John Gosden and Frankie Dettori's views on Gold Cup favourite Stradivarius
4.15 Royal Ascot
Gold Cup (Group 1) | 2m4f | 4yo+ | ITV/Sky
Out of all the scenarios the team behind Stradivarius could have envisaged as they scrupulously planned for their star stayer's tilt at a record-equalling fourth Gold Cup, a deluge of rain before the race was perhaps the last thing in their minds.
Yet after two scorching days at Ascot, a yellow weather warning for thunderstorms has been issued by the Met Office that covers the entirety of Thursday, which was plainly not the image joint-trainer John Gosden had in mind for Stradivarius as he attempts to match Gold Cup legend Yeats, winner of the royal meeting's signature race four times in a row from 2006.
"The more of this rain that is forecast to fall, the more it compromises his chances," said Gosden. "We all wanted to see him on summer ground which he hasn't raced on at Ascot for a long time and it's just a shame the race wasn't on Wednesday.
"He has shown in the past he can handle soft but it's not his favourite and it brings others into the equation who prefer those conditions. We'll take our chance and we'll see if he can match Yeats, but we could have done without it."
Rain is not a disaster for Stradivarius, two of his three Gold Cups were won on soft ground, but it is the imponderable of how much rain might fall that is the worry.
Although the ground was officially soft on Champions Day in October, it was proper autumn ground and Stradivarius was never at the races as he finished a distant 12th of 13. His only try on heavy came on his previous start when he finished seventh in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Those defeats left him with questions to answer going into this season but he looked full of verve when scoring in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in April and he now has the chance to go one better than Sagaro himself, who won three Gold Cups in succession from 1975.
Gosden added: "He's in great form and has pleased us in his preparation and he's had a perfect run into the race. He went the Sagaro route this year which he won well and we were very happy with his piece of work on the July course last week."
The seven-year-old's jockey Frankie Dettori is equally pleased with his homework but admits he is nervous before his mount's record-equalling bid.
Dettori, who recorded his 75th winner at the royal meeting on Wednesday, said: "I'm not lying, I'm nervous. I'm not going to get over-excited, I have a job to do. It's a lot more runners than I thought, a couple of horses I haven't met before and then the question mark of the race, so it's a lot of things to worry about.
"He still has to turn up. I'm very pleased with the horse, his homework has been good, his demeanour is good. We're trying to do something that's rare, only Yeats has done it, so I'm not going to count my chickens yet. I've still got to go out there and me and him have to go out there and perform our very best and get over the line.
"It's a big milestone. I was nervous when I rode Enable in her third Arc, I was nervous with Palace Pier, but nervous is good, nervous means that you care, that you still have your eye on the ball. I know how to channel my emotions and hopefully I channel them in the right way."
Johnston bidding for his own four-timer
Stradivarius is not the only one going for a fourth Gold Cup win, with Britain's winning-most trainer Mark Johnston bidding for his own four-timer after landing the race in 1995 with Double Trigger and in both 2001 and 2002 with Royal Rebel.
This time he saddles Nayef Road, who finished just a length behind Stradivarius in last season's Goodwood Cup, and the hugely exciting Subjectivist, a Group 1 winner in last season's Prix Royal-Oak and last seen in action waltzing away with the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan in March.
"Subjectivist's last two runs have been the best of his life and he looks to be both tremendously progressive and so much better at two miles than at shorter trips," Johnston told Qipco British Champions Series.
"That’s why we hold out so much hope that Subjectivist might be the biggest threat to Stradivarius in the last couple of years. He’s obviously not been beyond two miles, but we are pretty confident he’ll stay.
"Nayef Road is going to Ascot on the back of two disappointing performances but while his second in the Gold Cup last year was with cut in the ground, we had previously always thought he was better on fast ground."
He added: "Give in the ground wouldn’t worry Subjectivist, as it was heavy in France and until he went to Dubai the doubt was whether he could handle fast ground. You’d have to say he was even better on it.”
What they say
Andrew Balding, trainer of Spanish Mission
It's a really intriguing race but Spanish Mission is in great form. It's another two furlongs further than the Doncaster Cup, which he won last year, but I'd be hopeful that he'll stay. I thought it was a really good effort at York but he faces some mighty opponents here in the likes of Stradivarius, Subjectivist, and Santiago, not to mention Serpentine, who I wasn't expecting.
Joseph O'Brien, trainer of Twilight Payment
He's performed with credit so far this year and we think he's coming to himself. In an ideal world, we'd prefer it if the rain didn't arrive for him because he's much better on better ground.
Aidan O'Brien, trainer of Amhran Na Bhfiann, Santiago and Serpentine
Santiago has been trained for the race and has had the two runs. We are not sure about the trip, which you can't be when they haven't tried it, but he's in good form. Amhran Na Bhfiann has been trained for this as well. We always thought he would stay. He was a little bit lazy and was gawking and looking at everything in the Saval Beg Stakes. That's why we are putting the blinkers on him here. We would have liked to have got two runs into Serpentine but we always thought he'd stay much further than a mile and a half so we're going to find out here.
Donnacha O'Brien, trainer of Emperor Of The Sun
He put in a career-best in the Saval Beg at Leopardstown and I think that puts him in the frame for the Gold Cup. He's in good form and I think the step up in trip will suit him. Any rain that falls will be no harm either. He's uncomplicated so we're hoping for a big run.
Tony Mullins, trainer of Princess Zoe
There is rain forecast but if it doesn't arrive she won't run. She's fighting fit but we need cut in the ground. I see no reason why we won't be fighting out the finish as long as the rain arrives.
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