and built him up again since then. We are back on level weights and hoping his run style will be more relaxed.”
Mark Johnston has booked Ryan Moore to partner his recent Sagaro Stakes victor Nayef Road, while Charlie Fellowes runs his globetrotting stable star Prince Of Arran, who was a shade over two lengths behind Nayef Road at Newcastle last time.
Roger Charlton’s Northumberland Plate and Cesarewitch scorer Withhold and Mekong from Jamie Osborne’s yard are the other hopefuls.