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Royal Ascot Ultimate Guide - 2019-06-06

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Stradivarius can claim back-to-back victories

THURSDAY 4.20 GOLD CUP

James Hill

Called To The Bar Likely French raider who comes into this at the top of his game after showing a decent turn of foot to win a Longchamp Group 2 by three lengths last time, a career best. Has consistently fared well at just short of two miles since last autumn having been good enough to finish second in the Belmont Derby at three. May have the ability to get in the shake-up, but whether he’s able to see out this longer trip would be a question mark. Capri Winner of a red-hot St Leger in 2017 in which he had last year’s Gold Cup victor Stradivarius back in third. Sidelined for most of last season, but returned in the autumn and ran well to finish fifth in the Arc. However he’s looked decidedly below par in two starts this term and has now failed to finish within three lengths of the winner in any of his last six runs. On his best form he’d have every chance, but surely can’t be backed with confidence even taking into account his trainer’s fine record. Cross Counter Created history last November when becoming the first British-trained winner of the Melbourne Cup, capping an amazing 2018 for Charlie Appleby. Has now won four of his last five starts after picking up where he left off when landing the Dubai Gold Cup on his return, fending off fellow Godolphin gelding Ispolini – slight concern his rival failed to frank the form at York recently. An official rating of 118 puts him 2lb behind Stradivarius and we know he stays, and has long been regarded the chief threat to the title-holder. Yard not faring quite as well as 12 months ago. Dee Ex Bee Last year’s Derby second who, as expected, has taken to longer distances this spring, winning two out of two. Made a winning reappearance on his first try at two miles when comfortably landing the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in April, and followed that up with success in another key Gold Cup trial, the Henry II Stakes at Sandown, although his length-and-three-quarter victory was not quite as impressive. Mark Johnston sees him as a perfect fit for this race and he peaked around this time last year. Solid candidate. Falcon Eight Potential contender for trainer Dermot Weld and quite possible we haven’t seen the best of him. Comfortable winner of his first two outings last summer and has stuck on really well in recent attempts in better company, notably on his reappearance in the Saval Beg at Leopardstown last month, when he came from a long way back to be beaten threequarters of a length by Twilight Payment. Weld is renowned for producing top-class stayers, although he’s only won this event once and this colt might be a better fit for Group 1s in the autumn. Flag Of Honour Aidan O’brien-trained fouryear-old for whom this race remains one of two entries at the royal meeting. Good form in staying contests at three last term, culminating in victory in the Irish St Leger at the Curragh. Has been given an unorthodox campaign for a stayer this year, with all three starts over 1m2f, and made the pace for Magical when second in last month’s Tattersalls Gold Cup. A contender, although not the Ballydoyle number one. Kew Gardens Last season’s St Leger winner who fits into the mould of a Gold Cup horse for Ballydoyle. However, following his defeat in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester, trainer Aidan O’brien has opted to stick to 1m4f, and the son of Galileo instead ran in the Coronation Cup, finishing second. Winner of the Queen’s Vase at last year’s royal meeting, but doesn’t look like he’ll be turning up this time. Magic Circle Runaway winner of last year’s Chester Cup and Henry II Stakes, looking a much improved stayer. Owned by the charismatic Marwan Koukash, his big target last year was the Melbourne Cup, in which he finished 16th. Weak in the market for his return in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester, and clearly needed it in finishing third. That was way off the form he showed 12 months ago and would need to make big strides to be in the shake-up here. Master Of Reality French recruit for Joseph O’brien who had shown little for his new yard until his reappearance in April when he ran out a 33-1 winner of the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan. Had Southern France, Capri and Twilight Payment in behind that day, but he couldn’t back it up at Leopardstown next time when only fourth in the Saval Beg. Made the running at Navan and could possibly do so here. Needs rain. Raymond Tusk Consistent four-year-old for Richard Hannon, who has always been earmarked as a stayer, and finished sixth in last season’s St Leger. Has run with credit in two starts this term. Was second to Dee Ex Bee on his return in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot and filled third spot when dropped back to 1m4f at Newbury last time. Outside chance of making the frame here, but held by many of these on form. Southern France Progressive four-year-old for Ballydoyle and put up a careerbest last time when threequarters of a length second to Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup, getting 3lb. Good form at the royal meeting too having stayed on strongly to finish second to stablemate Kew Gardens in last term’s Queen’s Vase. He and Capri seem to be Aidan O’brien’s main two for this, and he is much preferred of the pair. However, has a job on his hands turning form around with Stradivarius on 2lb worse terms. Stradivarius Last year’s winner and the £1 million stayer after bagging the Weatherbys Hamilton bonus on the back of victories in this, the Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup. Also completed five wins out of five last term, and made it six on the bounce in the Yorkshire Cup last month. Travels well and has a turn of foot, with a combination of stamina and guts making him tough to beat, although he has looked vulnerable at certain stages in the past so certainly not bombproof. Likes decent ground but has proven he can handle a softer surface too. Thomas Hobson Former hurdler for Willie Mullins who has found a new lease of life on the Flat. A six-length winner of the Ascot Stakes at this meeting in 2017, he narrowly failed to complete the double in the Queen Alexandra a few days later. Last term he improved again, winning the Doncaster Cup before finishing second to Stradivarius in the Long Distance Cup back here on Champions Day – he arguably didn’t get the rub of the green. Beaten at odds-on on his reappearance in Germany last month, but will be sharpened up for that. However, would be the oldest winner of this since 1842. Verdict Stradivarius is a class act and can complete back-to-back wins, although it won’t be easy giving 1lb to the four-year-olds, the pick of whom look to be Cross Counter, Dee Ex Bee and Southern France. Mark Johnston’s colt could be the biggest threat following two convincing wins at Ascot and Sandown. 1. Stradivarius 2. Dee Ex Bee 3. Southern France

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