Stradivarius will face five rivals when he attempts to win the £100,000 Magners Rose Doncaster Cup on Friday, a race that forms part of the Long Distance category of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
The all-conquering John Gosden-trained stayer, unbeaten for almost two years and seeking a tenth successive win, will become the first horse in 39 years to complete the Stayers’ Triple Crown if he triumphs at Town Moor.
Le Moss was the last to achieve the feat of winning the Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup in the same year in 1979 and 1980. Like Stradivarius, he was a chestnut with white socks (he had three and not four) and was trained in Newmarket (by Henry Cecil).
When Le Moss carried all before him in 1980, he kept winning at the principal expense of Ardross, who would himself go on to scale great heights. The pair finished one-two in the Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup.
Fast forward to the present day and similar is being played out. Stradivarius’s triumphs in the Gold Cup (by a length), Qatar Goodwood Cup (a neck) and Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup (length and a quarter) have all been at the main expense of Dee Ex Bee.
The pair will meet for a fourth time at Town Moor, although on this occasion Dee Ex Bee will be in receipt of 5lb. Mark Johnston, his trainer, said: “What is there to say? We’ve met him [Stradivarius] three times and come off worse every time. To be honest, we were not expecting him to come on to Doncaster.
“Two and a quarter miles gives us an extra quarter of a mile to play with compared to York last time, but he beat us in the Ascot Gold Cup [over further] as well. There’s no reason to think Stradivarius has any chinks in his armour, unless he’s not at his best on the day.
“After Friday we will also look at QIPCO British Champions Day for Dee Ex Bee but it’s odds-on he will go for the Prix Du Cadran instead.”
The race will be a landmark occasion for Emmet Mullins as he will saddle his first runner in a Group race in the shape of the improving Sneaky Getaway.
The Cheltenham Festival-winning rider (he won on Sir Des Champs in 2011 for his uncle, Willie) turned to training at the age of 25, four years ago and his biggest successes have been achieved over jumps, including in France this month.
He does not discount Sneaky Getaway going hurdling at some stage but the six-year-old, who belatedly began his career this year running in bumpers, was a commanding handicap winner at Tramore on his latest start and has achieved an official rating of 101 in only three starts on the Flat, albeit that is 20lb less than the mark allotted to Stradivarius.
Mullins said: “Sneaky Getaway’s very exciting – every challenge we’ve given him he has come through. He initially came to me last year as a five-year-old but he had little niggly things [wrong with him] and so I sent him home. This year he’s come back and looked a different horse.
“There was an option to run him in a handicap over a mile and five in Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend but I thought he might be a little on his head there. Stamina is his strong suit and the two-and-a-quarter-miles of the Doncaster Cup should suit him down to the ground.
“He’s very uncomplicated. He’s made the running to win races, and been dropped in to win races. Over those extreme distances he’s flexible.”
He added: “I think we blew his handicap mark the last day when he went up to 101. Once you are over 100 you are not far away from most of the horses in the [Doncaster Cup] field with the exception of Stradivarius and Dee Ex Bee.
“Stradivarius is an extraordinary horse to keep doing what he is doing. It will be exciting to have a runner alongside him and it’s a great opportunity to have my first ever runner in a Group race.”
Willie Mullins enjoyed a one-two in the Doncaster Cup last year via Thomas Hobson and Max Dynamite. This time, he relies solely on the latter, whose exploits have also included winning the Lonsdale Cup in 2015 and twice being placed in the Melbourne Cup.
Patrick Mullins, his son and assistant, said: “He’s been a fabulous horse for us but is finding it hard to find winning opportunities these days. Stradivarius and Dee Ex Bee are very good and we are just hoping he can run well and get some good placed prize-money.”
Mullins Jr is himself unbeaten in two starts on Max Dynamite but said with a degree of modesty: “I’ve got to ride him in much easier races! He’s a dream of a horse to ride, he’s like riding a go-kart. He’s very professional and very relaxed.
“It will be interesting to see how Emmet’s horse runs. He’s improving with every run and Emmet is not afraid to be adventurous or think outside the box.”
The line-up is completed by the Roger Varian-trained Barsanti, who steps up in trip after finishing a staying-on fifth in the Sky Bet Ebor at York last time, and Andrew Balding’s Cleonte, who finished eleventh in that race after earlier in the season winning the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot.