FRANKIE Dettori hopes to sign off the 2019 domestic Flat season in sensational style by landing the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot on the great Stradivarius.
This has, arguably, been the greatest year in the all-conquering career of the 48-year-old thanks to titans like Stradivarius, who is seeking a 11th successive win, and Enable, who will now stay in training after being denied a third successive Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe earlier this month.
And Dettori, the ultimate big race rider with 16 Group One wins to his name this year, remains unperturbed by the ground at the Berkshire track – some parts of the course have been waterlogged – after the longer races were switched to the inner course.
Used by hurdlers during the winter, conditions here are far less testing because no water was applied to the course during the summer when Ascot ground staff had to irrigate the track to keep the turf in pristine condition for Flat thoroughbreds.
“I am not worried about the ground for Stradivarius, because we will be racing on the inside track – although I have never raced on it,” enthused Dettori last night.
“He can cope with soft, and I don’t think it will be any worse than soft on the day. I love the horse so much, and he has become the people’s favourite, so I just hope he does his stuff.”
Stradivarius, arguably the headline horse on this £4m Qipco British Champions raceday, has dominated the staying division for the last 18 months, winning back-to-back renewals of the Yorkshire Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the Lonsdale Cup, and so earning the Weatherbys Hamilton £1m bonus in each of the last two seasons.
Having extended his winning run to 10 with victory in last month’s Doncaster Cup, trainer John Gosden – so integral to Dettori’s resurgence – is happy for the Bjorn Nielsen-owned stayer to take his place in the line-up and defend the title.
“He’s been in very good form since the Doncaster Cup,” said Gosden. “Horses like him who can travel so well and then quicken up are rare, and it’s what makes them a class apart. To do it at the end of these long races is a great attribute.”
And Nielsen added: “He’s been a once-in-a-lifetime horse for me, truly incredible. I’m so lucky to own him. You always bond better with the good ones, especially those who are paying the bills. And he doesn’t bite me!”
However, Stradivarius, who never over-exerts himself, will face a new adversary in Kew Gardens who won the 2018 St Leger at Doncaster for trainer Aidan O’Brien.
He believes the step up in trip to two miles will – ground permitting – play to the strengths of the former Classic winner.
Runner-up in last month’s Irish St Leger, O’Brien said of Kew Gardens: “We’ve always thought he’d stay two miles – he’s always looked like he would.
“The better the ground, the better his chance – but we’re very happy with him. He seems to be in very good form since the Irish Leger, and we’re looking forward to seeing him again.
“That was his first run since a break, so we expect him to step forward a nice bit for it. The fact they’ve changed the course to the inner track should help him, because he likes some nice ground.” O’Brien also saddles the 2017 St Leger hero Capri, a shadow of his former self so far this year, as well as South Pacific.
Later, Dettori and Gosden team up with Star Catcher in the Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes. She runs in the colours of owner-breeder Anthony Oppenheimer who has won the last two renewals of the Champion Stakes with Cracksman.
Star Catcher has won four of her five starts so far this season - completing a big-race hat-trick by landing the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot, the Irish Oaks and the Prix Vermeille at ParisLongchamp.
“I’m told she worked very well earlier in the week. The ground isn’t going to be as soft on the inner course as it is on the main track, which will probably be good for everyone. She goes on the soft and good ground, but wouldn’t want it heavy,” said Oppenheimer.