ALL EYES will be on the Aidan O’Brien-trained Order Of St George as he bids to follow in the hoofprints of some horseracing greats by winning back-to-back Ascot Gold Cups this afternoon.
Sagaro, Le Moss and Ardross all won the race in consecutive years in the 1970s and 1980s, while more recently the likes of Drum Taps, Royal Rebel and Yeats repeated the feat.
The latter, of course, was brilliantly handled by O’Brien to win the race a record-breaking four years on the trot and Order Of St George will parade past his statue as he bids to enter the history books.
In reality, he will be incredibly hard to beat if he lines up in the same form as 12 months ago and he looked as good as ever in the Saval Beg at Leopardstown last month.
My reasons for opposing him are based purely on his price and the fact he has the ability to throw in the occasional stinker.
He has been a beaten odds-on favourite three times in his last six starts since his Gold Cup victory and that has to be slightly off-putting.
I’m also concerned that a few of O’Brien’s horses have thrown in below-par efforts this week and I certainly won’t be in a hurry to snap up any of the 5/6 on offer with both Coral and Ladbrokes.
Instead, I’ll be focussing my attentions on SHEIKHZAYEDROAD who looks a rock solid each-way bet at 12/1 in places.
David Simcock’s Group One winning eight-year-old finished third behind Order Of St George in this contest last year, before reversing those placings in the Long Distance Cup back here in October.
As he has done for the last four years, my selection has spent his winter in Dubai and shaped with real promise when finishing third to Vazirabad in the Dubai Gold Cup on his latest start.
He shaped like he is now crying out for this marathon trip and I expect connections to ride him more positively this year knowing that he stays the distance.
I’m not saying he’d have beaten Order Of St George last year if he’d been ridden more prominently, but he’d certainly have finished a good deal closer.
He is also very adaptable when it comes to ground, so the quick conditions won’t be a problem.
BIG ORANGE was one position behind Sheikhzayedroad in Dubai back in March and has since won the Henry II Stakes at Sandown.
Last season’s Goodwood Cup winner has yet to race over this extra half mile, but shapes as though it will be well within his grasp.
He has encountered ground described as ‘good to firm’ on five occasions in his racing career, winning on the last four occasions and finishing a close-up fourth in the Queen’s Vase here three years ago.
At 8/1 with Ladbrokes, he looks a decent each-way proposition and it would be disappointing if he’s not involved in the shake-up.
My final pick was a toss-up between SIMPLE VERSE and Sweet Selection, with narrow preference for the former.
Winner of the St Leger two years ago, Ralph Beckett’s mare finished a close-up third to Sheikhzayedroad in the Long Distance Cup here in October.
She ran all the way to the line that day and her trainer has always felt that this trip is well within her grasp.
Only a neck separated her and Dartmouth in the Yorkshire Cup on her reappearance and that is bound to put her spot on for this.
Sweet Selection ran out an impressive winner of the Cesarewitch last October and looked good when landing the Sagaro Stakes here in May.
There is no ignoring the fact she is a mare who seems to be improving with age, but she will need to improve again to take a hand in the finish here.
Stamina is definitely her strong suit which is a big plus, but she was well beaten behind Sheikhzayedroad in last year’s Doncaster Cup when last dipping her toes in at this level.
As for the others, the trip is a big unknown for Torcedor, while Quest For More needs to bounce back from a couple of disappointing runs so far this season.
RACING TRADER BILL ESDAILE’S ASCOT GOLD CUP 1-2-3
- Big Orange
- Simple Verse