Stradivarius will face seven rivals when he makes his reappearance in the £260,000 Matchbook Yorkshire Cup over almost 1m6f at York on Friday – the first race in the Long Distance category of this year’s QIPCO British Champions Series.
The John Gosden-trained colt, bred and owned by Bjorn Nielsen, carried all before him in the staying division last year, when he won the Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup, Qatar Goodwood Cup, Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup and the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup.
In the process, he became only the second horse, after the legendary Frankel in 2012, to win five QIPCO British Champions Series races in one season. His exploits also helped his connections scoop a £1 million bonus offered by Weatherbys Hamilton, which is again up for grabs this year.
Ardross (1981-82) is the only horse to have won two renewals of the Yorkshire Cup and Stradivarius will have to defy a 3lb penalty if he is to emulate him. Frankie Dettori, his jockey, is seeking a sixth success in the Group Two contest, 28 years after his first aboard Arzanni.
“It’s very unusual to have a stayer with such a turn of foot,” Dettori said.
"He’s a great little horse. What he’s done has been remarkable and we are going to try do it all again, but it’s going to be more difficult with more competition and more miles on the clock."
Charlie Appleby went close to landing a first Yorkshire Cup with Endless Time in 2017 – she was beaten two necks and a head in a memorable encounter won by Dartmouth - and this time relies on Ispolini.
The four-year-old son of Dubawi was gelded at the end of last season and has shown improved form in Dubai this year. On his latest start he chased home stablemate and Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter in the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan.
"He was quite a heavy horse and being gelded has been the making of him,” Appleby said.
"I geld the horses when I feel it will turn them into a racehorse, rather than have them stand there on the gallops as a good-looking colt.
"As he showed in Dubai, he’s got quite a good gear change and I think a mile and six furlongs is probably his best trip. He gets two miles but I think a dour stayer, a proper Cup horse, will always outstay him over that distance.
"It will be interesting to see how he gets on back in Europe. The one thing I wouldn’t want to run him on would be quick ground."
Mark Johnston won the 2002 renewal with Zindabad and relies his year on Mildenberger, who chased home Roaring Lion in the Al Basti Equiworld Dante Stakes 12 months ago before missing the rest of the season because of injury.
He showed he retains all his ability when third in his last start to Communique, his stablemate, in the Group Two Roaring Lion Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket during the QIPCO Guineas Festival.
"We are a little bit unsure about him trip wise but that last run told us that he stays well and we are very keen to see him over further distance still," Johnston said. "We’ve no doubt he is a class horse.
"The handicapper assessed his latest run as a career best but I’d have thought his run in the Dante last year was superior."
On the challenge presented by Stradivarius, he said: "He’s top-class but can be beaten. He’s not run this season, got a penalty and it’s over a mile and a six - this is the best opportunity to take him on."
The Matchbook Yorkshire Cup is one of the few big races in Great Britain to have eluded Aidan O’Brien. The master of Ballydoyle seeks to put that right via Southern France, who finished third in the William Hill St Leger last season and shaped well when filling the same position on his return in the Group Three Sequence Events Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan.
Mootasadir arrives on a roll, having won his past four starts on the all-weather. The Hugo Palmer-trained colt is unbeaten in six starts on artificial surfaces but his two runs on turf have failed to yield a success.
Desert Skyline finished a three-length runner-up to Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup 12 months ago and his owners will hope a 6lb swing in the weights will help the 2017 Doncaster Cup winner give him more to do. However, Desert Skyline has run against Stradivarius on eight occasions and finished behind him every time.
John Ryan is responsible for Sevenna Star, winner of the Group Three bet365 Classic Trial at Sandown last year when trained by John Gosden, and Aircraft Carrier, who won three staying contests on the all-weather during the winter.