Royal Ascot Legends – Stradivarius
One of the biggest and most enduring names in modern flat racing, STRADIVARIUS returns for a fifth crack at the Gold Cup. Victorious in his first three attempts at the race, Bjorn Nielsen’s star stayer will be in revenge mode after a first defeat last year.
We have delved into his history and affinity with Royal Ascot below, alongside a preview of his chances of claiming a record-equalling fourth Gold Cup.
2017 Queen’s Vase – Result: 1st 11/2
Given the extraordinary ten-race unbeaten run Stradivarius racked up between May 2018 and September 2019, it may surprise some that he arrived for his first Royal Ascot race in 2017 having won only two of his first five starts.
Being by the great Sea The Stars, stamina was always likely to be one of his fortes. He was defeated over 1m on his first pair of starts at two, before getting off the mark at Newcastle.
A follow-up success off a mark of just 78 opened his three-year-old campaign, before a narrow defeat at Chester over 1m4f. Despite being overhauled late on, trainer John Gosden decided to step him up further in trip at Ascot. Thank goodness he did.
In the absence of Frankie Dettori, Andrea Atzeni initially looked short of room turning in, but once extracted from that tight spot, he powered home late to deny Count Octave by a neck.
Atzeni would ride Stradivarius once more, but all bar three of his rides since have gone to Frankie Dettori, with whom he would launch a near five-year love affair.
2018 Gold Cup – Result: 1st 7/4J
After that Queen’s Vase success, a first Group 1 arrived in the 2m Goodwood Cup at the beginning of August, in which he downed that year’s Gold Cup hero Big Orange.
Defeats in a vintage renewal of the St Leger and the British Champions Long Distance Cup to conclude that season would be his last for nearly two years. He reappeared in 2018 with an easy success in the Yorkshire Cup before his own first tilt at the Gold Cup.
Sent off joint favourite with the previous year’s runner-up Order Of St George, Stradivarius was kept in behind the leaders by Frankie Dettori until the field swung for home. From there, he and the French raider Vazirabad swooped past Aidan O’Brien’s charge, as well as the gallant Torcedor, before Stradivarius asserted close home.
That victory ensured a second Group 1 prize and was arguably more impressive for having returned lame afterwards. Had he not galloped through the pain barrier, his Ascot dynasty may never have begun.
2019 Gold Cup – Result: 1st EvsF
In 2018, Stradivarius was still somewhat of a rising force prior to his first Gold Cup success. By 2019, he was top of the tree and very much the one they all wanted to beat.
The target on his back owed much to him continuing his exceptional undefeated streak. Before his second Gold Cup appearance, he had won six races on the bounce, including his first British Champions and Lonsdale Cup victories, as well as a second Goodwood Cup.
His main market rivals in this edition of the Gold Cup were from entirely different backgrounds. Cross Counter had won the previous year’s Melbourne Cup, as well as the Dubai Gold Cup in March, while Dee Ex Bee had been second in the 2018 Epsom Derby.
Nevertheless, Stradivarius proved a class apart, travelling strongly in behind the leaders as is his custom. With 66/1 outsider Master Of Reality setting out to catch Dee Ex Bee for the lead, Strad switched outside and took control inside the final furlong.
This was the most professional of his Gold Cup wins, a decisive move securing success when he may not have had the clearest of runs. The most bombastic, however, was still to come.
2020 Gold Cup – Result: 1st 4/5F
The Stradivari family’s legacy rests with their violins. Their most famous, known fittingly as the “Messiah”, is their piece de resistance and in the 2020 Gold Cup, the horse named after the family produced a truly messianic performance of his own.
Yet it came after Stradivarius had recorded an uncharacteristic pair of back-to-back defeats. His long unbeaten run had been ended by Kew Gardens in a pulsating finish to the 2020 British Champions Long Distance Cup, while an attempt back in trip over 1m4f in Newmarket’s edition of the Coronation Cup resulted in him finishing only third to Ghaiyyath.
Punters tended to disregard those defeats and the 2020 Gold Cup field was not a vintage one. In hindsight, it was remarkable that Strad was able to drift to nearly even money before the off, with Hughie Morrison’s Technician well-supported against him.
In the race itself, Technician was spent before turning for home and unlike in past renewals, Stradivarius would not have had to come off the bridle. With the freedom of Ascot ahead of him as he coasted alongside the pacesetting Nayef Road, Frankie Dettori decided to press the accelerator.
Despite having put 2m2f behind him on soft ground, Stradivarius motored into overdrive. By the time Simon Holt proclaimed his famous “three Gold Cups!” line in the commentary box, the chestnut champion was fully ten lengths clear of the vanquished.
2021 Gold Cup – Result: 4th 5/6F
Despite his utter domination of the 2020 Gold Cup, that win was one of only two that year for Stradivarius. He would complete his hat-trick in the Goodwood Cup as well, but connections were dreaming of a different piece of history.
The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was to be his late-season aim. Despite the Gosden yard possessing Enable in her quest for a third win in the race, Stradivarius would also take his chance in Europe’s showpiece event. However, the pace proved too frenetic for the six-year-old and he could finish only seventh behind Sottsass with Enable and Frankie Dettori only narrowly ahead of him.
His most competitive season yet appeared to have burned him out when tailed off at Ascot to conclude the season, but he proved that he was far from finished on his 2021 return. Though he was unable to produce quite as many fireworks as in his 2020 Gold Cup victory, he still cruised to success in the Sagaro Stakes.
With new star Trueshan absent due to the good-to-firm ground, Stradivarius was well-supported. However, where in the past he had been able to switch off the rail to challenge, Frankie Dettori found any escape routes blocked.
By the time Stradivarius could unleash his challenge, the four-year-old Subjectivist had raced away on the front end to a clear-cut success.
2022 Gold Cup – Result ?
Trueshan may well provide a significant challenge again if the ground remains on the softer side of good, but the main market rival and favourite in some places is Kyprios for Aidan O’Brien.
He has had only had six career runs, four of which have been successful. His most recent two efforts over 1m6f have been his best yet and the step up to 2m4f could easily suit too.
Other rivals may include Scope, a Group 1 winner last term over 1m7½f, last year’s Derby runner-up Mojo Star and the admirable grey mare Princess Zoe.