By Jon Lees
GB: Stradivarius, the outstanding stayer of the 21st century, has a chance to show the qualities that owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen believes set him apart when his star takes a key step on his path to the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday.
The triple Gold Cup winner has netted more than £2.8 million and won 15 of his 22 starts – yet none over the 1m4f trip which he tackles for only the third time in the Prix Foy at ParisLongchamp.
It’s an important test for the John Gosden-trained six-year-old, who was taken off the Cup circuit after winning an historic fourth Goodwood Cup in July to be trained exclusively for Europe’s richest race in October and a first clash with his illustrious stablemate, the dual Arc winner Enable.
Among Stradivarius’s rivals are last year’s Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck – one place ahead when the pair were second and third to Ghaiyyath in the Coronation Cup – plus Way To Paris, France’s leading middle-distance horse this year.
However, the challenge is one Nielsen believes his horse should be equal to. “He has plenty of speed,” said Nielsen, 63.
“He has run some very fast three-furlong times. In fact he ran the fastest three-furlong time the same day that Roaring Lion and Cracksman ran at Ascot, and he has consistently done that on the big-race days.
“If they run it slowly, he can quicken, it’s not a problem, and if they run it fast, we know he stays. John tells me he is very sharp and very well. We are obviously hoping for a big run.”
An Arc tilt was discussed for Stradivarius last year but pursuing the £1m Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ bonus, which he won two years running, took precedence.
With no bonus this year the decision was taken to miss the Lonsdale Cup at York to give Gosden more time to prepare Stradivarius for the Arc.
Though committed to Enable, Dettori will be aboard Stradivarius in the Foy but the identity of his Arc partner is up in the air.
“Andrea Atzeni would be the natural choice but with quarantine it may not be possible,” said the owner. “He would have to have eight days off and miss that big Newmarket meeting with the Fillies’ Mile and races like that.
“There are other good jockeys around, but first things first – he has to run and win the Foy and do it well to go forward. We can figure that out afterwards.”
Nielsen’s only previous runner in the Arc, the 2011 St Leger winner Masked Marvel, finished last. “That was a little bit of an afterthought,” he said. “This is not an afterthought. This was the plan.
“There is nobody in the game who wouldn’t want to win an Arc. It’s the biggest all-aged race over that Classic distance in the world. The only other race that would compare, and it’s a three-year-old race, is the Derby.”
Nielsen had hopes of winning the Derby this year with English King. Things didn’t work out at Epsom but the Ed Walker-trained colt seeks to make his G1 breakthrough in the Grand Prix de Paris.
“He is training as well as he’s ever trained, better than he was before Lingfield,” he said. “We all know that Epsom was a tricky contest with the draw and everything else, taking nothing away from Emmet McNamara who rode a brilliant race on Serpentine.
“The only blip was Goodwood where he was a bit out of his ground early and didn’t act on the course. We think he has a very big chance.”
The Arc is an unlikely goal for English King but Stradivarius could be lining up next month as one of the lead males against Love, Enable and Raabihah, three top-class fillies.
Nielsen is loath to predict an outcome, saying: “His distance has been one and three quarters miles up to two and a half, but he is a very unusual horse in that there have been no stayers that I can think of, except for Sagaro, who had a turn of foot like he does.
“That’s what sets him apart,” the owner went on. “Like I said, on his three- furlong times I think he would have been a length behind Mohaather in the Sussex Stakes and Stradivarius ran on softer ground the day before. The horse is very unusual.
“Would I expect him to run a big race? Yes, because that’s what he does. He’s all heart, he doesn’t waste any energy because he is a very relaxed horse. When you need to switch him to top gear he comes running.
“So I’d expect him to run a big race in the Arc but I’d never go there thinking he would win. Could it happen? He’s 12 or 14-1 so it doesn’t look like people think it is out of the question.”
Arc betting (Ladbrokes): 15-8 Love, 5-2 Enable, 6 Ghaiyyath, 10 Raabihah, 12 Serpentine, 14 Stradivarius, 16 Fancy Blue, 20 bar