Battle of the boys as staying sluggers take aim at historic Doncaster Cup

Doncaster Cup Stakes (Group 2) | 2m2f | 3yo+ | ITV4/ATR

It is time for the men of South Yorkshire to enjoy themselves on Town Moor on Friday, with day three of the William Hill St Leger meeting billed as gentleman’s day in Doncaster.

Sports cars and laser clay pigeon shooting, not to mention copious pints of ale, are among the attractions off the field of play but on it the oldest race in the calendar takes centre stage.

Established in 1766 and previously run as the Doncaster Gold Cup, Friday’s feature pre-dates even the St Leger and was originally staged over the four miles of nearby Cantley Common.

Dropped to a more sensible two and a quarter miles nowadays, stamina remains the prerequisite to success and, fittingly the line-up is an all-male affair, with a field of eight sluggers out to lift the Cup.

Simcock plays strong hand but which is the ace? 

Willie Mullins may field three but arguably the two runners from David Simcock’s Newmarket stable hold the key, both of whom appear to have excellent claims despite boasting very different credentials.

Veteran stayer Sheikhzayedroad knows all about this gruelling test, having won the race in a head-bobbing finish in 2016 and going down all guns blazing in third 12 months ago.

Persian Punch may have won this race as a ten-year-old in 2003 but should Sheikhzayedroad triumph for a second time, he would become the second-oldest winner since 1843 at the age of nine.

“He's lacked a little sparkle in both his runs in Britain this season and it might just be that Dubai really suits him for one reason or another,” said Simcock.

“He’s fresh, happy and training well but we’ll have to take fitness on trust and a run does usually do him the world of good, but we’ll have to see.”

The only horse rated higher than Sheikhzayedroad in the field is stablemate Algometer but while Sheikhzayedroad is proven at this extreme trip, Algometer steps beyond 1m6f for the first time.

“He was up against quicker horses last time and is a little bit like Sheikhzayedroad, in that as he’s got older he’s got slower. He still retains plenty of ability and when he races against proper stayers he’s still very much in his comfort zone," the trainer added. 

"To go 2m2f for the first time is extreme and not ideal but we’re desperate to go down the staying route with him. He’s in excellent order and ground won’t be a problem.

"Algometer is race fit and Sheikhzayedroad is as ready as he is.”

Can Mullins finally take the spoils?

Willie Mullins is not shy in sending his top jumpers to Doncaster in the depths of winter but he has also taken a shine to this late-summer Flat jewel and sends a solid trio into battle as he bids to finally land a first success after a couple of near misses.

Clondaw Warrior (2015) and Thomas Hobson (2017) both finished second in the race and last year’s runner-up appears to the stable’s first string this time with Ryan Moore booked.  

"Thomas Hobson was a good second in the race last year and ran a nice race at the Curragh last month. He's coming along nicely and will like the trip and the ground."

Mullins has also snapped up top jockeys for his other two runners, with Andrea Atzeni on Max Dynamite and Frankie Dettori aboard Renneti. 

"Max Dynamite and Renneti will also like the trip but both of them have been disappointing recently and will need to step forward a good bit if they are to be involved at the finish," Mullins added. 

Can Saunter bridge the gap into Group company?

Saunter sauntered home with last season’s prestigious November Handicap at this track and returns to Doncaster to tackle a trip beyond 1m6f and Group company for the first time.

He has been progressive again this season, with wins in France (over 1m6f) and Newmarket (1m4f) to his name and was far from disgraced on ground quicker than ideal in the Ebor last time.

“It was soft when he won the November Handicap and probably plenty quick enough for him in the Ebor,” said trainer Ian Williams. “He’s up in distance but I wouldn’t have entered him if I didn’t think the trip was within his compass. I’d be happy enough he will stay.

“It’s a big ask but I’d be confident of him putting up a reasonable performance.”

Are Lord Yeats and Jukebox Jive jokers in the pack? 

Lord Yeats is another stepping up in trip and grade after the Ebor but as a son of four-time Gold Cup winner Yeats, he certainly looks well equipped for this extreme test of stamina.

He finished two places behind Saunter at York and trainer Jedd O’Keeffe said: “He’s definitely bred to stay and when we ran him 1m7f in France earlier in the year he had no trouble staying.

“We were thrilled with the way he ran in the Ebor last time but the ground was too lively for him to be at his best – he will be a level above that on slower ground. We don’t need it to be soft or heavy, but the slower side of good is definitely preferable for him.”

Completing the field is Jukebox Jive, carrying the silks of Ron Huggins, owner of Doncaster legend Double Trigger, who landed this race three time in the 1990s.

He has something to find on ratings but, unlike many if his rivals, is already proven at the trip.  

Trainer Anthony Honeyball said: “He’s got a fair bit to find and will be the outsider of the lot but I’m not fazed by that. He’s a good solid stayer with a very good attitude.

“We go there thinking he will have more of a squeak than his price suggests and that he will outrun his odds.”