Stradivarius will face eight rivals when he attempts to become the first horse in history to win three successive renewals of the Goodwood Cup on Tuesday.
The outstanding stayer, trained by John Gosden, was regarded as something of a party pooper when denying the popular Big Orange a third successive Goodwood Cup triumph in 2017 but has since established himself as among the most popular horses in training.
He has won eight races that fall under the QIPCO British Champions Series umbrella and requires one more to equal the record nine that Frankel achieved in 2011 and 2012.
Stradivarius was unbeaten in five starts last year, when he won the Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup, a second Qatar Goodwood Cup, the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup and the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup. In the process, he also won the inaugural Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million.
This year he has picked up from where he left off, becoming the first horse since Ardross (1981-82) to win back-to-back renewals of the Matchbook Yorkshire Cup before retaining his Gold Cup crown at Royal Ascot last month.
“He’s in great nick and is a pretty cool dude to be around,” Gosden said. “The pace in the Ascot Gold Cup this year was not as hard as the pace last year, so it means the race took a little less out of him. It was something of a sprint finish.
“He looks after himself, does what he has to do and no more. It’s a huge factor in why he’s managed to hold his level of form. He’s probably quite good at winning on points.”
Mark Johnston is responsible for the only previous three-time winner of the Goodwood Cup in Double Trigger, who won in 1995, 1997 and 1998, and he also hit the target with Royal Rebel in 2000 and Darasim in 2004.
On Tuesday he relies on Dee Ex Bee, who rallied gamely to finish a length runner-up to Stradivarius in the Gold Cup after making the running under Silvestre de Sousa. Last year’s Investec Derby runner-up had previously won the Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot and Matchbook VIP Henry II Stakes at Sandown.
“When you go up to 2m 5f you have to be careful not to go too fast and I had another horse pushing me all the way,” De Sousa said of his tactics at Ascot. “Dee Ex Bee was very tough to fight back for second place. He was coming back at the end.
“It [the rematch] will be interesting. He’s proven himself to be among the best stayers and I’m sure he will again turn up in top form. It’s a totally different track to Ascot – Stradivarius knows his way around there but so does Dee Ex Bee, who won on his debut there and was second in the Gordon Stakes last year.”
De Sousa is full of admiration for Stradivarius, saying: “He’s very special, an incredible horse. He’s a proper stayer, a champion who has everything and, unfortunately, we are always likely to bump into him. We’ve just got to do our thing and see what happens.”
Cross Counter also contested the Gold Cup, being beaten under two lengths into fourth under James Doyle. The Godolphin-owned four-year-old, trained by Charlie Appleby, won the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood last summer before going on to become the first British-trained winner of the Melbourne Cup.
Appleby said: “I’m very pleased with him and his preparation has gone well. He ran a very creditable race in the Gold Cup and I thought he was one of those you had to take out of the race because he was a bit further back than ideal the way it panned out.
“It was his first time over the two-and-a-half miles and we purposefully wanted to drop in, but they didn’t go as quick as we had hoped. It wasn’t James’ fault as those were his instructions. Cross Counter did all his best work towards the end and most importantly he came out of the race well.
“Dropping back to two miles on a track where he holds the track record over a mile and a half, he’s going to be an exciting horse for Tuesday. You can’t beat course experience at Goodwood and it looks like being lovely ground. They are all positives and I can’t really give a negative towards him.”
On the prospect of again meeting Stradivarius, he added: “I’d like to find a negative in him but he’s a supreme champion and a credit to all his connections. We all know he’s the horse we’ve got to try and beat.
“He’s dangerous wherever Frankie [Dettori] parks him up and if you try and work out their tactics you only scupper yourself. We have our own plan in our minds and let’s hope it’s a clean race and that the best horse wins.”
Aidan O'Brien, successful with the mighty Yeats in 2006 and 2008, is represented by Southern France, South Pacific and Harpo Max. His principal contender looks Southern France, runner-up to Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup in May, although South Pacific showed himself to still be on the up when landing the King George V Handicap over a mile and a half at Royal Ascot last month.
Another Royal Ascot winner, the Andrew Balding-trained Dashing Willoughby, will also go to post. He landed the Queen's Vase before dropping back to a mile and a half and finishing a close fourth in the Princess Of Wales's Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket on his latest start.
“He seems in great form. It’s obviously another step up in class but he’s a Group 2 winner and we have limited options,” Balding said. “He stayed a mile and six really well at Ascot and two miles should suit him.”
Wells Farhh Go steps up in distance after landing the Listed Fred Archer Stakes at Newmarket with the field completed by Raa Atoll, winner of a Group 2 prize in Germany this campaign.