April 10, 2021

Royal Ascot: Breathtaking acceleration carries Stradivarius to third Gold Cup triumph

Stradivarius wins the Ascot Gold Cup 2020
Stradivarius crushed his Gold Cup three-peat (Courtesy of Ascot Racecourse)
Stradivarius wins the Ascot Gold Cup at Royal Ascot 2020
Stradivarius (Courtesy of Ascot Racecourse)

Antonio Stradivari was a master luthier whose “Stradivarius” violins have achieved legendary status for their quality and craftsmanship.

Within sporting circles, the equine Stradivarius is using those same building blocks to burnish a legacy of his own. His quality has been applauded. He’s a master of his craft. And on Thursday at Royal Ascot, Stradivarius delivered the pièce de résistance of his stellar career, recording a third consecutive victory in the historic 2 1/2-mile Gold Cup (G1).

Stradivarius had already compiled the record of a truly great stayer. With a dozen group stakes wins under his belt, including a pair of Gold Cups and three straight Goodwood Cups (G1), Stradivarius had dominated his division in a manner reminiscent of Sagaro and Yeats, the only previous runners to win the Gold Cup three or more times.

But Stradivarius somehow elevated his game to another level in the 2020 Gold Cup. Even at the age of six, while racing over softer ground than he prefers, Stradivarius completed the Gold Cup hat trick in a manner that left horsemen and handicappers alike reeling in disbelief. It was a masterpiece performance, an instant classic from the moment he crossed the finish line.

Under patient guidance from regular rider Frankie Dettori, Stradivarius raced in midpack for much of the marathon journey as longshot Nayef Road carved out the pace. As the field approached the Ascot homestretch, Dettori allowed the son of Sea the Stars to advance under his own power, and the 4-5 favorite quickly pulled up alongside Nayef Road with little more than a furlong remaining. The contrast in running styles could not have been more apparent. Whereas the pacesetter was under all-out urging to sustain his pace, Stradivarius was in cruise control, waiting for his cue to accelerate.

Finally, Dettori asked the question, and Stradivarius’ response will forever be remembered in the annals of racing history. With an extraordinary burst of speed—unprecedented at the end of a 2 1/2-mile marathon—Stradivarius blew the doors off his pursuers, seizing command and widening his advantage with every powerful stride. Two lengths, four lengths, six, eight—by the time Stradivarius flew across the finish line, he was clear by 10 lengths, galloping alone with only his past achievements as a point of reference for the magnitude of his effort.

Jockey Frankie Dettori and Stradivarius at Royal Ascot 2020
Jockey Frankie Dettori (Courtesy of Ascot Racecourse)

Nayef Road never stopped trying and pulled eight lengths clear of third-place finisher Cross Counter, but no one finished within hailing distance of the runaway winner, who stopped the time in 4:32.60 over soft going. Withhold, Mekong, Prince of Arran, Technician, and Moonlight Spirit—three of them proven Group stakes winners—were beaten by margins ranging from 21 to 30 lengths.

“I am so proud of the horse. He is a joy to be around,” marveled Dettori. “He will go down as one of the great stayers like Yeats and Sagaro and who knows, maybe we will try for the four [wins] next year… Stradivarius is a wonderful horse. You never ever are on the bridle in the Gold Cup a furlong out, because usually everybody labors by the three. So, it was an amazing feeling, and a fantastic performance.”

Owned and bred by Bjorn Nielsen, Stradivarius—a two-time Cartier Champion Stayer—is expected to pursue an ambitious racing schedule during the next few months. Trainer John Gosden indicated a fourth appearance in the Goodwood Cup is next on the agenda, but when fall rolls around, Stradivarius could shorten up in distance for a tilt at the coveted 1 1/2-mile Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) at Longchamp.

Regardless of what the future holds for Stradivarius, his achievements to date have stamped the charismatic chestnut as a legend in his own time. Just ask Dettori, who knows fully well how stories and memories of Stradivarius will linger for years to come.

“One day when I am sitting in my rocking chair, to say I rode the horse who won three Gold Cups in a row—that’s a big number,” said Dettori. “I am very proud of the horse, as he has given people so much joy. He is such a character and wears his heart on his sleeve. It is great to have him around.”

Stradivarius was the star of the show on Thursday, but trainer Roger Varian also enjoyed a successful afternoon, saddling three winners (Mountain Angel in the Wolferton, Molatham in the Jersey [G3], and Khaloosy in the Britannia) to join Gosden at the top of the 2020 Royal Ascot trainer rankings with four winners total. Two of Varian’s Thursday stars were ridden by Jim Crowley, who sits atop the jockey standings with half a dozen winners, twice as many as the second-ranked duo of Ryan Moore and James Doyle.

Friday is the penultimate day of racing at Royal Ascot, with the Commonwealth Cup (G1) and Norfolk (G2) among the highlights. American trainer Wesley Ward will be represented in both races, saddling star filly Kimari in the Commonwealth Cup and the maiden Golden Pal in the Norfolk. The latter race serves as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2).

Friday Royal Ascot schedule