Just 12 years after Yeats won the Gold Cup (G1) for a record fourth time, Stradivarius is in position to emulate that historic achievement at Royal Ascot Thursday. At the opposite end of the distance spectrum, the Norfolk S. (G2) serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), and Wesley Ward has two chances in the five-furlong dash.
Here’s an early look at Thursday’s storylines.
Stradivarius is odds-on to tie the Gold Cup record
Trained by John Gosden, whose son Thady is now official co-trainer, Stradivarius has reigned supreme over the 2 1/2-mile test in varying conditions. The son of Sea the Stars had to fight off French standout Vazirabad to prevail on good-to-firm in 2018, altered course on soft going to down Dee Ex Bee in 2019, and turned last year’s running into a 10-length laugher, despite concerns that the ground was too soft.
Although Stradivarius ended 2020 with a three-race losing streak, two of those reverses came when he shortened up to 1 1/2 miles for the Prix Foy (G2) (a near-miss second) and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) (seventh). Stradivarius sustained his worst-ever loss on this course in the Oct. 17 British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2), trudging home 13th, but it was bottomless ground. Moreover he’s historically been more vulnerable on Champions Day than at the Royal meeting in the summer.
The seven-year-old Stradivarius regained the winning thread in the April 28 Sagaro S. (G3) at Ascot, beating Ocean Wind (who’s skipping Royal Ascot) and Nayef Road, the best-of-the-rest in last year’s Gold Cup.
Trainer Mark Johnston, twice runner-up to Stradivarius with Nayef Road and Dee Ex Bee, tries again with the up-and-coming Subjectivist. The second choice in the antepost market, Subjectivist concluded his sophomore campaign with a frontrunning victory over elders in the Oct. 25 Prix Royal-Oak (G1). The Teofilo colt proved that he could be devastating on a quicker surface in the Mar. 27 Dubai Gold Cup (G2) on the World Cup undercard, where he set a new course record at Meydan. Subjectivist received a fine compliment when John Gosden said that he “adds a lot of spice to the race.”
Aidan O’Brien, who nurtured the great Yeats, has been preparing Santiago for this assignment, and stablemate Serpentine was added to the field on Friday. Santiago shaped as a promising stayer when taking last summer’s Queen’s Vase (G2) at Royal Ascot, but he hasn’t won since the 2020 Irish Derby (G1). Third when Stradivarius was collecting his fourth straight Goodwood Cup (G1) last year, Santiago hopes that added maturity will help him reverse form. The master of Ballydoyle has programmed this as his third start of the season. Serpentine, who shocked last summer’s Epsom Derby (G1) as a pacemaker who didn’t stop, is tackling a marathon for the first time.
Other contenders include British Champions Long Distance Cup conqueror Trueshan; Spanish Mission, who beat Santiago in the Yorkshire Cup (G2) last out; Prix du Cadran (G1) winner Princess Zoe; Joseph O’Brien’s duo of Melbourne Cup (G1) hero Twilight Payment and Master of Reality, the third-placer here in 2019; and German shipper Rip Van Lips.
Ward seeks third Norfolk
Both of Ward’s runners won on debut, Lucci on the turf at Belmont Park and Nakatomi on a sloppy main track at Keeneland. His two winners of this race, No Nay Never (2013) and Shang Shang Shang (2018), likewise won at first asking on the Keeneland dirt.
No Nay Never is now the sire of three Norfolk possibles –Ballydoyle’s prime contender, Cadamosto, who scored in his lone start at Dundalk; Richard Hannon’s Doncaster debut winner Armor, cross-entered to Wednesday’s Windsor Castle S.; and Marygate S. victress Nymphadora, who’s also in Wednesday’s Queen Mary S. (G2).
Indeed, most of the 32 juveniles currently eligible for the Norfolk are cross-entered, notably National S. hero Ebro River who has the Coventry S. (G2) option Tuesday, and the 2-for-2 Tipperary Sunset, also in the Windsor Castle. Among the single-minded with just the Norfolk entry are the respective second and third from the National, Little Earl and Navello, and debut winners Instinctive Move and Project Dante.
Three-year-olds look to step forward
The 1 1/2-mile Ribblesdale S. (G2) features its usual contrast of sophomore fillies either dropping back from classic losses or stepping up in grade. Noon Star is all the rage after her second in the Musidora S. (G3) to next-out Epsom Oaks (G1) phenom Snowfall, but Sir Michael Stoute himself thinks she’s too short a price. Exiting the Oaks are Ballydoyle’s third-placer Divinely and the too-bad-to-be-true 12th Dubai Fountain, previously successful in the Cheshire Oaks for Johnston. Undefeated Eshaada, who just edged Gloria Mundi in a listed stakes at Newbury, and Height of Fashion S. upsetter Ad Infinitum take class and distance tests.
It’s a similar story with the three-year-old males in the 1 1/4-mile Hampton Court S. (G3). Mohaafeth, scratched from the Derby due to unsuitably soft ground, is favored to extend his winning streak for William Haggas. Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby has four under consideration, led by Epsom sixth One Ruler and Secret Protector, who was runner-up to Mohaafeth last out. Maximal has been knocking on the door while Movin Time, second to Rebel’s Romance on debut, comes off a Newmarket maiden romp.
For more analysis and handicapping throughout Royal Ascot, check out the Edge at TwinSpires.com.