by JOHN SINCLAIR THE Ascot Gold Cup is the most prestigious flat race over 2-plus miles on turf in Europe. The 2 mile 4 furlong contest is held on day three of the Royal Meeting in June and is considered by many as the feature of the week at the Berkshire racecourse. The fastest time for the Ascot Gold Cup was recorded in 1988 when Sadeem completed the course in 4:15:67.
Last year Order of St George provided Aidan O’Brien with his seventh success in this contest when he scored by three lengths with a time of 4:26:21. The Irish trainer has proved a master of preparing horses for this contest. Yeats won four consecutive Ascot Gold Cups between 2006 and 2009, while Fame and Glory and Leading Light have since been victorious for the Ballydoyle trainer.
Here is a look at the leading contenders for the 2017 Ascot Gold Cup.
Order of St George
In 2016 Order of St George became the fifth four-year-old in the last five years to win the Ascot Gold Cup. The Irish horse justified going off as the 10-11 favourite as he stayed on strongly inside the final furlong to break away from his rivals. His outing at Royal Ascot was the first time the colt had run over 2m4f where he seemed to improve for the extra distance.
Order of St George won his eighth race from his 17th career start earlier this month when he claimed a Listed contest at Leopardstown on his second outing of the season. O’Brien will now rest his runner for the Gold Cupt where he will be bidding to become only the second horse to reclaim his crown in this race in the last 15 years. When Sadeem broke the course record for this race in 1988, as analysis on bookmaker Betway shows, he reached a speed of 44mph over two furlongs. Order of St George has a high cruising speed himself for a 2m 4f trip therefore if the ground comes up fast on the day, it would be no surprise to see him go close to breaking that 29-year-old-record.
French-trained horses don’t have a great record in the Ascot Gold Cup, only one has been successful in the last 30 years and that was Westerner for Elie Lellouche in 2005. Alain De Royer-Dupre will be hoping to improve France’s record this year when Vazirabad makes the trip across the Channel. The five-year-old has an impressive record as he has won on 11 of his 16 career starts, including the Group One Prix Royal-Oak at Saint-Cloud last year.
As of 2016, 15 of the last 17 winners of the Ascot Gold had previously won over 2m or further, according to research done by the Derbyshire Times on the race. This horse is one of the few runners in the race to have scored at the 2m trip so his connections will be confident.
The concern for Vazirabad backers will be he has never raced in the UK before. He has though competed on three occasions in Dubai at Meydan during their World Cup meeting where he has won two of those outings. The French horse has scored twice over 2m so the Ascot Gold Cup trip should not be a problem for him.
2015 St Leger winner Simple Verse is being campaigned towards the Ascot Gold Cup this season by his trainer Ralph Beckett. The five year old ran in the Qipco British Champion Series Long Distance Cup over 2m on British Champions Day last year where he came home a respectable third, just a length behind the winner Sheikhzayedroad.
Simple Verse returned to action in the Yorkshire Cup earlier this month and he was very unfortunate not to prevail in the Group Two contest as he was denied by a neck behind Dartmouth from the Sir Michael Stoute yard. The 2m4f trip will be unfamiliar territory for the Classic winner, however, given the race is run steadily in the early stages, it could be in his reach.
Big Orange returned to form recently with victory in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown to put himself in contention for Royal Ascot. Now at the age of six, it could be his last shot at the 2m4f contest.
Michael Bell’s runner should be sharp enough for the Ascot Gold Cup as his campaign began back in March at Meydan. This will be his fourth attempt at a Group One contest and he is still bidding for his first success at the top level. Connections will be hoping the step up in distance will help his chances.
The 2017 Ascot Gold Cup will takes place on June 22 at 16.20. Betting is already available on the race where Order of St George tops the market at 6/4.