Sky Sports Racing’s Zoey Bird casts her eye over the Ascot Gold Cup field as three-time winner Stradivarius returns for another day in the sun.
The Ascot Gold Cup is the centrepiece of the entire Royal Meeting and has an illustrious roll call dating back to 1807.
Since then, several horses have won the race twice, including the great stayers Ardross and Le Moss and in more recent times Drum Taps and Royal Rebel, but very few have won this marathon test three times like Sagaro and Stradivarius, and even less have won it on four occasions, with the iconic stayer Yeats being the only horse to have achieved this incredible feat.
However, matching Yeats’ record of four victories is still a possibility for Stradivarius, as his owner Bjorn Nielson said: “he’s not done yet”.
But to equal Yeats’ tally, Stradivarius will need to regain his crown having relinquished it last year to Subjectivist and, to my knowledge, no horse has ever managed to achieve that feat in the race’s long history.
But with Trueshan unlikely to line up for this year’s renewal on account of the quick ground, Stradivarius’ task of winning has definitely been made that bit easier. His main rivals are likely to be the new kid on the block in Kyprios and the proven globe-trotting stayer Princess Zoe.
Jockey: Saffie Osborne; Trainer: Jamie Osborne
Alignak falls into the ‘tested but not fully tried’ category of older horses in this race, as despite competing at Group Two level in Dubai, when not coming up too far short in their Gold Cup back in March, at the age of six he still hasn’t been fully tested over further than two miles.
The son on Sea The Moon has, however, run over the trip on the all-weather at Newcastle and he certainly looked to stay that day when running on late, only beaten a length at the line.
He also finished strongly in Dubai, having swung widest on the bend, and may just enjoy the Gold Cup test, with trainer Jamie Osbourne being very adept in prepping horses for this contest, the most notable being Geordieland who finished runner-up twice behind the mighty Yeats.
Liam Keniry; Nigel Twiston-Davies
At eight years of age and having spent most of his life racing over obstacles, Earlofthecotswolds is certainly an unlikely contender for the Gold Cup, let alone a likely winner of one. However, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ son Willie has done a great job of reviving this lad for the all-weather, having risen through the ranks to win the Marathon Final over two miles at Newcastle in April.
He has plenty to find with the leading contenders, and just over a stone to find on official ratings, and although he stays today’s trip over hurdles and fences, two-and-a-half miles on the level up against top-class rivals is more than likely to find him out. The likely front-runner in this, he will no doubt do his best to lead the field for as long as possible.
Frankie Dettori; John and Thady Gosden
So first and foremost this race revolves around Stradivarius; are you with him, like many of us have been for years in this race, or are you now against him? The stats are clearly not in his favour as I have already explained, but you can’t get away from the fact that he simply loves the nature of the Gold Cup and the unique test it presents.
The way he has travelled through the race in all his previous victories, then accelerated away at the business end, has been nothing short of extraordinary.
But then came last year’s defeat, where he seemingly lacked his usual ‘va-va-voom’, although he was given far too much to do and, as a result, got stuck in several pockets.
There were some encouraging signs on his seasonal return at York when winning his third Yorkshire Cup, where he hit his customary flat spot before showing us that he still retains a race-ending turn of foot.
It may have lacked its previous potency, but then we shouldn’t forget that was just a dress rehearsal for this week and his main play, where two-and-a-half miles on quick ground tends to see Stradivarius hold all the aces.
Hollie Doyle; Alan King
Arguably the best stayer out there having won the Goodwood Cup, the Prix du Cadran at ParisLongchamp and Long Distance Cup here last season, but unfortunately very unlikely to line up on account of the fast ground conditions.
His trainer Alan King has said: “Unless the weather breaks, he won’t run.”
Ryan Moore; Aidan O’Brien
It’s almost time to see what Aidan O’Brien has up his sleeve with Kyprios, his sole representative in this Group One contest.
I backed the four-year-old in the Lingfield Derby Trial last year on the strength of his rich staying pedigree but, unfortunately, he was all at sea that day, before we were denied the opportunity to see him fulfil his potential when stepping up in trip in the Queen’s Vase as he was withdrawn at the start. Then, that was it, his season was finished.
This year has gone far smoother and the step up to a-mile-and-three-quarters has suited Kyprios down to the ground, winning the Vintage Crop Stakes comfortably when beating sister Search For A Song, before looking very impressive in the Saval Beg, winning in the style of a potentially smart stayer.
The son of Galileo will of course be stepping into the unknown when tackling two-and-a-half miles for the first time, but he has the right mix of stamina and speed in his pedigree – being from the family of Prince of Wales winner Free Eagle – to think he will enjoy the unique nature of this test.
I can potentially see him coming up trumps here for the Gold Cup’s leading trainer and provide Aidan O’Brien with a record-extending eighth win in this very special race.
Rossa Ryan; Richard Hannon
Mojo Star is without doubt the dark horse in the race and indeed a fascinating runner. We know he has the class to hold his own at the top level having been placed in two Classics, with a second in the Derby and the St Leger last year, and arguably boasts the strongest form in the race, Stradivarius aside.
However, he is the only horse in the line-up – even at the entry stage – that we haven’t seen so far this season, and that has to be a major concern. It’s hard enough to get sprinters ready for a big target but getting a colt ready for one of the world’s biggest staying races without a prep run is almost unheard of.
Having comfortably stayed a-mile-and-three-quarters as a three-year-old though does give you plenty of hope that he will stay further at the age of four; there would be little doubt over two miles, but two-and-a-half is a big question first time up and therefore, in my mind, he is still a big gamble in regard to winning the race.
Ben Robinson; Brian Ellison
Although Tashkhan is still just a four-year-old, it seems like he’s been around a fair bit longer, and so on the one hand you could look at him as being relatively exposed, but on the other, you could say he has invaluable experience, something that fellow four-year-old Kyprios certainly lacks.
But the pair have had very different careers thus far, with Tashkhan rising through the handicap ranks last year when running nine times, whereas we barely saw Aidan O’Brien’s charge at all.
Tashkhan may not have the most obvious profile for a Gold Cup winner, but he is likely to stay this trip based on some of his previous performances over two miles.
Although to be seen at his best, the Brian Ellison-trained gelding really needs a strong gallop to aim at, which I’m not certain he’ll get here.
Gerald Mosse; Mikel Delzangles
Despite mares not having a great record in the Gold Cup, this renewal has attracted three of them, including Bubble Smart from France. Last year, the Mikel Delzangles-trained mare progressed through the handicap ranks, winning three times as a four-year-old and wrapping up her season with a Group Three victory and a decent third over this trip in the Prix Du Cadran behind Trueshan.
Her comeback run at ParisLongchamp was encouraging and the step back up in trip will definitely play to her strengths. Of all the mares in the race, I think she has the class to win a Gold Cup, however, she doesn’t have the conditions to suit.
Bubble Smart has won on good-ish ground but I’m struggling to see, from both her form and pedigree, that she will really enjoy the quick ground she’s going to encounter on Thursday afternoon.
William Buick; Willie Mullins
Willie Mullins runs his mare Burning Victory, who since winning the 2020 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival has been rather disappointing over hurdles, winning just once in seven starts. However, her flat campaign has been a different story.
The daughter of Nathaniel has won two valuable handicaps in France and finished second in the Cesarewitch over two-and-a-quarter-miles.
The trip therefore isn’t a concern, but her lack of class certainly is – on official ratings, she falls almost a stone behind Stradivarius. She also has the other statistical handicap of being a mare in this contest and as they don’t have an especially good record in the race, she would need to produce something out of the ordinary to win here.
Joey Sheridan; Tony Mullins
At the age of seven, Princess Zoe may not have the scope or potential of some of her younger rivals, but she posted a smart return at Ascot in the Sagaro Stakes and was second to Subjectivist in last year’s renewal, when arguably in nowhere near as good form as she is this time around.
Chatting to her trainer Tony Mullins, he said: “Some rain would have been preferable,” but she is now proven on quick ground over two-and-a-half-miles, unlike almost all her rivals – Stradivarius aside of course.
The thing about this mare is she is game and tough, and when some of the others have cried enough, Princess Zoe will be there at the death. As for winning, well, the history books tell us mares don’t prevail as often as the colts and geldings, however, some of the very special ones do, and of course Estimate is testament to that.
Zoey Bird’s verdict…
The sun is shining, the stars appear to be aligning, and I think STRADIVARIUS can win a fourth Gold Cup, and here’s why…
This year’s Gold Cup sees a smaller field head to post and they are set to encounter quick ground, on which I think they’re unlikely to go too crazy early on, which will allow Frankie to sit a bit closer to the pace.
I can see this year’s race turning into a real test of speed, which should find out the grinders in the race, and the horses with more tactical speed, like Stradivarius and possibly his main rival Kyprios, will have the turn of foot and class to prevail at the finish.
The mighty Yeats was eight when he landed his fourth and final Gold Cup, and wouldn’t it be something if Stradivarius could do the same.