STRADIVARIUS looks another strong St Leger contender for John Gosden after downing Big Orange in the Qatar Goodwood Cup.
The Ascot Gold Cup winner adopted his usual front-running tactics under Frankie Dettori and appeared to have all of his rivals in trouble as he went in search of a third successive win in the race, which was newly-upgraded to Group 1 status.
However, Stradivarius, with Gosden keen to take advantage of the weight-for-age allowance as he was at the weekend with Enable in the King George, stayed on strongly.
Just like Big Orange, Stradivarius was a Royal Ascot winner in the Queen's Vase and the 13lb difference was key inside the final furlong as the 6/1 chance pulled clear, with another three-year-old Desert Skyline in third.
Gosden has won the Leger in recent years with the likes of Lucarno, Masked Marvel and Arctic Cosmos and now all roads surely lead to Town Moor once more. The winner is 4/1 second-favourite for the final Classic with Betfair.
Andrea Atzeni was riding a Group-race treble after earlier victories on Expert Eye and Breton Rock.
"It's a great day. I thought I had a chance coming here, but knew Big Orange was the one to beat," said Atzeni.
"He had to give us a lot of weight, though, and he's a three-year-old who stays well.
"I spoke to Mr Gosden before the race and said that if I had a chance to challenge Big Orange I didn't want to get near him, everyone knows what he's like, you can't get near him as he loves a fight.
"He's improving, I liked him at Ascot and he picked up like a nice horse. He could be anything."
Gosden said: "He's not the biggest and he got knocked around a bit, but Andrea has been cool today.
"Frankie went into the middle which was clever as he didn't want to be attacked near a rail on one side, but that meant it opened up for us.
"He's a lovely little horse, he won the Vase at Royal Ascot and it was Peter Shoemark, my racing manager at Clarehaven, who mentioned coming here and I thought he was mad, but of course he isn't.
"He'll go for the Leger, obviously. Andrea said he's still mentally immature and he's improving all the time. He loves fast ground so it was good he handled this slower ground, but he's got a big heart, which is important."
Trainer Michael Bell was proud of Big Orange in defeat.
"We know he is better on faster ground, but the winner is probably a very good horse," he said.
"He pulled well clear of the older horses and the other three-year-old was third. That weight concession is very tough for older horses, but he has run a huge race and I'm very proud of him.
"We were hoping to win, but equally he has run his heart out so you can't be disappointed with the run, it will probably turn out that the winner is a very good horse. It was slower than ideal for him, but he still ran a great race in defeat."