Owner Bjorn Nielsen has become accustomed to going racing expecting Stradivarius to win during the chestnut’s long reign as Britain’s outstanding stayer, but things are a little different now as the seven-year-old bids for an unprecedented fifth straight win in today’s Gr1 Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup, the latest leg of this year’s QIPCO British Champions Series.
Stradivarius has been beaten on four of his last five starts – admittedly with mitigating factors in terms of distance, ground and most recently at Royal Ascot traffic issues following poor positioning – and he might well not have been favourite but for the injury incurred since by the runaway Gold Cup winner Subjectivist.
Nielsen therefore takes less for granted these days where Stradivarius is concerned, and he admits that it’s now one race at a time in terms of his racing career. That said, he is confident that while the much anticipated fourth straight Gold Cup win failed to materialise, this ought to be different – granted clear sailing.
He said: “Most of the time when you go racing as an owner you hope they run well, and you hope maybe they’ll win, but Stradivarius is that rarest of horse and it’s been the case since he won his first Gold Cup that you go there hoping he isn’t going to lose, so the feeling watching a race is the opposite to what it normally is.
“The way it is with him now is that he’s always the one they have to beat and they ride to beat him, so a lot of horses will be trying to make sure he doesn’t have a good run round. They are going to try to make it difficult for him and that’s what happened at Ascot. But if he’s out and about he’s going to win.”
Nielsen, who saw Stradivarius’ beating of recent Gold Cup and dual Goodwood Cup winner Big Orange for his first success in the race as “a changing of the guard”, added: “Stradivarius had worked very well before the Gold Cup and we were pretty confident he was going to run a huge race, but things just didn’t work out – no disrespect to Subjectivist, who was well trained, well ridden, and quickened up exactly as we were getting stopped.
“I was really looking forward to the rematch but we’ll never know now what might have happened. But Subjectivist wouldn’t have been that far ahead of us again turning in if he were here, I’m sure of that.
“There are still some very good horses there though, and any rain is going to suit Trueshan. We can’t underestimate Sir Ron Priestley either, who Mark Johnston has supplemented and is no slouch. You are always going to need some luck in running at Goodwood too – things have to go your way.”
Nielsen maintains that ‘summer’ soft ground is not a problem for Stradivarius, so the very heavy shower which hit Goodwood on Sunday morning and was estimated by clerk of the course Ed Arkell to have possibly brought as much as 10mm of rain hopefully won’t harm his chances too much.
However, it was certainly music to the ears of Alan King, whose Trueshan was a deeply impressive seven-and-a-half length winner in ‘autumn’ soft ground in the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October, when Stradivarius coped much less well.
On hearing news of the of the rain a delighted King said: “That’s very good news. I wasn’t expecting that much in the morning. I thought the rain that they’d already had would make it safe enough to run, but to see Trueshan at his best it’s a case of the more rain the better.”
King added: “Trueshan looked very good at Ascot on British Champions Day and we’ve been very pleased with him this year. I was very pleased I ran him at Newcastle in the Northumberland Plate, because you can’t keep these horses simmering away forever and he had a proper race there. Everything has gone very smoothly in the build up since and we’ll see what happens.”
Mark Johnston, a five-time winner of the Goodwood Cup, with Double Trigger (three times), Royal Rebel and Darasim, has paid £25,000 to supplement older half-brother Sir Ron Priestley to fly the flag in place of Subjectivist, and he also saddles last year’s length second Nayef Road. However, he is all too aware that neither represents quite the threat to Stradivarius that Subjectivist would have done.
Johnston described the injury suffered earlier this month by Subjectivist, who was ante-post favourite at the time, as “a huge blow”. The 2022 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot is the earliest possible race we might see him in next, he said, and his career will be over if he is sold in the meantime to one of the studs which are currently showing interest.
Subjectivist could hardly have been held in higher regard, for Johnston said: “I’d have put him alongside Attraction and Shamardal as one of the three best I’ve trained. He was one of those rare horses with which you weren’t really concerned about the opposition as he was better than anything out there, and I can’t obviously say the same about Nayef Road or even Sir Ron Priestley.”
He added: “We agonised over paying £25,000 to supplement Sir Ron Priestley and I had to convince myself I was doing it for the owner, not myself, as there’s some uncertainty about the trip. In the Yorkshire Cup it looked very much as if he didn’t stay, but it’s hard to equate that with his St Leger second or his Nottingham win, and at the beginning of the year we had no doubt he would stay two miles.
“The other worry is rain, but Charlie (son and assistant), rightly or wrongly, said that on good to firm ground he would put his house on the horse finishing in the first four, which is what we need to get the supplementary fee back.
“Nayef Road’s recent runs have been mixed, but in some of them he’s shown a glimmer of his best and he deserves to be there on past performance. I don’t think any of us would be surprised if he was in the shake up, but he’d need a personal best and Stradivarius to be below form if he were to win.”
Aidan O’Brien, who won two Goodwood Cups with Yeats, saddles last year’s Irish Derby winner Santiago, third inlast year’s Goodwood Cup, shock Epsom Derby winner Serpentine, who hasn’t finished closer than fourth in four races since Epsom, and recent Curragh Cup winner Amhran Na Bhfiann. However, all three were beaten a long way in the Gold Cup.
O’Brien said: “We think coming back to two miles will help Santiago. It was a very good run at Goodwood last year but we are not really sure he gets it (two miles) and he could have to go back to a mile and six or even a mile and a half. He’s been very well since Ascot, and I’m very happy with his work.
“Amrhan Na Bhfiann ran in the Gold Cup but has won over a mile and six since. He’s a horse we think likes to be ridden forward, although he doesn’t have to make the running and we’d be happier if he didn’t. He likes a strong tempo and we think coming back to two miles will suit. We maybe made too much use of him over the two and a half miles of the Gold Cup.”
Spanish Mission had Santiago, Sir Ron Priestley and Nayef Road behind when winning the Yorkshire Cup and went on to finish a very respectable third to Subjectivist in the Gold Cup, but trainer Andrew Balding is realistic about his prospects of beating an on-song Stradivarius.
He said: “This has been the plan for a long time and we are really pleased with him – we just wouldn’t want too much rain. Stradivarius is a fairly awesome opponent, and if he’s anywhere near his best he’s going to be very tough to beat, but on his Yorkshire Cup win and his Gold Cup third Spanish Mission ought to be very competitive.”
A field of 11 is completed by the Donnacha O’Brien-trained Listed winner Emperor Of The Sun, who was fifth in the Gold Cup, Ismail Mohammed’s Away He Goes, who finished third to Subjectivist at Meydan in March, and the Jamie Osborne-trained Mekong, who was ninth in that Meydan Group 2 and has not raced since.