The Flat season starts on Wednesday where the Group Three Longines Sagaro Stakes is a key trial for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
It commemorates the great French-trained stayer who won the Gold Cup three times between 1975 and 1977 - the last horse to complete the double was none other than The Queen’s Estimate in 2013.
This year’s renewal launches the new Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million - an initiative that offers £1 million to connections of any horse which wins the Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup, so long as it was also victorious in one of the established British Gold Cup trials.
The Sagaro Stakes is the first of those opportunities and five of the six Sagaro entries are also entered in the Gold Cup, the exception being Clever Cookie.
Jessie Harrington sends Torcedor over from Ireland. Things didn’t go right for him in Dubai in March but he was beaten only by Order Of St George, the world’s top rated stayer, in the QIPCO Long Distance Cup (Group 2) on Champions Day at the end of last season.
He sets the standard but this looks a strong renewal with real depth; Desert Skyline won the Doncaster Cup (Group 2) last year, Montaly won the Lonsdale at York (Group 2), Raheen House won the Listed Noel Murless Stakes here at Ascot and Time to Study took the Mallard Handicap, one of the most important races
of its type limited to three-year-olds.
Royal Ascot clues won’t be limited to the Sagaro Stakes, however, as the Group Three Merriebelle Stable Pavilion Stakes is a key trial for the Commonwealth Cup. Last year’s winner, Blue Point, went on to finish third in the Group One the following month.
The Godolphin team responsible for Blue Point have started the season incredibly well, and Charlie Appleby’s Sound And Silence will probably be a popular choice. Other winners of the race include the high-class Limato and Gifted Master.