Stradivarius bids to make winning end to Royal Ascot career

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Stradivarius is "top class" like the violin he is named after, his trainer John Gosden told AFP, and on Thursday can make his final Royal Ascot appearance a memorable one by winning a record-equalling fourth Ascot Gold Cup.

He is already a rarity in flat racing in being one of the greats with exceptional longevity -- normally horses of his level retire for breeding purposes at three or four. In another rarity, due to his many years at the top and his exploits on the track, Stradivarius receives fan mail.

On Thursday he will play to a full house -- though Royal Ascot's most famous regular attendee Queen Elizabeth II is likely to be absent -- after two years when attendances have been much reduced due to Covid protocols.

"He is very expressive and an ebullient character," Gosden told AFP from his Newmarket stables.

"He is a lovely horse to train. If you can have fun with a horse then he is one, he snorts and plays and has a great sense of humour.

"He has a connection with the racing public due to his longevity and I have been very lucky to have had him and Enable, who was still winning Group One races aged six, which is very unusual."

A striking looking horse with his four white socks -- which Gosden says reminds him of the 1977 Derby winner The Minstrel -- Stradivarius has accrued over £3.2 million ($3.9 million) in prize money by winning 20 of his 33 races and only finishing outside the first three on five occasions.

One of those was fourth in last year's Ascot Gold Cup when he was boxed in on the rail and then, just as Frankie Dettori got him free, he was obstructed by a horse who was beating a retreat to the rear.

Gosden, who since last year has held a joint training licence with his son Thady, hopes Stradivarius will not be targeted by other stables in sending out a horse specifically to keep him pinned to the rail while a stablemate of the offending horse benefits.

- 'Farewell tour' -

Those tactics were deployed against Enable in the 2018 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, although she made light of it to go on and win the race for a second successive time.

"I think he will run a very good race but I hope it will be a clean race and we do not have other jockeys pinning him in," said 71-year-old Gosden.

"We have seen enough of that and even though he is streetwise it is a worry.

"Horse and jockey are fine on the rail but if you get boxed in then the anxiety levels rise."

Gosden had told AFP last year Stradivarius and Dettori were "not quite yet sitting in their deck chairs staring out to sea".

However, while 51-year-old Italian riding legend Dettori shows little sign of losing his enthusiasm for the big days Gosden has suggested Stradivarius is a couple of races away from retirement.

He comes into Thursday's race -- where he is bidding to equal Yeats's Gold Cup record (2006-09) -- on the back of winning the Yorkshire Cup for the third time and the plan is to make the Goodwood Cup in July the final bow.

"This is meant to be his farewell tour but he will tell us when he has had enough," said Gosden.

"It is a pleasure to train him but everything has an end and he has covered thousands of miles on the gallops and racing."

Gosden began his stellar training career in California where his most famous performer was Bates Motel -- aptly named in the state which is home to Hollywood -- but even with this background he resists the temptation to compare Stradivarius with a rock star.

"I had not thought of that, but no I think he is well named," said Gosden.

"He is polished looking, durable and top class."

pi/gj

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