GB: Supreme stayer Stradivarius faces probably the “greatest challenge” of his career according to trainer John Gosden as he bids for a slice of history with a fourth successive victory in the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup on Tuesday.
The two-mile Goodwood showpiece, which forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series, was first run in 1812 but only Double Trigger (1995, 1997 and 1998) and Stradivarius have won it on three occasions.
The latter now has the opportunity to raise the bar higher – just 72 hours after his stablemate, Enable, became the first horse to win three editions of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot.
However, the six-year-old faces an intriguing new rival half his age in the shape of Irish Derby winner Santiago, who as a three-year-old receives 15lb from the hot favourite – a weight concession Stradivarius himself put to good use when beating Big Orange for his first Goodwood Cup win in 2017.
“When you put the lead on those saddles and you’re going two miles with it, it’s a bundle of weight,” mused Gosden. “I personally think it’s the greatest challenge probably of his life.”
Third to Ghaiyyath in the Coronation Cup on his return at Newmarket last month, when dropping to a mile and a half, Stradivairus looked better than ever when winning a third Gold Cup by ten lengths on rain-softened ground at Royal Ascot.
“I was forced to run him in the Coronation when he was caught out by fitness rather than speed behind Ghaiyyath, who broke the track record,” said Gosden, speaking to the Qipco British Champions series media team.
‘Somebody told me we equalled the track record in third with Anthony Van Dyck pretty well close beside us. He has the ability to be a mile and a half horse but he met a horse who had won in Dubai and who was in top form.
“At Ascot, he seemed to handle the soft ground well,” Gosden went on. “It surprised me because he has quite small feet and a quick, easy action. Did the race have its normal depth? Probably not, but he showed great style and quickened well.”
Chief rival Santiago won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot only eight days before his Classic success at the Curragh. The St Leger is his longer-term target; Stradivarius was third in the Doncaster race after winning at Goodwood as a three-year-old.
“We always thought that the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup is a race that would suit him,” said Santiago’s trainer Aidan O’Brien.
“We’ve always viewed him as a Cup horse for next year and that two miles would be well within his grasp as a three-year-old.
“He stayed the mile and six very well at Ascot and then we went to the Irish Derby at the Curragh, where you have to get the mile and a half very well.
“He’s a very exciting horse who is easy to train. We think we will learn a lot about him and that the horse will learn a lot about himself. If everything goes well he will go from here straight to the St Leger.”
Double Trigger’s trainer Mark Johnston will be represented by Nayef Road, who won the Gordon Stakes at the Qatar Goodwood Festival last year before finishing third in the St Leger. The Galileo colt landed the Sagaro Stakes on his return this year before chasing home Stradivarius in the Gold Cup last month.