Stradivarius and Cross Counter, the reigning king and pretender to the staying throne, clash in the Gold Cup – the feature event on day three of Royal Ascot.
The two-and-a-half-mile heat is very much the jewel in Ascot’s crown, established in 1807 and boasting one of three perpetual trophies at the Royal meeting.
Stradivarius’ owner Bjorn Nielsen already has one such trophy on his shelf after last year’s win – which was supplemented by the Sagaro Stakes, the Goodwood and Lonsdale Cups to seal a £1million bonus, and that prize is again in the offing should he make it a Gold Cup double here.
However, Godolphin’s Melbourne Cup star Cross Counter is one of those standing in his way, with the Flemington hero facing his first proper test on the European stage.
Add in Capri for Aidan O’Brien – who has won the race a record seven times – and you potentially have a vintage Gold Cup at 4.20.
The stayers take centre stage for sure today – with the Ribblesdale, Hampton Court and Norfolk Stakes providing fantastic support – but it must not be forgotten, of course, that Thursday is also ladies’ day.
Fashion will certainly be to the fore, so expect designer names to be on the lips just as often as big-race tips.
Cross Counter is a globe-trotting superstar in his own right, after his wins in the Melbourne Cup and Dubai Gold Cup in his two previous outings. He was beaten in his last attempt on domestic shores, though, when runner-up in York’s Great Voltigeur 10 months ago over just a mile and a half.
The mighty Yeats still sets the standard, even for Stradivarius. His four consecutive wins for O’Brien – from 2006 to 2009 – stand alone as a unique achievement in the 212-year history of the great race.
The writing is on the wall…
One will do nicely, though, for a place in history. As Stradivarius bids to put himself in an elite bracket as a dual winner, his 10 rivals all have a chance to etch their names in perpetuity.
Ward for the win?
American trainer Wesley Ward is already a dual winner of the Norfolk Stakes. This time, he relies on Maven – under Tyler Gaffalione – to prove himself the two-year-old speed king in this coveted Group Two affair.
Spit and polish
Human preparation will have taken almost as many hours as the equine, in many instances. This afternoon, it is the ladies who traditionally bid for the accolade of best turned-out.
Rain, rain – please stay away
This was the scene for much of the day on Wednesday, before finally relenting in the late afternoon. Here’s hoping for today…