The Gold Cup is one of the world's premier events for true stayers, going two and a half miles over the grass. First run in 1807, the race is the oldest of the Royal Ascot meet. It has been run at Ascot through the vast majority of its history, though it moved to Newmarket during wartime periods (1917-18, 1941-44), and was run at York in 2005. It is the traditional feature race of the third day of the meet, Ladies' Day.
The local prep race, the Sagaro Stakes (G3), is named after a dominant Gold Cup performer. Sagaro won three times, 1975 through 1977, becoming the first horse in the race's history to win three times. That record has since been surpassed by Yeats. The son of Sadler's Wells marked himself as one of the best stayers of all time by winning four consecutive editions of the race, 2006 through 2009.
Race 4: Gold Cup (G1), four-year-olds and up, two and one half miles on the turf, post time 4:20pm local time (10:20am Central time)
This year's Gold Cup drew a field of nine, an intriguing combination of well-proven and fast-rising stayers.
VAZIRABAD is a three-time winner of the Dubai Gold Cup (G2) on World Cup night -- the six-year-old has won it three years running. He has been the king of the stayers in Dubai and France, and now makes his first voyage to Royal Ascot. he is as consistent as it gets, in the exacta for 20 of 22 of his career starts. His form this year has been good; a second-place return in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy (G3) at Meydan got him tightened to win the Dubai Gold Cup. Since then he won by a neck in the Prix Viscomtesse Vigier (G2) at Longchamp -- only by a neck, but that was over soft ground, and VAZIRABAD should be stronger on the firmer going he'll get at Ascot. VAZIRABAD should also stay the trip; though this will be his first try at exactly two and a half miles, he won a French Group 1 at two and nine-sixteenths miles last year. With form, consistency, and the ability to take his show on the road, VAZIRABAD looks strong in the Gold Cup.
STRADIVARIUS goes out for trainer John Gosden and rider Frankie Dettori, who have started the Royal Ascot meet as hot as it gets. The Sea the Stars colt, only four this year, held his own against the likes of top Gold Cup contenders ORDER OF ST GEORGE and TORCEDOR last year. He also beat last year's Gold Cup winner, Big Orange, in the Goodwood Cup (G1) in his first-ever try versus older last summer. That was over soft going -- ORDER and TORCEADOR both prefer ground with more cut -- so not only a tall order for a three-year-old to run so close to them, but a mighty feat for any stayer. He kicked off his 2018 campaign with a comfortable victory in the Yorkshire Cup (G2) on May 18 over good ground, and should get going far more on the good side than the soft side in the Gold Cup. The question is the distance, as STRADIVARIUS has not gone two and a half miles yet. But, with ground to suit and upside to improve second off the lay, he looms a threat in the Gold Cup.
Making it further interesting is that two of the key contenders tend to do their better work on softer going than they're likely to get in this year's Gold Cup. ORDER OF ST GEORGE won the Gold Cup two years ago over soft going, but could not catch Big Orange last year over better ground. He also lost at odds-on earlier in the spring of last year to TORCEDOR on good ground. Ironically, TORCEDOR is the other who doesn't like better going quite as much as softer, making it even more of a feat that he beat ORDER OF ST GEORGE that day. The other looming question about TORCEDOR, however, is the distance -- not only is he a bit better with more cut in the ground, but he is not yet tested at this two and a half mile journey. Yet, TORCEDOR is one of only two in this field who shows much penchant to take the running, the other being the outclassed MOUNT MORIAH. Between this pair of classy runners who aren't greatly suited by the ground, TORCEDOR gets the nod -- there's more to affirmatively like about him, whereas ORDER OF ST GEORGE looks an overbet place chance at best.
#6 VAZIRABAD (9/2)
#9 STRADIVARIUS (2/1)
#5 TORCEDOR (8/1)
Longshot: #4 SHEIKHZAYEDROAD (20/1) is nine years old, and yet the well-travelled Dubawi gelding just keeps on going. Though he disappointed last-up at Sandown, a well-beaten eighth in a Group 3, his form earlier in the year was good: a third in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy, and then a second in the Dubai Gold Cup (G2). VAZIRABAD beat him in both of those starts, but particularly in the Gold Cup, he checked in close behind. SHEIKHZAYEDROAD is no stranger to the Gold Cup, or to Ascot. He has a win and two money finishes in seven tries over the course, and that form includes a victory in the Long Distance Cup (G2) in 2016 as well as a third-place finish in the Gold Cup earlier that same year. With a chance he can bounce back from that Sandown outing to his form from earlier in the year, he appeals each way.
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