Ask many a racing fan which horse they are most looking forward to seeing at Royal Ascot 2020, and the answer is likely to be Stradivarius.
The dominant stayer of his generation, Stradivarius has established himself as a near-invincible force in Britain’s most coveted long-distance contests over the last couple of years. The son of Sea The Stars has amassed more than £2.5million in prize money and, aside from a narrow defeat on QIPCO British Champions Day last October, remained unbeaten throughout both his four and five-year-old campaigns. This extraordinary ten-race winning sequence included the 2018 and 2019 Gold Cup and the completion of a hat-trick of Goodwood Cup wins last July, a feat only previously achieved by another hugely popular chestnut with a big white blaze; Double Trigger. As well as the Royal Ascot and Goodwood Group 1s, Stradivarius secured victories in the Group 2 Yorkshire and Lonsdale Cups to deliver a £1million bonus for owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen courtesy of the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million both years running.
Few of these big-race wins were landed in more thrilling style than the 2019 Gold Cup, when John Gosden’s star stayer became the first horse since Yeats to claim back-to-back renewals of the Royal Ascot showpiece. As the field turned for home, Stradivarius was trapped between horses, remaining so until well past the two furlong post, yet his class and resilience - combined with a masterful ride by Frankie Dettori - saw him prevail to the delight of the vast crowd, the jockey sealing a memorable four-timer in the process.
What makes him so popular? There is of course the Frankie factor. The enigmatic Italian has partnered Stradivarius for nine of his fourteen career wins, the pair a collective crowd favourite these past couple of seasons. However, it is the horse himself who has earned such deservedly rich plaudits for his accomplishments. A great personality at home, for all his exuberance off the track, he is a consummate professional on it – a class act who invariably gets the job done, albeit not always without a fight.
Somewhat uncharacteristically for a stayer, Stradivarius is not a big horse but what he may lack in stature, he makes up for in sheer tenacity, his courage and indisputable will to win among his most defining qualities. For all his considerable talent, he rarely makes victory look easy; a trait which has furthered endeared him to his legion of fans. As Dettori says: “His heart is bigger than his body... he loves getting into a fight.” Stradivarius is remarkable in being a stayer with a devastating turn of foot yet despite his fearsome acceleration, tends not to expend more energy than absolutely necessary and frequently wins by little more than a length.
Then there is his longevity. Flat racing is accustomed to seeing many of its stars retire to stud at the age of three yet the six-year-old has become something of a regular headline act in recent years, enabling racegoers to fully appreciate his rare ability and take him to their hearts. It certainly speaks volumes for Gosden’s supreme mastery as a trainer to have consistently delivered the horse at his peak over such an extent of time.
Having delighted connections with an encouraging third in the rerouted Coronation Cup at Newmarket on his seasonal reappearance - when dropped back to 1m4f for the first time in three years - Stradivarius returns to Royal Ascot just thirteen days later as odds-on favourite to claim his fourth consecutive victory at the Royal Meeting and join Sagaro and four-time winner Yeats as the only horses to have won three Gold Cups.
In these unprecedented times, there will unfortunately be no crowds at the royal racecourse to roar him home on Thursday. Nevertheless, should Stradivarius land the Royal Meeting’s oldest and most prestigious prize once again, he will not only secure his place among racing’s all-time greats, but undoubtedly also raise the roof of many of the tens of thousands of households watching Royal Ascot At Home.