First run in 1807, the Gold Cup occupies a special place in the history of Royal Ascot. It is the traditional heart of the meeting and victory is highly prized.
Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has won the race a remarkable seven times and his champion stayer Order Of St George, winner in 2016 and narrowly beaten by Big Orange last year, is a worthy favourite to reclaim his crown on Thursday.
The six-year-old has followed the same route as in previous years and was a long odds-on winner of his preparation race at Leopardstown last month. Afterwards, jockey Ryan Moore expressed his satisfaction. “I was very happy with him,” he said. “He’s a beautiful horse and we can look forward to Ascot. He’s been there and done it.”
The messages from the O’Brien camp are all positive. Aidan O’Brien said: “I am very happy with him and everything is going well.” His son, the rising star Donnacha O’Brien, has said that Order Of St George is the Ballydoyle stable’s horse he would most like to ride at Ascot. “He’s the best stayer around,” he said. “He’s come back as good as ever this year and is in great form at home.”
The biggest obstacle to success is likely to be Stradivarius, representing the formidable partnership of trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori. The lightly raced four-year-old improved in leaps and bounds last year when he won the G2 Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot over 2792m and then beat Big Orange to win the G1 Goodwood Cup over 3200m, Stradivarius offered the prospect of more improvement when winning the G2 Yorkshire Cup (2771m) comfortably on his reappearance last month.
Fast ground will be in Stradivarius’s favour and the big question is whether or not he will stay the testing 3991m trip, one that Order Of St George stays well.
Dettori thinks he will. “He’s a stayer with a turn of foot,” he said. “That’s a deadly combination. He’s a young horse with fresh legs and on the way up.”
Vazirabad, France’s champion stayer, adds further interest to an intriguing event. This will be the six-year-old’s first appearance in Britain but his record at home is hard to fault. The winner of 15 of his 22 races, including all the major staying contests, Vazirabad’s weak spot may be the ground.
The Aga Khan’s champion has never raced let alone won on going officially faster than Good and trainer Alain de Royer Dupre will be hoping, probably in vain, for rain.
Torcedor, who may make the running, is another whose chance would be improved by softer conditions.
If there is a surprise it could be supplied by Desert Skyline. Although beaten by both Stradivarius and Torcedor this year, Desert Skyline showed his staying credentials when, as the only three-year-old in the field, he won last year’s G2 Doncaster Cup over 3579m.
Desert Skyline’s veteran trainer David Elsworth is used to training top class stayers. In the 1990s he trained Persian Punch, one of the most popular stayers of modern times. Persian Punch ran in seven successive Gold Cups between 1997 and 2003, finishing runner-up in 2001 and 2003, the latter when aged 10.
Earlier, the G2 Ribblesdale Stakes (2392m) features an intriguing clash between a filly who has already shown herself to be high class and one who promises to be. Wild Illusion arrives fresh from finishing second to Forever Together in the G1 Oaks (2405m) at Epsom, while Sun Maiden looked an exciting prospect when sauntering home by 12 lengths at Salisbury last month.