June 18 (UPI) -- Stradivarius brought an historic ray of sunshine to a rainy, cool third day of Royal Ascot, striding out down the stretch to win the Group 1 Gold Cup, the Thursday feature, for the third straight year.
There were concerns as overnight rain continued into the racing program, softening the turf beyond the liking of the 6-year-old son of Sea the Stars. The conditions seemed to boost the chances of other accomplished stayers in the 2 1/2-mile marathon.
Stradivarius, a striking chestnut horse, shrugged off all of that with disdain, posting the most emphatic victory of his stellar, multimillion-dollar career.
Emerging from well off the pace turning for home, he cruised through the final furlong to win by 10 lengths, with jockey Frankie Dettori celebrating well before the finish.
Nayef Road was second, a further 8 lengths in front of 2018 Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter, emphasizing the dominance of the John Gosden-trained star.
Stradivarius won the 2018 Gold Cup over ground rated good to fast and he handled soft going in winning last year's edition. Thursday's "soft" was, by all reports, even softer than the 2019 conditions and Dettori quipped to Sky Racing commentators in the parade ring, "I hope he can swim!"
If that's what it took, he could.
"We purposely stayed wide on the fresh ground, so that helped a little bit, but nevertheless it is still very soft. It just shows you what a fighter and how versatile he is. It is all about Stradivarius today," Dettori said.
The eerie silence of an Ascot Racecourse devoid of fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic lifted slightly as the relative handful of essential employees in the winner's enclosure erupted into cheers and applause for Dettori's trademark flying dismount.
"I am so proud of he horse. He is a joy to be around," said Dettori, who in normal times thrives on the adulation of his supporters. "He will go down as one of the great stayers. Even with no crowd, I am quite emotional. It's a very proud moment."
Dettori did miss another happy audience with Her Majesty the Queen, who normally presents the Gold Cup trophy but is watching the races from home at nearby Windsor Castle this year because of the pandemic.
Stradivarius joins Sagaro as a triple Gold Cup winner with only four-time winner Yeats ahead on the list.
"For a horse to do that -- I mean Sagaro was trained by a great friend of mine, Francois Boutin, and ridden by Lester Piggott," trainer Gosden said. "I remember watching all his races and he was something. Yeats was a phenomenon. To have a horse mentioned in that bracket is what it is all about."
Gosden said the decision whether to keep Stradivarius in training for another year will be up to his very sporting owner/breeder Bjorn Nielsen. But he noted that Stradivarius was very full of himself in the parade ring, trumpeting and displaying the equipment he will use in his second career in the breeding shed.
"I must change my aftershave, as he got quite coltish whilst I was saddling him," Gosden quipped. "I must have overdone the aftershave or something. He is quite a noisy character, and he was having a shout and play out there. He does think life is a bit of fun and when you win races like this, I suppose it is."
Also on the third day of Royal Ascot 2020:
It's a strange year for the 2-year-olds. At a time when three months of racing in a normal year would have started to sort things out a bit, Royal Ascot this year finds most of the competitors relatively unexposed, leaving pedigree as a more prominent handicapping tool than form.
Thus, there was no surprise that Battleground emerged from behind the leaders to sprint off to an easy victory in the 7-furlongs Chesham Stakes.
The War Front colt is the first foal from the outstanding race mare Found, winner of the 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf and herself a daughter of Galileo. With that blood in his veins, Battleground's first-race disappointment was easily overlooked before the Chesham.
As Ryan Moore booted home the winner, 2 1/2 lengths clear of runner-up March Law, Seattle Rock, a filly with blue blood of her own, looked like a threat at odds of 80-1 but lugged badly to the right in the final yards and could do no more than finish third.
"Battleground is an exciting horse. He could be anything," winning trainer Aidan O'Brien said. "He could be one for the July meeting or the National Stakes. I would imagine he would stay well and probably a mile will be his trip. Found got a mile and a half, but he is by War Front and that is a big influence for speed.
"We are hoping that he could progress into a very good miler. Found was an unbelievable, magic mare. She was one of the very special ones and everyone remembers her. Obviously, this is her first foal and everyone wants to do well. Battleground is an unbelievable specimen, really."
In the Group 3 Jersey Stakes for 3-year-olds, Molatham and Monarch of Egypt dueled through the last of 7 furlongs before the former prevailed by 1/2 length. Molatham, a son of Night of Thunder and grandson of Dubawi, won for the third time in five starts, extending this year's phenomenal Royal Ascot success of owner Sheik Hamdan Al Maktoum.
That success continued for Sheik Hamdan, jockey Jim Crowley and trainer Roger Varian in the 1-mile Brittania Stakes for 3-year-olds as Khaloosy defeated the favorite, Finest Sound, by a sound 4 1/2 lengths. Khaloosy, a son of Dubawi, was making his first start of the season and first-ever on turf after a win and a runner-up showing on all-weather courses as a 2-year-old.
Crowley and Sheik Hamdan each have six wins through the first three days of the five-day Royal meeting. Varian and Gosden are tied with four wins each.
On the remainder of the card: Highland Chief posted a 20-1 upset win in the 1 1/4-miles Golden Gates Handicap with the favorite, Global Storm, third; Mountain Angel came from well back to take the Wolferton Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Sir Dragonette; and Onassis, under Hayley Turner, was a 33-1 upset winner in the Sandringham Handicap for 3-year-old fillies.
Friday's program will feature the Group 2 Commonwealth Cup at 6 furlongs and a pair of well-subscribed 2-year-old races, the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes at 5 furlongs and the Group 3 Albany Stakes for fillies at 6 furlongs. The Norfolk is a "Win and You're In" race offering an Annie Oakley to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
The Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes features a showdown between Sheik Hamdan's Elarqam and Coolmore's globetrotting star Anthony Van Dyck.