Order Of St George has chance to carve out his own niche
It’s uncertain how Stradivarius will relish the last half mile of the Ascot Gold Cup
James Doyle and Big Orange (left) beating Ryan Moore on Order Of St George to win the Ascot Gold in June 2017. Photograph: Getty Images
Matching the Ascot Gold Cup record of Aidan O’Brien’s former champion Yeats will almost always prove a futile task, but the Irishman’s current staying star Order Of St George has a chance to carve out his own niche on Thursday.
The 2016 Gold Cup hero will try to emulate Kayf Tara who became the only horse in the modern history of the 200-year highlight to regain the crown back in 2000.
Only for just coming out the wrong side of an epic finish with Big Orange a year ago, Order Of St George could already be halfway towards Yeats’s unique four-in-a-row recorded between 2006 and 2009.
That last year’s race is unlikely to feature in Ryan Moore’s luminous career highlight reel will only fuel Ballydoyle motivation for an eighth overall success for the current training maestro there on the 60th anniversary of Gladness landing Ireland’s first Gold Cup for the pioneering Vincent O’Brien.
Such a sense of history envelops the Gold Cup like no other Royal Ascot contest. And by any standard this looks an above-average renewal.
France’s best stayer, Vazirabad, finally makes his Gold Cup debut, while the home team has a potentially exceptional stayer of their own in John Gosden’s Stradivarius. Add a pair of Irish stalwarts in Torcedor and Max Dynamite, and this is a festival centre-piece to savour.
Whether any of them could finish in the frame of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as Order Of St George has is debatable, and with Stradivarius in particular it’s uncertain how much he will relish the last half mile of such a gruelling stamina test.
However, with so much in his apparent favour the crucial factor against Order Of St George’s chance could be the ground. In 2016 he won the Gold Cup with authority on soft ground. It can be argued he could have won again last year with better luck. But although Order Of St George has fine form on a quick surface the consensus seems to be he is better with a cut. Whether proven stamina will trump that is one of the great imponderables of this Gold Cup.
In contrast Stradivarius loves to hear his feet rattle but has never raced beyond two miles. With two years between the two this shapes as a contest between youth and experience. Youth can win out.
The Ballydoyle team pitch four into an ultra-competitive Ribblesdale Stakes where opposition includes the Oaks runner-up Wild Illusion and the beautifully bred 12-length maiden winner Sun Maiden.
Avoiding fillies that have run at Epsom has traditionally been a sound Ribblesdale policy, although Perfect Clarity could help put it to bed. The Lingfield Trial winner was well fancied for Epsom but soft ground proved against her. She won’t face that problem here.
Land Force flies the Ballydoyle flag in the opening Norfolk Stakes in which the US team of Wesley Ward and Joel Rosario attempt to emulate their 2013 victory with No Nay Never.
The Americans are throwing something of a curveball by letting the filly Shang Shang Shang take on colts. She upset her apparently better fancied stable mate at Keeneland in April, and could prove hard to peg back.
The Gosden camp can enjoy a fruitful day three overall. First Eleven is a half brother to Kingman, who won in a canter last time and might wind up proving a blot on the King George V Stakes handicap. Stylehunter is the Gosden No. 2 in the Britannia but could have the best of the draw.