The magical five days of the Royal Ascot Festival are jam-packed with signature contests, events which go some way towards shaping the narrative for the season. From the most precociously talented youngsters to the Classic generation and on to the best of the older horses, if they have the necessary talent, there’s an Ascot target to aim at.
Of the eight Group 1 races spread over the meeting, the Ascot Gold Cup captures the public imagination more than any other, as the toughest stayers in the game do battle over a gruelling 2m4f. Given that marathon trip, this contest is one of the most distinctive of the season and regularly sees many of the same stamina-laden stars return for a crack at the prize on multiple occasions.
Here we look back through the 216-year history of this great race and pick out those gluttons for gold, for whom one visit to the Ascot winning enclosure simply wasn’t enough.
Nineteen at the Double
No fewer than 19 horses have managed exactly two wins since this race made its debut back in 1807. Details surrounding the exploits of many of these heroes appear to have been lost to the sands of time, but there are, nevertheless, several names which stand out from the crowd:
- Anticipation (1816, 1819) – This star of the early 19th century deserves a special mention as the first horse to both claim the trophy on more than one occasion and regain his title having lost it.
- Bizarre (1824, 1825) – It took 18 years for the first staying king to successfully defend their crown, with this Lord Cavendish-owned runner achieving the feat in 1825.
- Le Moss (1979, 1980) – Sir Henry Cecil’s greatest ever stayer, who won the Staying Triple Crown of the Goodwood Cup, Doncaster Cup and Gold Cup in both 1979 and 1980.
- Ardross (1981, 1982) – Supremely talented stayer who won the Goodwood Cup, Yorkshire Cup, and Doncaster Cup in addition to his back-to-back Ascot successes. Also the sire of 1995 Champion Hurdle winner, Alderbrook.
- Kayf Tara (1998, 2000) – On top of his Ascot heroics, Kayf Tara won the Irish St Leger in both 1998 and 1999. Passing away at the grand old age of 28 in late 2022, he made a considerable contribution as a National Hunt stallion, with the brilliant Thistlecrack counted amongst his progeny.
Sagaro the First to Make it Three
When a jockey as prolific at the highest level as Lester Piggott labels you as “the greatest long-distance horse I ever rode”, you must be something pretty special. The Irish-bred, French-trained Sagaro was certainly that.
First announcing himself as a stayer a little out of the ordinary when sauntering four lengths clear of the field to win by four lengths in 1975, he overcame injury to successfully defend his crown one year later. What looked a vintage renewal in advance being turned into a one-horse race – the one-length winning margin doing scant justice to the effortless manner in which Sagaro dispatched his rivals.
History then beckoned in 1977, as the six-year-old attempted to go where no horse had gone before and land a third success in the staying race coveted above all others. Another year may have passed, but his superiority remained undiminished as, under a motionless Piggott, this wonderful stayer won in almost ridiculously easy style.
Stradivarius Hits Concert Pitch Between 2018 and 2020
43 years after that majestic display from Sagaro, we had a new entry into the annals of racing folklore. Showing immense promise in his three-year-old campaign – winning the Queen’s Vase and Goodwood Cup – it was at four that John Gosden’s Stradivarius first announced himself as the best in the business.
The son of Sea The Stars never could make it four – finishing fourth in 2021 and a gallant third in 2022 – but ending his career with three Gold Cups, four Goodwood Cups, three Yorkshire Cups, three Lonsdale Cups, and two Doncaster Cups, is deservedly ranked as one of the greatest stayers of this, or any other era.
Irish Legend All Alone on Four
The 21st century has certainly been a vintage period for staying superstars. Before Stradivarius came the horse whom many rate as the greatest of them all. Named in honour of the renowned Irish poet, by the time he retired, Yeats had written his own chapter in racing history.
Good enough to win the 1m4f Coronation Cup, it was over stamina-sapping trips that Yeats would prove an irresistible force. The winner of seven Group 1’s in total, his record at Royal Ascot was a perfect one. Expected to play second fiddle to Sir Michael Stoute’s Distincioni and French raider Reefscape in 2006, Yeats made a mockery of that assessment to power clear for an eased-down four length success.
Repeating the dose when mastering Geordieland in 2007 and 2008, his date with destiny then arrived in 2009. Now eight years old – and having been beaten by 32 lengths on his previous outing – Yeats had questions to answer, with many suggesting father time may be taking his toll. Yeats was having none of it, going to the well one last time to repel the younger legs of Patkai in the straight.
To win this race once is a fine achievement, to do so four times is simply remarkable – and a feat which may never be repeated!