The tenth edition of the QIPCO British Champions Series will start with a bang on Friday 5th June when two-time Gold Cup hero Stradivarius and last year’s Investec Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck, will feature among a fascinating field of seven for the £110,000 Hurworth Bloodstock Coronation Cup (3.35pm).
Usually, the mile-and-a-half Group 1 contest is run at Epsom, but this summer, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, it has been switched to the Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket, just as it was during wartime periods (1915–16 plus 1943–45). It will take place behind closed doors with strict protocols observed.
Anthony Van Dyck, trained by Aidan O’Brien, will be joined in the line-up by stablemate Broome, who finished a close fourth behind him in the Derby, while the outstanding stayer Stradivarius (pictured top; courtesy of Ian Yates, www.eyewhy.co.uk), winner of 14 of his 20 races, will be using the race as a stepping stone towards attempting to land a third successive Gold Cup at Royal Ascot on 18th June.
In addition, Defoe, winner of last year’s renewal, will defend his crown, while two more winners at the highest level – Ghaiyyath and Desert Encounter – will also face the starter.
Defoe went on to land the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot and shaped well on his reappearance at Meydan in early March, when a short-head second to Loxley in the Group 2 Dubai City Of Gold. The six-year-old grey is trained by Roger Varian, who also landed the 2016 running with Postponed, and has been delighting his handler with his wellbeing.
Varian said: “Defoe’s a horse who tells you when he’s right and is giving us the right messages. He’s on his racing weight, he’s come good in his skin and he seems to have a bounce with him. He’s tuned-in for the race, but it might take a career-best to win it because the race looks a touch stronger this year.
“He seemed to really love Epsom last year, when he put it to bed in a few strides and won going away. But, saying that, he’s run well at Newmarket the couple of times he’s performed there and I don’t think the track holds too many fears for him.”
Reflecting on his narrow defeat in Dubai in the spring, Varian said: “It was a very pleasing run. It was a messy race and he probably should have won on another day. I thought he would come on considerably for that run and, of course, we were looking at the Sheema Classic [which got cancelled] three weeks later. As a Sheema prep, I thought it was ideal bar the result.
“He came home and had a few easier weeks because we knew we would not be racing until June with him, even if racing started in May. He’s ramped up the last few weeks and did a nice piece of week last week on the watered gallop. I could not be more pleased with his condition.”
Anthony Van Dyck will be seeking to become the first Derby winner to land the Coronation Cup since Roberto in 1973. He failed to win in five subsequent outings after Epsom, with O’Brien believing an outing on softish ground in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes in July was to his detriment.
“The soft ground at Ascot wasn’t the right thing to do with Anthony Van Dyck and he paid for it,” O’Brien said. “The plan would be to keep him on good ground [this year] and he’s doing everything right at the moment. I don’t know much about the mile and a half at Newmarket, but I would imagine you would need to get the trip very well.”
O’Brien has scooped the Coronation Cup a record eight times via Yeats (2005), Scorpion (2007), Soldier Of Fortune (2008), Fame And Glory (2010), St Nicholas Abbey (2011, 2012, 2013) and Highland Reel (2017) but the famous blue silks of Godolphin were last carried to victory in the race by Mutafaweq in 2001. Charlie Appleby is hoping to end that barren sequence courtesy of Ghaiyyath who, with an official rating of 126, is among the highest-rated horses in the world.
The five-year-old is lightly raced, having had only nine races, but gave a reminder of his talents when an easy winner of the Group 3 Dubai Millennium Stakes at Meydan in February and his exploits last year included a dazzling 14-length success in the Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis von Baden in Germany.
“It’s lovely to have older horses like him in the yard,” Appleby said. “We saw what Blue Point did for us last year and we are very excited to see Ghaiyyath as a five-year-old this season. He wintered in Dubai and the plan was always to have a prep run in the Dubai Millennium, which he won very well, before going on to the Sheema Classic. He came back about six weeks ago and looks fantastic. He’s got proven form on the Rowley Mile and is in great order.”
Desert Encounter has been a fabulous performer for David Simcock and landed the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International Stakes at Woodbine, in Canada, in October, when he won at the main expense of Alounak. The runner-up, trained in Germany at the time, will re-oppose and has since been switched to the yard of Andrew Balding.
Text and video (below) ‘Stradivarius: King of Stayers’, courtesy of QIPCO British Champions Series: