Views from connections ahead of Thursday's feature races at Royal Ascot

Frankie Dettori celebrates on Stradivarius
Frankie Dettori celebrates on Stradivarius

Check out the latest views from leading connections ahead of Thursday's feature races at Royal Ascot.

1620 Gold Cup

John Gosden fears soft ground for Stradivarius' repeat bid in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot - because it will blunt his "phenomenal" turn of foot. Last year's winner arrives on a six-race winning streak, with his last defeat coming on Champions Day 2017 behind Order Of St George.

He showed his versatility on his return to action this season when coping with the drop to a mile and three-quarters - but every dry hour will aid the chance of Frankie Dettori's mount, according to his trainer.

Gosden said: "He has that great weapon for a two-and-a-half miler in that he has a phenomenal turn of foot. If it goes soft it blunts his turn of foot and leaves him vulnerable. To a degree I share the view he is becoming a people's favourite. He is in the Cup races, and people enjoy them, and he was the champion stayer last year.

"If it rains a lot he is up against it. It won't be his scene if it turns into a slog on softer ground, because he has got a lot of class, and that will favour the boys who have got to grind it out.

"I think Torcedor and the Aga Khan's horse (Vazirabad) last year set a very high standard. I don't see the standard being any higher (this time) - he was just very effective on good to firm ground last year. He is not a big horse but he has the ability in the last two furlongs to turn it on.

"He got boxed in on Champions Day, but Frankie saw that chink of light and away he went and - yes he did cross Thomas Hobson late on, as has been pointed out - but all is fair in love and war, (and) yes he did get away with the ground that day. If the ground goes on the soft side Thomas Hobson is the horse I fear the most."

Dettori feels Stradivarius is now building up a real following.

"He breaks all the rules of a stayers' mould in that he is small and compact, and not tall and leggy as you would expect, but he has got that weapon of a turn of foot," said the Italian. "He has become the people's favourite horse. Last year he won the Gold Cup, and we are trying to defend the title again. The great thing about him is that he wears his heart on the sleeve and he never goes down without a fight - and people appreciate that."

With £500,000 on offer, the race forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series - and Stradivarius will have two new, worthy rivals in the shape of Dee Ex Bee, who ran with credit int he Derby and St Leger last year, and Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter.

Mark Johnston, who last won the Gold Cup with the second of Royal Rebel's wins in 2002, and his third in all after Double Trigger in 1995, admits it is the race he targets above all others.

"He's had two races, and they were exactly the two races I wanted," said Johnston. "The Gold Cup is going to be a lot tougher - of course it is. But the Sagaro and Henry II, to my mind, are the two recognised trials - and he's won them both. From those races, the one indication we got was the further the better. We are relishing the extra half mile, not concerned about it.

"Double Trigger was very much the classical stayer - he was 16.2 (hands) and tall and lean. Dee Ex Bee is far thicker-set and heavier, but on form and pedigree he's got all the credentials.

"We said all along that a horse who has run second in the Derby and fourth in the St Leger is your ideal candidate for Cup races as a four-year-old. He's been what we have been dreaming of for many years and he's all we imagined he would be."

For Charlie Appleby, the hope is Cross Counter can replicate his overseas form and handle the step up in trip.

He said: "He's a horse that has done well from three to four, and I don't think he's plateaued out. What he's done over two miles, you cannot fault him. Stepping up in trip again, you don't know, but if he improves for it then it opens up even more possibilities."

With Kew Gardens a surprise absentee, Aidan O'Brien runs 2017 Irish Derby winner Capri, as well as Hunting Horn.

"Capri has been slow to come to hand, but I've trained him for this race all year. We've been happy with him since his last run," said O'Brien. "While they obviously have to have stamina, they won't win it if they don't have class - and Capri won an Irish Derby, so hopefully he does."

Last year's Chester Cup winner Magic Circle will be looking to build on his comeback third in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester.

"He will appreciate any cut in the ground," said trainer Ian Williams.

"With the exception of one (Thomas Hobson, who is nine), he's the old man of the gang, and his form with Aidan's horse (Kew Gardens) at Chester looks solid enough over a trip that was inadequate for him.

"We are happy with him, and it's great to have a runner in the race. It doesn't look like Australia has left a mark on him. I couldn't have been happier with him at Chester, and the trip is certainly no disadvantage for him."

1540 Ribblesdale Stakes

Owner Anthony Oppenheimer insists he is struggling to split his two runners in the Ribblesdale Stakes as Frankellina and Star Catcher take each other on.

Frankellina, trained by William Haggas, was narrowly beaten in the Musidora at York before finishing sixth in the Oaks two weeks later. A more conventional track is expected to suit her.

John Gosden's Star Catcher was just behind Sir Michael Stoute's Queen Power, vying for favouritism in this, in a Newbury Listed race. She is expected to improve further for the step up to a mile and a half on Thursday.

"I honestly don't favour one over the other, and that is why we are running them both," said Oppenheimer. "When Star Catcher was beaten at Newbury, Frankie Dettori came back and apologised because he felt he should have won; he said he should have made more use of her - because she was running on again at the line, she finished full of running.

"She should be really suited by stepping up in trip - that is what we are hoping. Frankellina had the two quick runs in the Musidora and the Oaks - but she did a really nice piece of work the other day, which is why we are keen to run her. I'd absolutely think Ascot should suit her more than Epsom, because she is a big filly."

Gosden also runs Sparkle Roll, Shambolic and Fanny Logan.

He said: "I think they are much of a muchness, but I am happy with all three of them.

"They will run well, but I think Fleeting will take a lot of beating. Star Catcher was coming back at Queen Power last time at Newbury and she will appreciate the step up to a mile and a half."

After winning the St James's Palace Stakes with the supplemented Circus Maximus, Aidan O'Brien will be hoping lightning can strike twice with Fleeting - who was added to the race following her fast-finishing third in the Oaks. Peach Tree lines up for Ballydoyle, too.

Queen Power beats Lavender's Blue at Newbury
Queen Power beats Lavender's Blue at Newbury

1505 Hampton Court Stakes

The Hampton Court Stakes is a fascinating affair, in which Classic form mixes with handicappers.

O'Brien's Cape Of Good Hope finished fourth in the French Derby, while Andrew Balding's Fox Chairman was a fast-finishing third behind St James's Palace winner Circus Maximus at Chester.

Ed Walker runs Cap Francais, who perhaps travelled better than subsequent Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck at Lingfield last time out before his stamina gave way.

"We're very excited about his chances," said Walker. "It's a shame Gerald Mosse can't keep the partnership intact. But Jamie (Spencer) is the third most successful jockey at Royal Ascot still riding, so I think we've got a pretty good substitute.

"He's a very exciting horse. He arguably should have won the Derby trial at Epsom, and then he didn't stay in very deep ground at Lingfield, but he ran very well for a long way. Coming back to a mile and a quarter on better ground, I'm expecting him to run a big race."

Owner Khalid Abdullah holds a strong hand with Sir Michael Stoute's Sangarius and Roger Charlton's Headman, winner of the London Gold Cup last time out.

Abdullah's racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe said of the former: "His work has been solid. Sir Michael is bringing him in great shape. We have always had it on our mind that he might be a mile-and-a-quarter horse, even from when he was a two-year-old, so this is an interesting opportunity for him. His run at Sandown (third to King Of Comedy) has suggested he wants this trip, as has his work at home. It is a hugely competitive race."

Sangarius carries the famous colours' pink cap to distinguish first-string status - but it is Headman who is bidding to follow the path trodden to Royal Ascot success by his owner and trainer's Time Test back in 2015.

Grimthorpe said of Headman: "He is going what I call the Time Test route, having won with a larger weight in the London Gold Cup. Everything he has done since that victory has pleased Roger. This was always the race in mind we had for Headman after Newbury. You never quite know how much is between them. We've put the pink cap on Sangarius - mainly because he has Listed form, which Headman hasn't. But Headman is also by Kingman, which is important to us."

Sangarius stretches clear
Sangarius stretches clear to win as a two-year-old at Doncaster


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