Stradivarius could be facing “the greatest challenge of his life” when he crosses swords with Santiago in the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup on Tuesday.
The John Gosden-trained six-year-old will be bidding for a history-making fourth success in the two-mile contest, having become just the third horse to record a hat-trick in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot last month.
Owned by Bjorn Nielsen, Stradivarius won his first Goodwood Cup as a three-year-old in 2017, when his 13lb pull in the weights helped him to victory over Big Orange, but the roles will be reversed this time as the Aidan O’Brien-trained Santiago will be getting 15lb by virtue of the fact the race is run on July 28, ahead of the reduction in the weight-for-age scale on August 1.
While both Stradivarius and Santiago are winners of the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, O’Brien’s runner reappeared just over a week later to lift the Irish Derby and Gosden expects the Goodwood feature, which is part of the 2020 Qipco British Champions Series, to provide the sternest of tests for his star stayer.
Gosden said: “That’s the interesting thing about this race, there can’t be too many runners, there aren’t many entries (seven).
“He’s (Santiago) done the same as we did, but he’s done something rather special as well. He won the Vase, and from the Vase he rock and rolled in and won the Irish Derby in great style and suddenly we’re not taking on a Vase winner, which we did with the lovely horse of Bill Gredley’s, Big Orange.
“We rocked up as a three-year-old from the mile-six at Ascot having just won it well, by half a length, and of course we were receiving 13lb, so we then proceeded to beat Big Orange.
“Now, at six years old, he has a little bit of a problem as he has a very, very good three-year-old (in opposition).
“When you put the lead on those saddles and you’re going two miles with it, it’s a bundle of weight. I personally think it’s the greatest challenge probably of his life.”
Stradivarius is the only three-year-old to have won the Goodwood Cup in the last 29 renewals, but Gosden played down that statistic, adding: “Stradivarius hadn’t knocked off an Irish Derby as well as a Vase, so I think this horse sets a very high standard.
“Tactically I will leave it to the jockey. It will be an interesting one as there’ll be a bit of cat and mouse.
“Aidan and I have the one runner each, so let’s hope they both get there and we’ll see what other people want to do and how we play it.”
The Qatar Sussex Stakes and Nassau Stakes are the other two Group One events across the five-day meeting and while Gosden will not be represented in the Sussex, he could be double-handed in the Nassau.
Falmouth Stakes winner Nazeef and Hardwicke victor Fanny Logan are both set to line up in a 10-furlong heat that Gosden has won four times previously, but had to settle for second with Mehdaayih last term after a furious battle up front with the unplaced Hermosa.
Gosden said: “Nazeef and Fanny Logan would be the plan. They’re fine and in good form, so we’ll be looking towards that.
“It’s a lovely race, as you know a couple of jockeys went a bit wild in it last year – Dettori and Moore tried to set a track record for a mile – but apart from that I love the Nassau. It’s a race my father won with a mare called Rachel.”
The final day of the Goodwood meeting will see the course welcome a limited crowd – the first time racegoers have been permitted since March 16 – as part of a Government pilot scheme to reintroduce spectators to elite sport later in the year.
Gosden is hoping the weather will hold for those on the track and believes Goodwood is a fine choice for a trial run.
He said: “They’re on the top of the Downs, so I do hope it doesn’t rain. I think they’re being put in lots of different areas, socially distanced, so it’s a perfect location for it, as long as it doesn’t rain – umbrellas will be up everywhere.
“I think we’ve tentatively got to start and it’s a good place to start. Obviously in France, already 5,000 are going racing at any meeting, so they’ve just kicked on with it.
“I think poor old Frankie misses it (crowds), but on the whole the horses have been pretty cool about it.”