Stradivarius returns to Goodwood

04th July 2022

One of the most decorated stayers of all time is set to bring the curtain down on his glittering career in the 2022 Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup.

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Stradivarius is due to make his swansong at the Qatar Goodwood Festival, with a place in the pantheon of great staying performers already assured alongside the likes of Ardross, Le Moss, Sagaro and Yeats.

The eight-year-old boasts a remarkable record comprising 20 wins from 34 appearances, including 18 Group-race victories – eclipsing the European record previously held by French star Cirrus Des Aigles.

An unprecedented four Al Shaqab Goodwood Cups, to go with three Gold Cups, three Lonsdale Cups, three Yorkshire Cups, two Doncaster Cups, a British Champions Long Distance Cup, and approaching £3.5 million in prize money.

In the beginning, owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen did not have a prospective cup runner on his mind when he sent Private Life, a descendant of Daniel Wildenstein’s champion racemare Pawneese, to be covered by Sea The Stars in 2013.

I am always trying to breed the Derby-type horse – a mile-and-a-quarter, mile-and-a-half horse – and very often I've come up with a horse who stays further.

Bjorn Nielsen

The resulting chestnut, likened to 'Mighty Mouse' at John & Thady Gosden’s Clarehaven Stables due to his diminutive stature, has taken connections on a journey from a Nottingham maiden to the biggest festivals in the world.

Stradivarius’ love affair with the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup started as a three-year-old. Fresh from his breakthrough victory in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, Stradivarius lined up against reigning Gold Cup winner Big Orange, who himself was seeking a third straight win in the two-mile highlight.

In receipt of 13lb, Stradivarius made his move from three furlongs out to challenge Big Orange approaching the final furlong and displayed what would become his trademark finishing burst to clinch the race in decisive fashion under Andrea Atzeni.

“I am always frightened when you take on the older horses with a three-year-old in a race like this,” John Gosden said afterwards. “I thought he'd run well and could see him in the frame but not necessarily winning. He has a good turn of foot, which is a good weapon in a two-mile race.”

A prophetic Atzeni added: “I don't think Stradivarius knows how good he is – he's a little immature and still learning. He will be better next year.” And after finishing third in a red-hot renewal of the St Leger later that season, so it proved.

Stradivarius was at his zenith over the next two campaigns, winning 11 of his 12 starts to secure back-to-back Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million bonuses – awarded for winning a recognised prep race in the spring, the Gold Cup, the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup and the Lonsdale Cup at York.

Weatherbys Hamilton was forced to scrap the £1 million initiative soon after, with the company’s chief executive Charles Hamilton conceding: “To use a prize-fighter analogy, we took on Stradivarius over four rounds last year and were floored. We staggered to our feet, took him on over another four rounds this year and were floored again…I think, realistically, we have to declare this particular fight to be over.”

Having equalled Double Trigger’s record of three Goodwood Cups in 2019, Stradivarius returned 12 months later with an historic fourth win in his crosshairs, following a 10-length procession in the Gold Cup.

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Just as Stradivarius had taken advantage of the three-year-old weight allowance in 2017, Queen’s Vase and Irish Derby winner Santiago lined up for Aidan O’Brien in receipt of 15lb. In a race that did not pan out ideally, Frankie Dettori played his cards late on Stradivarius, manoeuvring out of a pocket to mow down Nayef Road and Santiago inside the final furlong.

Dettori has ridden some of the best stayers of the last 30 years. He said simply: “Stradivarius’ greatest weapon is his turn of foot – I don’t remember a stayer with a turn of foot like his.”

Stradivarius is not the first high-profile stayer to have raced in Nielsen’s colours, with his first flagship horse Assessor scoring twice at the highest level in the early 1990s and Masked Marvel taking the St Leger in 2011.

“It is for other people to say whether Stradivarius is one of the great stayers, but I think he deserves to be in the conversation,” Nielsen said. “Those three big horses [Sagaro, Le Moss, Ardross] and Yeats obviously as well, plus you can't take Double Trigger out of there. They are real horses.

It is an amazing thing that Stradivarius turns up on my doorstep because I don't have a big stable.

Bjorn Nielsen

He added, in reference to his breeding operation of around 14 broodmares. “You have guys like Sheikh Mohammed with 500 horses and Coolmore with all their horses – how do I wind up with Stradivarius?”

Stradivarius missed the 2021 Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup due to testing ground, and trouble in running has scuppered his two attempts at emulating Yeats’ record of four Gold Cups. His legion of fans will be hoping for a change of fortune on July 26.

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