Stradivarius is bidding to finish the season unbeaten for the second year running.
Nick Seddon previews the QIPCO Champions Long Distance Cup on Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday, and picks out an each-way alternative to the current odds-on favourite Stradivarius…
The staying division has been something of a procession over the last couple of years, ruled solely by Stradivarius, who will aim to end his season unbeaten here for the second year running on Saturday afternoon.
Such is the John Gosden-trained supremo’s grip on the division, that connections are toying with the idea at campaigning him at prestigious middle distance races such as the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe next season, considering that he’s achieved everything that’s practically possible as a stayer - scooping the Stayers’ £1 Million Bonus for each of the two years that it’s been in existence.
Stradivarius doesn’t tend to do more than is necessary in his races, but he’s rarely looked in danger of having his colours lowered this term, and he made it ten wins on the bounce when accounting for Cleonte and Max Dynamite in last month’s Doncaster Cup. He’s the clear one to beat on form, and although he has the combination of a busy season and several new rivals to contend with here, he’s the clear one to beat, and can’t be opposed for win purposes - though John Gosden has warned that he may not run if the ground is particularly heavy on Saturday.
The biggest threats are likely to come from two runners who are yet to face Stradivarius, Kew Gardens and Royal Line. The first-named won the St Leger at Doncaster last season, though he’s largely been campaigned at middle distances since, finishing seventh in that season’s Arc, before finishing second in both the Ormonde Stakes at Chester and the Coronation Cup at Epsom back in May. His reputation has far from been dented, though, and he shaped well when second once again after four months off in the Irish St Leger at the Curragh last month, when taking a while to really get going. He’s a high-class performer, particularly when granted a thorough test of stamina, and with the return to two miles here sure to suit, he will likely give the favourite something to thing about.
Royal Line arrives here as a horse firmly on the up, taking his first attempt in pattern company in his stride when winning the September Stakes at Kempton last month. The extra half a mile will ask more of him, but the fact that he’s had entries in both this and the Ebor at York suggest that he has plenty of untapped stamina, and he it would be no surprise to see him take a step forward here - for all that this will require a lot more for win purposes.
One rival who Stradivarius will be far more familiar with is Dee Ex Bee, who has chased him home on three occasions already this season. He is a remarkably consistent type, and will likely run his race once again, though the conditions aren’t sure to suit and there’s no obvious reason why he would overturn the form with the favourite. Another who has faced and been defeated by Stradivarius in the past is the 2017 St Leger winner, Capri, who was sixth in the Ascot Gold Cup in June. He has struggled to emulate the form of his classic success at Doncaster, and has plenty to prove here considering that he also needs to prove he stays the trip.
Along with Capri and Kew Gardens, the Aidan O’Brien quintet is completed by South Pacific, South Sea Pearl and Delphinia. The first two have plenty to find on form and are passed over, and of more interest is Delphinia, who has been making great strides of late. The three-year-old relished the trip when finishing second in the Park Hill Stakes at Doncaster last month, and backed up the improvement she showed there when finishing second in a Group 1 contest over a mile and six furlongs against her own sex at Longchamp earlier this month. The step up to two miles should suit, and she’s an interesting each-way alternative in receipt of both and age and a sex allowance from her older male rivals - for all that she holds an entry in the Champions Fillies' and Mares' Stakes on the same card.
Another interesting each-way alternative is the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Mekong. This represents a first foray into Group 1 company for the four-year-old, but he has some smart form under his belt, finishing second in the Group 3 Henry II Stakes on reappearance at Sandown in May. Admittedly, he’s been hit and miss in three starts since, though he has some strong form in heavy conditions - winning a valuable handicap in really good style at Haydock last September - and it would be no surprise to see him relish this test - for all that he’s short enough at 12/1 at the time of writing.
The field is completed by Withhold, Bin Battuta and Pilaster. The latter two have plenty to find on form with Stradivarius and are passed over (for all that Bin Battuta is an improving type), though it would be no surprise to see a bold bid from Withhold. He landed a touch when winning last season’s Northumberland Plate, and he has largely progressed since, making his first foray into listed company a winning one in really good style at Newmarket last month. This will require plenty more, but he is proven over the trip, and is to be respected - particularly if he’s strong in the market for owner Tony Bloom, who has a reputation for supporting his horses in the betting when he fancies them.
In summary, it’s difficult to build a case against Stradivarius for win purposes, though at the prices, it could be worth having a small each-way bet on Delphinia for Aidan O’Brien. The three-year-old has thrived since stepping up to a mile and six furlongs the last twice, and provided she handles the extra two furlongs, she could be a danger to all in receipt of both an age and a sex allowance, and it looks worth risking that she takes her chance here over the Fillies' and Mares'.
Saturday 19th October 2019 - QIPCO Long Distance Cup - Delphinia each-way @ 16/1
Likeable three-year-old, who has taken her form to a new level over one mile and six furlongs the last twice, finishing a fine second against her own sex in a Group 1 at Longchamp earlier this month. The extra two furlongs will ask more of her here, but the way she finished her race in Paris suggests it'll suit, and in receipt of both an age allowance and a sex allowance from the odds-on favourite Stradivarius, she looks a good each-way proposition at 16/1.