Timeform bring you their comprehensive runner-by-runner guide to Thursday's Ascot Gold Cup and pick out their 1-2-3...
"...with no penalty to contend with here he is the clear one to beat."
Timeform on Stradivarius
1. Called To The Bar (Mme Pia Brandt/Maxime Guyon)
Very smart French raider whose wins in 2018 included the Prix Gladiateur at Longchamp, and also finished second in the Group 1 Prix Royal Oak there. He's well worth his place here after winning the Prix Vicomtesse Vigier at Longchamp (by three lengths from Way To Paris) last time, though he is untested at further than two miles.
2. Capri (Aidan O'Brien/Donnacha O'Brien)
Has the talent to get involved here, considering that he won the Irish Derby at the Curragh and the St Leger at Doncaster as a three-year-old, and finished a creditable three and a quarter lengths fifth to Enable in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp last season. He's been well below form in two starts so far this term, however, most recently in a listed race at Leopardstown last time, and has plenty to prove here as a result.
3. Magic Circle (Ian Williams/Jim Crowley)
Looked a stayer to follow when winning the Chester Cup and Henry II Stakes at Sandown (by six lengths from Red Verdon) in 2018, and reportedly broke a blood vessel when well held in Melbourne Cup last November. He ran well over an inadequate trip when third on reappearance in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester last month, and with this longer trip in his favour it would be no surprise to see an improved effort here.
4. Stradivarius (John Gosden/Frankie Dettori)
The standout stayer of his generation who enjoyed an unbeaten 2018, winning the Yorkshire Cup at York, this race (his best performance of the season, by three quarters of a length from the multiple Group 1 winner Vazirabad), the Goodwood Cup, the Lonsdale Cup at York and finally the Long Distance Cup back here. He looked a little ring-rusty but completed a six-timer nonetheless when beating Southern France by three quarters of a length to win the Yorkshire Cup for the second year running last time, and with no penalty to contend with here he is the clear one to beat.
5. Thomas Hobson (Willie Mullins/Andrea Atzeni)
Defied a long Flat absence (fit from the Jumps) when landing the Ascot Stakes at this meeting in 2017. Enjoyed a productive summer last year, too, winning the Doncaster Cup last September (by half a length from stablemate Max Dynamite) before finishing a good one and a half lengths second to Stradivarius in the Long Distance Cup here the following month. Produced a respectable effort to finish second on reappearance in Germany last month, but has a bit to find here for win purposes.
6. Cross Counter (Charlie Appleby/James Doyle)
Enjoyed a stellar 2018, winning four times, including in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood (by four and a half lengths from Dee Ex Bee, breaking the course record) and in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington (by length from Marmelo) last November. Proved as good as ever when winning the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan on reappearance in March, and he appeals as the type to improve again for an even stiffer test of stamina.
7. Cypress Creek (Aidan O'Brien/Seamie Heffernan)
Won the Loughbrown Stakes over two miles at Naas in 2018, and ran even better in defeat when a close-up last of six in the Long Distance Cup here on his next start. He was out of his depth over a shorter trip in the Coronation Cup at Epsom last time, and is up against it here despite the longer trip being in his favour.
8. Dee Ex Bee (Mark Johnston/Silvestre De Sousa)
Strapping individual who was winless in 2018, but proved himself to be a very smart performer, notably finishing second in the Derby at Epsom (one and a half lengths behind Masar). He has progressed further for the step up to two miles this year, winning the Sagaro Stakes here (by three and a quarter lengths from Raymond Tusk) and the Henry II Stakes at Sandown (by one and three quarter lengths from Mekong, making all and staying on well). A prominent racer, he remains with potential over long trips, and looks the main challenger to Stradivarius.
9. Flag of Honour (Aidan O'Brien/Ryan Moore)
Completed a hat-trick at the Curragh in 2018, winning the Curragh Cup, the Irish St Leger Trial and the Irish St Leger itself (by two and three quarter lengths from Latrobe), but hasn't been at his best so far this term, being put in his place on three occasions by stablemate Magical over a mile and a quarter. A talented front-runner, return to two and a half miles is in his favour, and he rates as a lively outsider.
10. Master of Reality (Joseph O'Brien/W.M. Lordan)
Won twice in France for Pascal Bary and has since developed into smart performer for Joseph O'Brien since switching yards last summer, winning the Group 3 Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan (by a neck from Mustajeer) in April. His effort to finish a respectable five and a quarter lengths fourth to Twilight Payment at Leopardstown last time leaves him with plenty to find, though.
11. Raymond Tusk (Richard Hannon/Jamie Spencer)
Progressive three-year-old last term whose wins included a listed race at Hamilton and the Gran Premio del Jockey Club at Milan (by half a length from Walsingham). Took another step forward when finishing three and a quarter lengths second to Dee Ex Bee in Sagaro Stakes here last month, but only third to Crystal Ocean when dropped in trip in Aston Park Stakes at Newbury last time. The return to further will suit, but still has a bit to find on form.
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Timeform’s Ascot Gold Cup Analyst Verdict
STRADIVARIUS faces a couple of new rivals here in Dee Ex Bee and Cross Counter but last month's reappearance success in the Yorkshire Cup suggests he's every bit as good as last year and he should continue to prove very hard to beat. Dee Ex Bee has been impressive when stepped up to 2m on both starts this term and could be the one to give John Gosden's charge most to think about.
Ascot Gold Cup 1-2-3
2. Dee Ex Bee
3. Cross Counter