Comparing Stradivarius to the greatest stayers ever – is he number one?

Features | 10th June 2021

Stradivarius will be looking to create yet more history and equal Yeats' record of four Ascot Gold Cups but how does he compare to other legends as the greatest stayer ever?

Star stayer Stradivarius heads for Royal Ascot on the brink of history. One more virtuoso performance in the Gold Cup and he will equal Yeats’ remarkable four wins in the historic 2m4f contest.

They say many a good tune is played on an old fiddle but Stradivarius is still hitting concert pitch at seven‐years‐old.

His record makes him one of the best – but where does John Gosden’s champion sit among the greatest stayers Flat racing has seen?

Third Ascot Gold Cup for Stradivarius and Frankie Dettori at Royal Ascot 2020
Third Ascot Gold Cup for Stradivarius and Frankie Dettori at Royal Ascot 2020

Great or greatest?

The Gold Cup – the longest Group 1 contest in the British Flat racing calendar ‐ has crowned some superb stayers. Their names still evoke wonderful memories for racing fans young and old. Without the irresistible draw of stud duties enjoyed by speedier horses, the best stayers often hang around a lot longer.

Their popularity grows stronger each year and Stradivarius is the latest to be taken into the hearts of the racing public. To lay claim to the honour of the greatest stayer of them all he must prove his record is better than some legendary horses.

Victorian champion St Simon was one of the earliest. Trained by Mathew Dawson at Heath House, Newmarket, now home to Sir Mark Prescott, he won the 1884 Gold Cup by 20 lengths with his jockey Charlie Wood unable to pull him up for nearly a full circuit of Ascot.

Sadly, injury ended his racing career as a three‐year‐old but he went on to become the most important stallions of his time.

St Simon
St Simon

Nearly a hundred years later, in 1977, Sagaro became the first three‐times winner of the Gold Cup. The French‐trained star, ridden to all three victories by Lester Piggott, had a blistering turn of pace by staying standards.

He put it to good use to see off top‐class rival Buckskin by an easy five lengths for his historic third Gold Cup.

Like London buses, racing fans didn’t have to wait long for the next star stayers. Le Moss, trained by Sir Henry Cecil, was described as “cantankerous” by jockey Joe Mercer. On the track he was brilliant.

He completed the stayers’ triple crown of the Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Doncaster in both 1979 and 1980. His defeat of Ardross to land his second Gold Cup was shown to be an superb performance in the following seasons.

Ardross joined Cecil on the death of his trainer/breeder Paddy Prendergast. He dominated the staying scene of the early 1980s winning the next two Gold Cups and signing off by finishing a head runner‐up behind Akiyda in the Arc de Triomphe.

Le Moss
Le Moss

Moving into the 1990s, another great emerged and dominated the staying scene for many a year. Double Trigger is without doubt one of trainer Mark Johnston’s best ever horses which is no mean feat considering Johnston has been at the top of the sport for over 3 decades.

Double Trigger’s record speaks for itself with 12 Group race wins and a Stayer’s Triple crown (Ascot Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup) which he achieved in 1995. The Champion Stayer went on to achieve three Goodwood and Doncaster Cup victories.

Double Trigger held the record for most Goodwood Cups in history, a record that stood for 19 years until Stradivarius came along in 2017 and started his four race winning streak at Goodwood.

Those are some lofty achievements but, if Stradivarius wins a fourth Gold Cup, owner Bjorn Nielsen’s star would have to sit atop of the lot. As well as his Royal Ascot exploits, where he also won the Queen’s Vase, he was the first three‐year‐ old to win the Goodwood Cup for 27 years when successful in 2017.

He’s since won that Group 1 prize another three times. The following year he became the first horse to win the Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup in the same season to scoop a £1 million bonus.

Just for good measure he repeated that feat, once thought to be almost unachievable, 12 months later.

Different people measure greatness in different ways. Some use individual performances, while others point to longevity, consistency and versatility. Stradivarius’ record is overflowing on all counts. 

A fourth Ascot Gold Cup for Stradivarius?

The Gold Cup is the pinnacle for horses blessed with more stamina than speed. Like the Cheltenham version for jumpers, it is the race that makes champions.

Only one horse has won more of Royal Ascot’s Gold Cups than Stradivarius and this week he will get the chance to equal Yeats’ record of four wins in the historic prize.

His first came in 2018. It was nowhere near the most impressive performance of his illustrious career but there was substance to the form.

Stradivarius toughed it out in the closing stages to hold French champion Vazirbad ‐ the winner of 14 races including three Group 1s – with previous Gold Cup hero Order Of St George back in fourth.

2018 Ascot Gold Cup
2018 Ascot Gold Cup

The opposition was equally tough when he returned to Royal Ascot the following year. Derby runner‐up Dee Ex Bee had won the Sagaro Stakes and Henry II Stakes en route to the Gold Cup and Godolphin’s Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter was also in the field.

Despite finding trouble down the straight on ground far softer than ideal, Stradivarius brushed them aside with a performance that was far better than the length winning margin.

2019 Ascot Gold Cup
2019 Ascot Gold Cup

Last year the ground was even more testing but Stradivarius sliced through to put in an astonishing performance.

He cruised through the race under regular rider Frankie Dettori before storming ten lengths clear of Nayef Road and Cross Counter. It was the biggest winning margin of any of his 17 victories and showed the further he goes, the better he is.

With the warm, sunny weather forecast counting against this season’s main rivals Subjectivist and Trueshan, he looks to have an outstanding chance of matching Yeats’ four Gold Cup wins.

If he does, he will equal the tally of a true great. As a son of Sadler’s Wells, Yeats was bred to win a Derby. He might well have done had injury not struck the red‐hot favourite just days before the Epsom Classic ruling him out of the rest of the season.

His win in Epsom’s Group 1 Coronation Cup the following year must have had his trainer Aidan O’Brien wondering what might have been but those frustrations were soon forgotten when he stepped up in distance for the Cup races as a five‐year‐old.

The rest, as they say, is history and Yeats made sure he wrote his name in it when storming home to his fourth Gold Cup victory in 2009 to beat Sagaro’s record.

It was a staggering feat no one could have believed would be equalled until a little chestnut with four white socks came along.

History awaits that horse, Stradivarius, at Royal Ascot this week.