Andy Stephens takes you through everything you need to know about the Gold Cup at Ascot on June 22.
When and where?: 4.20 Ascot on June 22. Live in glorious HD on Racing UK, Sky Channel 426.
What Grade?: Group One.
Which Course?: Round Course.
What Distance?: 2m 3f and 210 yards
What Prize-money?: £500,000 (Winner: £283,550).
Ages: For 4yo and upwards.
Weights & Allowances: 9st (4-y-o), 9st 2lb (5-y-o+). There is a 3lb allowance for fillies and mares, and a 1lb allowance for southern hemisphere 4-y-o)
Key statistics and trends:
The past seven winners had all won at least one race earlier in the season. That does not augur well for Doncaster Cup winner Desert Skyline.
Only one of the past 12 winners had run more than twice in the present season - the exception being Trip To Paris, who ran five times en route to landing the 2015 renewal.
Four-year-olds have dominated recent renewals, winning five of the past six runnings. Stradivarius is well fancied among that generation this year.
Aidan O’Brien has trained the winner a record seven times, although four of those wins were achieved by Yeats. Order Of St George, first and second in the past two renewals, is his main hope this time.
Keep in mind any runner with an official rating of 117 or higher.
None of the past dozen winners have been drawn any lower than stall nine. A high draw is a help.
The favourite has won eight of the past 11 runnings.
There has been only one French-trained winner in the past 40 years. Vazirabad bids to buck the trends.
Only two of the past six winners had previously won a Group One.
Yeats (2006) is the last horse to land the Gold Cup without the benefit of a previous run that year.
Founded in 1807, the Gold Cup is the most prestigious race at Royal Ascot. Run over almost 2m 4f, it thoroughly tests a horse's stamina.
Master Jackey was the first winner, when carrying only 6st 12lb against three rivals. The winner's prize was 100 guineas. It has undergone a few tweaks since!A statue of Yeats decorates Ascot (Racingfotos)
Winners of the Derby rarely run in the Gold Cup these days but for much of its history, the Gold Cup served as the primary objective after Epsom Classic glory.
Ocean Swell, successful in 1945, is the last horse to have completed the Derby/Gold Cup double. The most recent winner of the Derby to take part was Blakeney, who finished runner-up in 1970.
It is difficult to imagine there will ever be another.
Notable winners include Sagaro (1975, 1976 and 1977) – one of the greatest stayers of all time and the first horse to win the Gold Cup on three occasions. He was renowned as being a stayer with a turn of foot.
Ardross (1981 and 1982) formed part of a vintage era of stayers that also included Sagaro and Le Moss. He lost by three-quarter of a length to the latter in a thrilling finish to the 1980 Gold Cup before going on to dominate the staying division for the next two years.
He was also beaten a head on final appearance in Europe’s premier middle-distance contest, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, in 1982.
Yeats (2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009) is the only horse to win the race four times. The one-time Derby contender became the oldest winner of the Gold Cup since Merman in 1900 when gaining his fourth success in 2009 as an eight-year-old and is commemorated with a statue in Ascot’s parade ring.
Another Irish challenger, Rite Of Passage, set a new track record of 4min 16.92sec in 2010, while The Queen’s stayer, Estimate, created history in 2013 when becoming the first horse owned by a reigning monarch to win the Gold Cup.
Aidan O’Brien has saddled the winner on seven occasions. Lester Piggott rode the winner 11 times between 1957 and 1982.
The past 10 winners:
2017: Big Orange
An epic renewal in which Big Orange showed that he had a big heart to go with his big frame, as he repelled defending champion Order Of St George by a short head. The pair pulled six lengths clear of St Leger winner Harbour Law.
The well-backed Big Orange, went off at 5-1, was second early on behind Quest For More, but after being taken to the front by James Doyle, standing in for the injured Frankie Dettori, he was not for passing.
“He knows what speed he wants to go at and you just sit as a passenger,” Doyle said of the popular six-year-old, a two-time Goodwood Cup winner. “Big Orange got a little bit lonely and I wished that something had just joined him a bit sooner and he would have won a bit more impressively.
“I wasn’t sure if Order Of St George was just lugging into him a little bit, but it just gave him a little wake-up call and I always knew he was going to hold him to the line.
"He is a real proper old-fashioned stayer who just wears his heart on his sleeve.”
2016: Order Of St George
A record seventh Gold Cup success for Aidan O’Brien with Order Of St George, the 10-11 favourite, powering to an emphatic success after a rough renewal.
Mille Et Mille set a furious gallop with Order Of St George held up in the mid-division by Ryan Moore. Turning for home, the son of Galileo suffered traffic problems while trying to make his way through the field, forcing Moore to bring the four-year-old wide on the outside.
However, once O’Brien’s charge found daylight, the strapping colt stayed strongly down the outside to swoop to the front inside the furlong pole.
He continued to find plenty all the way to the line to register a three-length success from Mizzou, with the gallant Sheikhzayedroad in third.
“Ryan was very clever and didn’t panic on him,” O’Brien said. “He put him asleep and despite it getting pretty rough, he wasn’t worried and pulled Order Of St George out in the home straight without using any gas. He is just a big Rolls Royce engine.”
“I had to ride about four different races there – it was a nightmare the whole way,” Moore said. “He picked up well and to be still pouring it on at the end of two and a half miles is a very good performance.”
2015: Trip To Paris
The gamble to supplement Trip To Paris for £35,000 was more than vindicated as the Ed Dunlop-trained four-year-old, owned by a syndicate of seven, won under former jumps jockey Graham Lee.
Sent off at 12-1, Trip To Paris won with something in hand from Kingfisher, who did not enjoy the rub of the green, and the 5-2 favourite Forgotten Rules. Simenon was running in his third consecutive Gold Cup and stayed on well to take fourth.
Victory for Dunlop followed that of his father, John, who trained Ragstone to win Royal Ascot’s oldest race in 1974. “Those who know me know I’m not the most adventurous when it comes to stumping up £35,000, particularly when I own a bit of the horse,” he said. “He’s made phenomenal progress this season – he was on a mark of 88 at the start of the season.
“His owners are all very sporting and put up with me – some have been with me since the start. There are seven of us in the partnership.”
Asked where the Gold Cup win ranks in his career, Dunlop said: “Near the top. It’s an incredible day, and one of my greatest days as a trainer. I was always brought up by my parents to regard the Gold Cup as the highlight of this meeting.”
2014: Leading Light
A thrilling renewal in which Leading Light, given a brilliant ride by Joseph O’Brien, edged out The Queen’s runner Estimate, ridden by Ryan Moore, and front-running Missunited.
For a while it looked like Estimate might defy an interrupted preparation and win back-to-back renewals for Her Majesty but O’Brien, aboard the favourite, would not be denied and got his mount home by a neck.
“When you have a tough horse on your side it’s easier,” O’Brien said. “Ryan was looking for a bit of room, as he was well entitled to, and I was well entitled to keep the room I had.
“When I got to the front, my horse had a little look and he just wandered a little bit left, probably because he was getting tired. He’s as tough as nails, but I think his optimum trip is probably a mile and three-quarters to two miles.”
“It was a great run and I’m very proud of her,” Stoute said of Estimate. “It’s been a great team effort back at home to get her back on the track after so long but she’s made it easy for us as she’s a very brave filly.”
Months later, Estimate was disqualified for having an illegal substance in her system after being among several horses, in different yards, to eat contaminated feed.
A monumental renewal with Her Majesty the Queen’s filly, Estimate, taking the spoils in front of almost 60,000 delirious racegoers.
The Gold Cup had never been won by a monarch in its 206-year history, but Estimate lined up as 7-2 favourite and in a driving finish under jockey Ryan Moore held off Irish raider Simenon and France’s Top Trip.
A gift to The Queen from the Aga Khan, she scored by a neck and a length. She became Her Majesty’s 22nd winner at the Royal Meeting and images of her watching the closing stages, gripped by the action, were shown all around the world.
Accompanied by her racing and bloodstock advisor, John Warren, The Queen was given a rapturous welcome when she joined her daughter, the Princess Royal, and the filly’s trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, in the winner’s enclosure.
Expected to present the trophy to the winner of the race, Her Majesty instead received it from her second son, The Duke of York.
Sir Michael said: “This win is very high on my list, because it’s been done for a lady who, never mind being The Queen, loves racing, is a great supporter of racing and is so good for British racing.
He added: “Great teamwork went behind Estimate, because sometimes she can be a pain in the arse.”
Willie Mullins, trainer of the neck runner-up, said: “I wasn’t disappointed to be second – maybe for the first time in my life.”
2012: Colour Vision
Fame And Glory was sent off 4-5 favourite to repeat his win of 12 months earlier but he did not fire, trailing home seventh.
Instead, it was left to Godolphin to dominate proceedings on a soggy day with Colour Vision, trained by Saeed Bin Suroor and ridden by Frankie Dettori, edging out Opinion Poll, partnered by Mickael Barzalona and trained by Mahmood Al Zarooni.
Colour Vision was confirmed as the winner after a stewards’ enquiry and Dettori, who had increasingly felt under pressure from Barzalona, said: “This was my best chance of the week and I had a very difficult decision to make. I chose Colour Vision because I thought Opinion Poll was more effective over two miles.”
Bin Suroor was able to savour his first British Group One winner since Poet’s Voice took the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in September, 2010 and he said with a smile: “You have to be patient. This is a very tough game.”
John Oxx, who trained third-placed Saddler’s Rock, was left lamenting what might have been.“It was a bit of a farce of a race from his point of view,” he said. “He’s normally so relaxed and yet they went so slow he was just tugging the whole way and would not drop the bit.”
2011: Fame And Glory
The ground was bordering on soft after rain in the morning but it could not prevent class act Fame And Glory, runner-up to Sea The Stars in the 2009 Derby, claiming an an easy win.
Trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Jamie Spencer, Fame And Glory won by three lengths after hitting the front in the finishing straight.
“Thanks to everybody who allowed a horse of this class to run in the Gold Cup,” O’Brien said. “You'll see very few mile-and-a-quarter Group One winners tackling the race. When horses have so much class they often stay and he did - it's a privilege to train him.”
Spencer said: "People had their doubts as to whether he would stay but I never had any doubts."
His celebrations were slightly tainted by a four-day ban for careless riding and “using his whip down the shoulder in the forehand position”.
John Magnier added: "The question was whether he would stay. If he got the trip, all the stars were aligned. If Sea The Stars hadn't run at Epsom this horse would be retired to stud as a Derby winner."
2010: Rite Of Passage
With Yeats enjoying a second vocation at stud, the door was open for a fresh face to prevail. Step forward Rite Of Passage, who won in a record time for Dermot Weld and Pat Smullen.
The six-year-old, whose career had began when landing a gamble in a Galway bumper two summers previously, lined up at 20-1 three months after finishing third over two miles and five furlongs in a Cheltenham Festival novices’ hurdle.
Despite the unusual preparation for Flat racing’s most famous staying prize, the Giant’s Causeway gelding upstaged more highly-touted rivals and edged out Age Of Aquarius by a neck. Both Smullen and Johnny Murtagh, rider of the runner-up, received whip bans.
Weld said: “There were two reasons why I bought him (for 20,000 guineas in October 2005) as a yearling. Firstly, he was a very active horse but also because his grandmother was Dahlia, who won the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes here twice. I thought that if he’d got her genes then he’d be OK.”
Dublin-based owner Ronan Lambe added: “Dermot is a genius of a trainer and I think he first mentioned the Gold Cup in January or February and I thought he was a bit crazy! This is the most exciting day of my racing life.
Like a grandad getting married? The racing community delighted in giving their blessing as Yeats returned to make history and win a fourth successive Gold Cup.
Sent off 6-4 favourite after being backed down from 5-2, Yeats did not disappoint his legion of fans as he galloped home three-and-a-half lengths clear under Johnny Murtagh in front of a crowd of 69,011.
A visibly shell-shocked Aidan O’Brien said: “It’s a dream. All morning I was feeling so sick - I was just thinking that this couldn’t happen. He’s an unbelievable, amazing horse. The only time I’ve felt this much pressure was with (three-time champion hurdler) Istabraq. I was afraid of the disappointment for everybody if this didn’t happen.”
Coolmore supremo John Magnier added “it’s as good as it gets in this game” and Murtagh said: “I felt something very special going past the line - the brewing of the crowd for the last furlong carried the horse home. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s probably the greatest day of my racing career.”
According to Ladbrokes, Yeats costs bookmakers £20 million over four years and became most expensive Royal Ascot horse in betting history.
A magical day as the mighty Yeats became only the second horse to land a hat-trick of Gold Cup wins.
Under a confident Johnny Murtagh, the seven-year-old made his move with more than half a mile to run before stretching clear of first third-placed Coastal Path and then shrugging off the challenge of Geordieland.
“I didn’t believe it could happen,” Aidan O’Brien said. “To win one Gold Cup was unbelievable, to win two was amazing and to win three, what can I say? He’s a stayer with unbelievable class.
“He’s just one of those unique horses with a massive heart, a massive pair of lungs, great rhythm and the great determination to win. The people at home make it happen.”
In the aftermath bookmakers quoted him at 3-1 to win a fourth Gold Cup in 2009. Part-owner John Magnier joked: “He’ll be eight next year so it would be like a grandad getting married.”
Jamie Osborne, trainer of Geordieland, said: “It was an exciting race and got my ticker going a bit. Yeats is an awesome horse over this trip.”
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