Stradivarius is the surprise star attraction at Doncaster on Friday – when the undisputed king of the stayers will bid to complete a treble last achieved way back in 1980.
The Stayers’ Triple Crown of Ascot Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup was most recently claimed by the mighty Le Moss, trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil and ridden by Joe Mercer. Le Moss also did the treble in 1979, with Lester Piggott in the saddle at Ascot.
Having already won the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million in successive seasons, the John Gosden-trained and Bjorn Nielsen-owned five-year-old was widely expected, as last year, to be seen next in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October.
However, he lines up against five rivals on Town Moor, and Frankie Dettori will again be the man doing the steering.
The Italian said: “I think the reason he’s running is because the horse is so well. John spoke to the owner, and they’ve decided to let him take his chance.
“It looks like he has the beating of the others, but he’s got a penalty and you know what he is like – we’ll try again with him anyway.
“John has been away in America, but when he talked to Bjorn they decided it was a long wait until Ascot.
“I don’t know the exact conversation, but that’s what I’ve been told – that the horse is so well he’ll take his chance.”
Leading the opposition is the Mark Johnston-trained Dee Ex Bee – no stranger to Stradivarius, who has been his nemesis on three different occasions to date.
The Middleham challenger will this time be in receipt of 5lb, in what is the latest leg of the Long Distance category of the Qipco British Champions Series.
Johnston said: “What is there to say? We’ve met him three times and come off worse every time. To be honest, we were not expecting him to come on to Doncaster.
“Two and a quarter miles gives us an extra quarter of a mile to play with compared to York last time, but he beat us in the Ascot Gold Cup (over further) as well. There’s no reason to think Stradivarius has any chinks in his armour, unless he’s not at his best on the day.”
Sneaky Getaway is one of two Irish runners, and at least offers a new challenge to Stradivarius. He was last seen winning a handicap at Tramore.
His trainer Emmet Mullins said: “Sneaky Getaway’s very exciting – every challenge we’ve given him he has come through.
“He initially came to me last year as a five-year-old, but he had little niggly things – and so I sent him home.
“This year he’s come back and looked a different horse.
“There was an option to run him in a handicap over a mile and five in Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend, but I thought he might be a little on his head there.
“Stamina is his strong suit, and the two and a quarter miles of the Doncaster Cup should suit him down to the ground.
“He’s very uncomplicated. He’s made the running to win races, and been dropped in to win races.
“Over those extreme distances, he’s flexible.”
He added: “I think we blew his handicap mark the last day when he went up to 101. Once you are over 100 you are not far away from most of the horses in the field, with the exception of Stradivarius and Dee Ex Bee.
“Stradivarius is an extraordinary horse to keep doing what he is doing.
“It will be exciting to have a runner alongside him, and it’s a great opportunity to have my first ever runner in a Group race.”
The second Irish-trained contender is the Willie Mullins-trained Max Dynamite, a stalwart of the staying scene and second to stablemate Thomas Hobson in this race 12 months ago.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said of Ryan Moore’s mount: “He’s been a fabulous horse for us, but is finding it hard to find winning opportunities these days.
“Stradivarius and Dee Ex Bee are very good, and we are just hoping he can run well and get some good placed prize-money.
“It will be interesting to see how Emmet’s horse runs. He’s improving with every run, and Emmet is not afraid to be adventurous or think outside the box.”
Completing the field are Barsanti (Roger Varian) and Cleonte (Andrew Balding).