Order Of St George to make History at Royal Ascot
Order Of St George will attempt to become the first horse in 18 years to regain his Gold Cup crown at Royal Ascot on Thursday.
The six-year-old, who heads a final field of nine for the £500,000 showpiece, which forms part of the Long Distance category of the QIPCO British Champions Series, provided Aidan O’Brien with his seventh Gold Cup victory in 2016 before being beaten a short head by Big Orange when seeking back-to-back wins last year. Kazzia, successful in 1998 and 2000, was the last horse to regain the Gold Cup.
Order Of St George went on to win the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October, on QIPCO British Champions Day, and this year has already chalked up wins at Navan and Leopardstown to take his tally of victories to 13 from 24 starts.
The pair who chased Order Of St George home in the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup, Torcedor and Stradivarius, re-oppose and are in the running for a £1 million bonus offered by Weatherbys Hamilton if either wins the Gold Cup and then two other staying prizes that fall under the Champions Series banner – the Qatar Goodwood Cup next month and then the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup at York in August.
Torcedor, trained by Jessica Harrington, is eligible courtesy of his runaway all-the-way win under regular rider Colm O’Donoghue in the Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in April. That impressive five-length success, which came after a below-par run in Dubai, confirmed his relish for a stamina test at the Berkshire venue, no great surprise given that he is from the family of Yeats, the only horse to win the Gold Cup four times (2006-09).
Harrington, 71, has won many of jump racing’s biggest prizes – including the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Queen Mother Champion Chase – but is still seeking a first Royal Ascot success.
“I first went when I was about 17. It’s a great meeting, a fantastic week whether you are working or going for the fun,” she said. “It would be lovely to have a winner there – if you are a trainer you want to win at Ascot, like at Cheltenham or Punchestown. They are the ones that matter. I’ll have seven runners and never had a bigger or better team.
“Torcedor is in great form. Things went wrong out in Dubai, when he lost a lot of weight travelling and didn’t run his race. Colm looked after him, which was brilliant, and he bounced back and won the Sagaro very well. We knew he’d improved a little bit this year and that’s why Dubai was very disappointing. The idea was there but it didn’t work out.”
Torcedor finished fifth in the Gold Cup 12 months ago but Harrington says he is now more the finished article. “I think he’s a better horse than this time last year,” she said. “Physically he has done very well and he’s good mentally. We left the cheekpieces off last year because we were worried about him getting the two and a half miles but they will be back on this time.
“He’s run very well every time he’s been to Ascot; it’s a case of courses for horses. Ground wise he goes on anything and we will get what we are given.” Regards tactics, she added: “He’s versatile and will be wherever he is comfortable.
Assessing the opposition, she said: “Order Of St George seems to be in good order and has won his two prep races very easily. Probably the others to be frightened of are the French horse [Vazirabad] and the two four-year-olds [Stradivarius and Desert Skyline]. It’s a very hot race but we will do our best.”
Stradivarius, winner of the Goodwood Cup last year before finishing third in the William Hill St Leger, is qualified to scoop the seven-figure bonus courtesy of his smooth reappearance victory in the MansionBet Yorkshire Cup last month, when he was chased home by Desert Skyline, the Doncaster Cup winner.
Vazirabad, trained in France by Alain de Royer Dupre, boasts an even better wins-to-runs ratio than Order Of St George, having won 15 of his 22 races – the past 13 in the hands of Christophe Soumillon.
The six-year-old became the first horse to win the Group 2 Prix Vicomtesse Vigier three times at ParisLongchamp last month, having also become the first triple winner of the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan in March. On the latter occasion he won at the main expense of Sheikhzayedroad, who was third in the 2016 Gold Cup but unplaced 12 months ago.
Vazirabad will belatedly be having his first run in Britain and will attempt to become the sixteenth French-trained winner of the Gold Cup since the Second World War, although in the past 40 years the only winner from France has been Westerner (2005).
Serial Irish jumps’ trainer Willie Mullins has saddled five winners at Royal Ascot, all in races over at least 2m 4f, and he came close to landing the Gold Cup in 2013 when Simenon finished a neck runner-up to Her Majesty The Queen’s Estimate. This time he is represented by Max Dynamite, easy winner of the Lonsdale Cup in 2015 and twice placed in the Emirates Melbourne Cup. The field is completed by Mount Moriah and Scotland.