Andrea Atzeni is relishing being reunited with outstanding stayer Stradivarius in the £500,000 Qatar Goodwood Cup (3.35pm) on Tuesday.
Atzeni has an unblemished record on the John Gosden-trained colt, guiding him to victory in the Goodwood Cup 12 months ago, having previously landed the Queen’s Vase on him at Royal Ascot.
Since then, Stradivarius has continued to thrive and this season he has landed the Mansionbet Yorkshire Cup and Gold Cup. Those races, like the Goodwood Cup, form part of the Long Distance category of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
Atzeni gets another chance to shine on him because usual rider Frankie Dettori is serving a six-day ban. In addition, Atzeni will also deputise aboard another Gosden star, the unbeaten Without Parole, in the Qatar Sussex Stakes on Wednesday.
“Most of the main stables have got their own jockeys and great spares like this are extremely hard to come by,” Atzeni said. “It’s exciting to get the call and hopefully I’ll repay the faith.
“Stradivarius was never my ride last year. I only rode him at Royal Ascot because Frankie was injured and Rab Havlin was banned. Then, at Goodwood, Frankie decided to ride Big Orange [who was seeking a third successive win in the race and finished second].”
Atzeni suggested after last year’s Goodwood Cup that Stradivarius, owned and bred by Bjorn Nielsen, was immature and that “he doesn’t know he’s a racehorse yet”. He says his subsequent transformation has been something to behold.
“He was young, still quite narrow and a little bit weak this time last year,” he said. “When I saw him in the paddock at York in May [before his fluent win in the Yorkshire Cup] I hardly recognised him. He was a lot stronger and was much more the finished article - a completely different horse.
“He was very good that day and then very brave when winning the Gold Cup at Ascot. He’s the best stayer around and I’m delighted to be back on him.”
Asked what he identifies as the four-year-old’s principal attributes, he said: “He stays very well but at the same time he’s not short of tactical speed and, for a stayer, he can quicken as well.
“If he turns up [in his best form], they’ve all got to him to beat. On what he’s done this year he’s the best horse in the race. It’s a Group 1 and they are never easy because you are taking on top quality horses but it’s only fair he’s the odds-on favourite.”
Extra spice is added by the fact that Stradivarius’s wins at York and Ascot mean he is halfway towards landing the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million. His connections will land the seven-figure sum should he win at Goodwood and then the last leg, the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup, another Series contest, at York next month.
Atzeni’s contribution, assuming Dettori is back on board at York, would entitle him to £25,000, although he had been oblivious of the bonus. “Seriously?” he said with a smile.
The opposition is headed by Torcedor, runaway winner of the Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in May before finishing a close third to Stradivarius in the Gold Cup.
Call To Mind will attempt to provide Her Majesty The Queen with a third success in the Goodwood Cup, having previously seen her famous colours carried to victory by Apprentice (1965) and Gaulois (1966). Call To Mind won the Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational Stakes over two miles at Belmont Park on his latest start, although he had previously been no match for Stradivarius when third to him in the Yorkshire Cup.
William Haggas, who trains Call To Mind, is also represented by Dal Harraild, beaten a neck in the Group 3 John Smith's Silver Cup at York on his latest start. He will be equipped with first-time blinkers.
Aidan O’Brien relies on Idaho, who finished third in the 2016 Investec Derby. The five-year-old will be stepping up to two miles for the first time.
Desert Skyline’s exploits include winning the Doncaster Cup last year but he has finished behind Stradivarius in the three occasions they have met - including when third in the Goodwood Cup last year. St Michel, a close third in the Lonsdale Cup last year, completes the line-up.