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Stradivarius and Trueshan take to the stage again in classy Champions Day opener

Stradivarius and Trueshan: old foes do battle in the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day
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Saturday: 1.25 Ascot
Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup (Group 2) | 2m | 3yo+ | ITV/Sky

The starting prices returned by winners of the Long Distance Cup since it took on this form in 2011 may not immediately catch the eye. There were a couple of short-priced winners, three at double-figure odds but mostly horses at the sort of odds most punters would regard as findable.

Within the stayers' division, this race is a graveyard of champions. Stradivarius was beaten at 8-13 and 11-10, while Order Of St George was turned over at 4-6 in 2016. The race is yet to have a multiple winner under its current name, despite the tendency in the division to have room for only one top-class performer at a time.

Prevailing wisdom would have it that the race is one of those Bermuda Triangle formlines on bad ground at the tail end of the season. That overstates the ground that tends to prevail on British Champions Day. While six of the ten have been on soft or heavy going, two were on good and a further two on good to soft, which is how Ascot's ground is described at the time of writing.

The end-of-season theory holds a little more weight and while you might assume that would favour Trueshan, who was seemingly forever being pulled out of races this year, in fact Stradivarius has run only once more in 2021.

What is fairly unique is that they both ran just a fortnight ago, in the Prix du Cadran that Trueshan won emphatically. If ever recovery was going to be a shock-inducing issue in the Long Distance Cup, it is now.

The competition has ground to make up but is not exactly leagues behind with runners like Baron Samedi holding form that is up to the ten-year-average of winners in this race. 

If freshness is a concern, Hamish must go near the top of the shortlist with only two runs since being beaten a neck by Trueshan almost two years ago. He took down Hukum last time, who had excuses, but it remains likely we are yet to see the best of Hamish.

As is often the case in these races, pace will be in the hands of the O'Brien runners. The Mediterranean and Master Of Reality have both been known to cut out the pace, while the Andrew Balding-trained Berkshire Rocco has also led in the past and is now fitted with cheekpieces. A well-run Long Distance Cup away from the mud certainly would make a change from the norm.
Keith Melrose, betting editor


Another tune from Stradivarius?

A fifth consecutive appearance on Champions Day by Stradivarius must be some sort of record but it looked unlikely in the immediate aftermath of his defeat by Trueshan in the Cadran at Longchamp a fortnight ago.

With the Gosden talisman not in love with the soft ground that day and Frankie Dettori easy enough on him in the straight, the decision was taken to let the three-time Ascot Gold Cup winner bid to match his previous victory in 2018.

In an ideal world, Stradivarius would have skipped Longchamp all together but connections were fearful of a soft Champions day, so let the seven-year-old take his chance in Paris.

Joint-trainer John Gosden said: "I'll be walking the course on Friday afternoon but I'm very hopeful Stradivarius will be running and I'm sure everyone wants to see him. He's won three out of five races this year and on the two occasions he was beaten, once it was because of the wrong tactics [Ascot Gold Cup] and the other by the Longchamp ground. He's been in good form this year and he's taken the race well considering it was only two weeks ago."


Doyle back aboard Trueshan

Hollie Doyle is back on Trueshan after a ban kept her from the ride in the Cadran, when James Doyle stepped in to guide the five-year-old to victory. 

Last year's runaway winner previously won the Group 1 Goodwood Cup in the hands of Doyle, when Stradivarius was a late absentee owing to the soft ground.

There are concerns the going might not be as testing as Trueshan would prefer after the unusually dry run up to the meeting, but Doyle is hopeful of another good show.

Trueshan gets the better of Stradivarius at Longchamp two weeks ago under James Doyle

She said: "It's great to be back on him as it was a bit frustrating watching him win in France whilst I was banned. He won this race by a long way last year and if the French race hasn't left its mark he should be very competitive again."

Trainer Alan King said: "Two weeks isn't ideal and I would prefer another week but we haven't got that. I'd run him on good ground and I can't see it getting any quicker than that. Everyone's happy with him and it's his last run of the season, so if it does come too quick he's got all winter to get over it."


What they say

Joseph O'Brien, trainer of Baron Samedi and Master Of Reality
I think Baron Samedi has a live each-way chance after a good run in the Irish St Leger. He has a good draw and we're looking forward to seeing how he gets on. Master Of Reality is a solid horse. For some reason he hasn't quite performed to his best at the Curragh but he's been pretty consistent elsewhere. He's in good nick. It looks a tough race but hopefully he has a chance of getting some prize money.

Andrew Balding trainer of Berkshire Rocco
The Long Distance Cup was always the aim for Berkshire Rocco and we've kept him fresh for it. He's hopefully going to go there in good form and some of them had hard races in France.

William Haggas, trainer of Hamish and Roberto Escobarr
Hamish is fine. His preparation for this race has gone very well. He's never run over two miles but I'm pretty sure he'll stay. He should enjoy the ground and has a chance in what is a proper race. Roberto Escobarr is well also but the ground will be a bit dead for him, so we're putting on the cheekpieces and tongue-tie to help him.

Aidan O'Brien, trainer of The Mediterranean
He was third in the British St Leger and second at the Curragh after that. He seems in good form. We think two miles would suit him well.
Reporting by David Milnes


Next race off:

2.00 Ascot: 'He does everything easily' – Starman absence means sprint crown is up for grabs


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He's been in very good form this year and he's taken the race very well considering it was only two weeks ago
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