John Gosden’s star stayer Stradivarius has a hundred per cent record at the Knavesmire having won all five times he has appeared at the Yorkshire venue – and this is stage one of the eight-year-old’s quest for a fourth Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
The three-time winner of the premier staying prize could only finish fourth behind Subjectivist at the Royal meeting in 2021 and having seen Trueshan announce himself as a real contender for his long-distance crown in the latter half of last season, will be keen to show there is still plenty of life in his eight-year-old legs.
His handler has outlined a three-race programme for him in what could be his final season, beginning on Friday, before moving onto Ascot, then Goodwood, and revealed how everything done at home by the Clarehaven team is to ensure their stable favourite hits the track in top form.
“It’s a very different thing training an eight-year-old full horse as to training an eight-year-old gelding. He’s an eight-year-old stallion if you like – and to that extent I try and do everything right by the horse,” explained Gosden.
“He still enjoys his training but he knows it all backwards now. Rather like an old prize fighter coming back into the ring, it’s the getting fit and up for the fight – it’s not as easy as it used to be when he was younger. So, I would expect him to be benefitting from the race.
“I’m certainly not giving him hard, hard works at home – he’s too old for that. To that extent I don’t want everyone there thinking he’s going to necessarily go and win another Yorkshire Cup. I’d just like to see him run a race that acts as a platform going forward and chose this race because it’s closer to Royal Ascot rather than going to the Sagaro, which we did last year.”
Brian Ellison is confident Tashkhan will have improved for his outing in the Sagaro Stakes and is another using this race as a platform for the Gold Cup.
He said: “He has improved since then (Ascot), he needed the run. Obviously one-mile-six on good ground might be sharp enough for him, but it’s a stepping stone for the Ascot Gold Cup – it’s his one race before then.”
Max Vega was somewhat unlucky to only finish fifth over track and trip in the Ebor last year, but Ralph Beckett is hoping he can set the record straight having decided to run his game five-year-old in this Group Two contest rather than the Aston Park Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.
He landed the John Porter at Newbury on his seasonal bow and his handler is hoping for another positive showing.
“It’s a track he likes and you can make a case for him being unlucky in the Ebor last year. He’s in good form, I would prefer a bit more rain, but it’s a good pot and he would have a penalty to carry in the Aston Park, so we’ve decided to come here instead,” said Beckett.
“He’s going to be up against it with the opposition, but he will pick up a cheque and is syndicate owned. He’s a fun horse and there to run.”
Thunderous makes a quick return to the track having made a bold bid from the front in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester last week. Mark and Charlie Johnston’s former Dante winner was beaten less than a length by Hamish and is given another chance to excel over an extended trip.
Harry Herbert, managing director for owners Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, said: “At Chester he completely turned around the Newbury effort, which is very typical of him as he can be very sluggish in his first race of the year, the same thing happened last year before he got injured.
“Charlie and Mark have reported that he has bounced out of that well, so looking at this race, we are very keen to go a mile and six with him and when you look at the race, it is one where if he takes a step up on all fronts, he could run into a place and there’s plenty of prize-money on offer.
“There’s question marks about all of them, obviously if John Gosden’s horse comes back on form he’d be the very likely winner, but it’s another year on and fitness counts for a lot, especially over this trip, and it smells like the right spot for Thunderous.
“He loves that track, he’s won a Dante there, the poor horse has just been plagued by one or two serious injuries which he has made a fantastic recovery from. We’re really hoping that this season we get a clear run with him and this run will tell us a lot more about the trip as well, I would be surprised if it doesn’t suit him. He’s got quite a few northern owners, so it will be great to have a runner at York in such a prestigious race.”
The field is completed by Irish raider Search For A Song, with the dual Irish St Leger heroine looking to better her second in the Vintage Crop Stakes at Naas last month.