Willie Mullins aiming for latest Gold Cup success as Vauban lines up in Ascot’s historic prize

Aidan O’Brien’s Kyprios favourite to reclaim stayers’ crown won in 2022

Ryan Moore aboard Vauban came up short in the Melbourne Cup last November, despite going off a 9-2 favourite. Photograph: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

Gold Cups of all shades and sizes over jumps cram Willie Mullins’s trophy cabinet but the significance of potentially adding Royal Ascot’s historic version on the flat is considerable for National Hunt racing’s dominant figure.

Over a decade after coming within a neck of proving the ultimate Ascot spoilsport when Simenon came up just short of Queen Elizabeth II’s Estimate in 2013, Mullins tries to land the 2½-mile marathon highlight again, this time with Vauban.

He has conceded such a success would be “absolutely huge” for his operation given how flat racing is essentially a diversion from jumps domination that includes four Cheltenham Gold Cups, 13 of the Irish variety, and half a dozen at Punchestown.

That relative sideline has produced Curragh Classic success, Ebor victories as well as 10 Royal Ascot wins to date. But having previously nominated the Ascot Gold Cup and the Melbourne Cup as the greatest flat prizes realistically open to a stable like his, Mullins has had disappointment in both.


Vauban fluffed his lines in Australia last November, starting a 9-2 favourite but never figuring with a shout in the race that stops a nation. Now the former Triumph Hurdle winner gets a chance to redeem himself in another world-famous contest.

Vauban will have to upset the Ascot pecking order to do so, none more so than Aidan O’Brien who is shooting for a record-extending ninth Gold Cup victory with his 2022 hero Kyprios.

The Moyglare Stud-owned star looked an imperious stayer in 2022, particularly with a spectacular Prix Du Cadran success at Longchamp. Expectations of a lengthy reign at the top of the stamina division were upset though when he sustained a serious leg injury last year.

That he came back towards the end of the campaign was an achievement in itself but in a pair of starts this year Kyprios has given signs of potentially returning to that ultra-impressive level he showed two years ago.

They didn’t involve tackling anything of this calibre, or on quick ground like this, but both O’Brien and Ryan Moore have been noticeably hopeful about his chances of reclaiming the crown, a feat last achieved by Kayf Tara (1998 and 2000).

Odds-on for much of the approach to the race, Kyprios’s current rating doesn’t back up such superiority and given he still has to prove he’s back to his best, plenty will be prepared to oppose him.

Vauban’s claims revolve around him bouncing back from Melbourne, how his flat profile is otherwise still on an upward curve, and that ground conditions appear immaterial to him. But also, given his trainer and National Hunt profile, when others have cried enough, he could relish this singular test.

O’Brien’s Whistlejacket will be a popular order for the opening Norfolk Stakes where a 7lb swing from his Beverley conqueror Shareholder may help Moving Force confound big odds. O’Brien puts a first-timer visor on Port Fairy in an ultra-competitive-looking Ribblesdale.

Classic form will be put to the test in the Group Three Hampton Court Stakes where the French Derby runner-up First Look lines up. Dermot Weld’s Taraj carries the Amo Racing colours for the first time in this, although Bracken’s Laugh’s considerable chance is helped further by a good draw.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column