Ascot Gold Cup Hopefuls – and Who's Already Qualified for Stayers' Million?
Stradivarius scooped a cool £1,000,000 bonus for dominating the stayers' division last season with wins in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup during the Ebor Festival.
Weatherbys Hamilton, who put up the money, have expanded the series this term with more qualifying races than before. It gives owners and trainers of Flat stayers every incentive to run their horses in the qualifying contests.
So, as John Gosden's champion stayer Stradivarius prepares to defend his crown, who are the Ascot Gold Cup hopefuls and which horses have qualified for the Stayers' Million so far?
Charlie Appleby and Godolophin's Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter has already made history of his own as the first-ever British-trained winner of "the race that stops a nation" in Australia.
This four-year-old Teofilo gelding has since qualified for the Stayers' Million with a comfortable victory in the Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup night at Meydan.
On that form and given the rapid improvement he made last season, Cross Counter could well be the one most likely to challenge Stradivarius. He is a clear second-favourite for the Gold Cup and experts like Oddschecker may put him up as a value betting alternative for Royal Ascot.
Dee Ex Bee
Investec Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee has been crying out for a step up in trip and, although his form tailed off towards the end of last season, he made a very taking return to action in the Sagaro Stakes.
That was one of the feature races on Royal Ascot Trials Day over 2m. While the trip was half-a-mile short of the Gold Cup, Mark Johnston's four-year-old Farhh colt stayed on really strongly to win in decisive fashion.
Dee Ex Bee does have back form to reverse with Cross Counter, but stepping further up in distance after qualifying for the bonus promises to suit.
Master Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien has plenty of ammunition with which to take aim at Stradivarius. Many of his potential stayers have raced over inadequate trips on reappearance runs to bring their fitness on.
Chief among these is 2018 St Leger winner Kew Gardens, who was second on his return to action for the Ormonde Stakes at Chester's May Festival. The return to a galloping track like Ascot for the Gold Cup should better play to his strengths.
Kew Gardens and fellow four-year-old Flag Of Honour, who landed the Irish Leger last season, are joined as possible stayers by another former Classic winner Capri. None of the O'Brien inmates have qualified for the bonus as yet though.