The Ascot Gold Cup
(Published June 5, 2018) – The Group 1 Gold Cup is the showcase event of Royal Ascot and the racing centrepiece on Thursday 21 June. This two-and-a-half mile marathon on Ladies Day, an iconic sporting occasion, has been won a remarkable seven times in the last 12 years by Ireland’s Aidan O’Brien, including four times with the legendary stayer Yeats.
O’Brien sent out Order Of St George to score in 2016, and the Ballydoyle horse failed by only a short-head in a race to remember when edged out by Michael Bell’s Big Orange 12 months ago. Big Orange is sidelined this term and won’t be at Ascot, but Order of St George will, having been in fine form already this season. He’s proven at this rare marathon trip and won’t be easy to beat having once again had his training regime tailored specifically for a repeat Gold Cup bid.
With only 16 horses still left in the Group 1 marathon the ante-post market for the race is likely to reflect more closely than most others at the meeting the actual market on the day of the big event itself and Order of St George is the current favourite at 7/4 and 2/1 with most firms, but 888Sport still go 9/4. It’s not easy to pick holes in the profile of O’Brien’s six-year-old whose only defeat in six races since last June’s agonizing defeat came in no less a race than the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly in October where the son of Galileo dropped back a mile and finished an excellent fourth behind Enable, having been third in the same race 12 months earlier won by Found.
Both outings this campaign have seen Order Of St George win at a lower level, trouncing Lord Yeats in the Group 3 Vintage Crop Stakes in April before doing enough to beat Twilight Payment in the listed Saval Beg Levmoss Stakes at Leopardstown in late-May. Although he is officially rated 123, the Ballydoyle star lost out to the 117-rated Big Orange in last year’s Gold Cup, so the 118-rated Stradivarius clearly has a good chance of bustling up the market leader.
STRADIVARIUS was nominated as my long-term ante-post selection for this race some time ago and is still available 11/4 with Coral only marginally shorter than the 3/1 highlighted then. The four-year-old son of Sea The Stars is an exciting staying prospect and I remain of the opinion that he has a great chance of beating the current favourite.
John Gosden’s charge was very progressive last term, winning the Group 1 Goodwood Cup (see below) before losing out by just half a length in the St Leger at Doncaster to O’Brien’s Capri. He was then beaten just a length when a close third to Order of St George on soft ground at Ascot in October at the British Champions meeting.
The going is key to Gosden’s colt who can act on easy ground but is a significantly better horse when he can hear his hooves rattle. The weather forecast for the 14-day period prior to the Ascot Gold Cup suggests mainly dry weather with a few showers along the way so there is every chance that the young pretender will have conditions on his side on June 21.
It was Good to Firm ground at York last month when Stradivarius made his seasonal reappearance, beating the useful Desert Skyline by three lengths in the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup over a mile-and-three-quarters. We won’t know until he rounds the home turn and heads down to the final furlong if Gosden’s charge truly stays the two-and-a-half miles, but he is a relaxed horse and with Frankie Dettori on board he has a fine chance of landing the spoils.
Third-favourite at 7/1 with BetVictor and set to make his first appearance on English soil is the top French stayer Vazirabad, trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre. This admirable six-year-old, owned and bred by the Aga Khan, has a tremendous strike rate having won 15 of his 22 career starts, including Group 1 successes in the Prix Du Cadran and Prix du Royal Oak, as well as landing the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup for each of the last three seasons.
Vazirabad will arrive at Ascot on the back of a win in Group 2 company at Longchamp just over a week ago and has already won over the trip of the Ascot Gold Cup. This son of Manduro ticks most of the boxes, but he has never raced on ground faster than good throughout his career and there is a nagging doubt that he will be effective on proper summer ground.
Jessica Harrington’s Torcedor was beaten nine lengths into fifth in last year’s Gold Cup then finished runner-up to Order of St George in both the Group 1 Irish St Leger and the Group 2 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October. The Fastnet Rock gelding ran a tremendous race that day and was two lengths clear at the furlong pole only to be reeled in by the hot favourite in the dying strides. Stradivarius was third.
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) May 2, 2018
Torcedor looked better than ever on soft ground at Ascot on his seasonal return in April when easily accounting for Time To Study in the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes over two miles. His yard is enjoying a fine campaign, and on good ground the 10/1 shot with Betway would certainly have each-way prospects.
The joker in the Ascot Gold Cup pack could possibly be Order of St George’s stable companion Idaho, a colt who failed by only half a length to win the Investec Derby in 2016. He’s run a stack of fine races since then at middle-distances, winning last year’s Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot and finishing a fine third behind Enable in the Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes a month later.
The son of Galileo shows his best form on decent to quick ground, and on his only two attempts beyond 12 furlongs he has given the impression he could be a proper stayer in the making. In the 2016 St Leger at Doncaster he was traveling like a dream three furlongs out when he stumbled and unseated Seamie Heffernan. Most observers believe he would have won had he stood up, and over the extended mile-and-five furlongs of the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester last month, the further they went the further he was going to win as he hacked up by three-and-a-half lengths from Danehill Kodiac.
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) May 10, 2018
While it’s by no means certain he’ll stay the extra six furlongs of the Gold Cup, there’s a fair chance he will (especially on dry ground), so the 16/1 each-way with Betfred looks a proper sporting alternative for those looking to take on the front two in the market.
David Elsworth’s Desert Skyline is not without a chance after finishing runner-up to Stradivarius at York last time, while the Ladies’ Day crowd will be willing The Queen’s Call To Mind on, although on balance he appears to have something to find.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.