Saddler’s can Rock Gold Cup rivals for master trainer John Oxx

BILL ESDAILE PREVIEWS THE ASCOT GOLD CUP AND THE TERCENTENARY STAKES

THE Ascot Gold Cup (3.45pm) is the jewel in the stayers’ crown and this afternoon’s renewal looks one of the most competitive in recent years.

Aidan O’Brien dominated this race between 2006-2011, winning it five times, but that was mainly down to the astonishing Yeats, who won a record four Gold Cups. However, he only has one contender this time and that’s the 33/1 outsider El Salvador, so it looks unlikely that he will add to his haul.

The Irish have a strong hand, though, with 2010 winner Rite Of Passage back for a second crack at the event. Dermot Weld’s top class stayer has suffered numerous injury problems over the past few years, but he won here on QIPCO British Champions Day after 17 months off the track.

The Dr Ronan Lambe-owned nine-year-old has only had 12 starts in his career, so he is very lightly raced for his age, and his trainer is a genius with these staying horses. He can’t be written off at 6/1 with Ladbrokes, but I’d prefer to look for some slightly better value.

John Oxx is another master trainer with these types and I think it could be the turn of his SADDLER’S ROCK to finally win a really big one. The five-year-old finished third in this race 12 months ago, beaten by just three quarters of a length, and everything that could go wrong did.

There was absolutely no pace and the one thing this son of Sadler’s Wells needs is a really strong gallop. He was pulling for his head the whole way round last time and the fact he finished so close is testament to his ability. I have no doubt Oxx would have wanted to get a prep run in to his charge, but he made the call to bypass the Saval Beg at Leopardstown, as did Weld with Rite Of Passage. That said, Saddler’s Rock raced twice out in Dubai in the spring and as long as his trainer has him where he wants him I think he must have a massive chance at 8/1 with Coral.

There are plenty of other interesting contenders in the line-up, not least Sir Michael Stoute’s filly Estimate, who is owned by Her Majesty the Queen. This daughter of Monsun was an incredibly impressive winner of the Queen’s Vase at this meeting last year and she also landed her seasonal reappearance, over two miles again, last month.

It’s looking more and more likely that she will end up going off favourite, but the main worry I have is her ability to see out the extra four furlongs. She has never gone further than two miles before and this race is a war of attrition. She’s a really decent filly, but may just struggle against the battle-hardened stayers. I’d be happy to oppose her in a match bet against Saddler’s Rock with Sporting Index.

Of the others, High Jinx, Times Up and last year’s winner Colour Vision can all be given a squeak, as can Willie Mullins’ course and distance winner Simenon. But it’s the German contenders that interest me, as we’ve seen regularly in the past couple of seasons just how strongly their form stands up on our shores.

Earl of Tinsdal and Altano are both trained by Andreas Wohler and, although I think the former is probably the better horse, Altano is the stronger stayer. The value might, therefore, lie with him, but I’d be more tempted to couple the duo into one bet, so back a German winner at 7/1 with Coral as a hedge to the main selection of Saddler’s Rock.

■ Pointers…
SADDLER’S ROCK e/w 3.45pm Ascot
ANY GERMAN WINNER 3.45pm Ascot