Key questions as potential staying star Stradivarius kicks off campaign

3.30 York
Mansionbet Yorkshire Cup (Group 2) | 1m6f | 4yo+ | ITV4/RUK

The historic Yorkshire Cup is Friday's feature race on the Knavesmire, with the returning Stradivarius heading a cast of eight set to go to post. Here’s what you need to know.

Is Stradivarius the next staying star?

The next time someone decries the worth of the world’s oldest Classic gently remind them about the 2017 running, which could scarcely have worked out better.

Winner Capri and runner-up Crystal Ocean have both looked potentially top-class when making winning comebacks over shorter trips this spring; fourth-placed Rekindling landed the Melbourne Cup next time out and Defoe (tenth) is another Group 1 winner-in-waiting judged on his efforts this term.

All of which increases the expectations of Stradivarius, whose half-length third in the St Leger did nothing but confirm the favourable impression he hadcreated when landing the Queen’s Vase and Goodwood Cup earlier in the season.

He went on to finish a close third to Order Of St George at Ascot and, if there's a four-year-old who can beat the favourite in the Gold Cup next month it is almost certainly Stradivarius, who has been trained with this stepping stone firmly in mind this spring.

Trainer John Gosden said: "He's had a good spring and the plan has always been to start him off in the Yorkshire Cup.

"I see Mr Mullins is sending over a good one and this will put him right for the Gold Cup. He breezed nicely on Tuesday and is quite versatile as regards ground."

Can Desert Skyline do what Persian Punch could not? 

Famously tough stayer Persian Punch never won a Group race over a trip as short as 1m6f and finished no closer than third in four attempts at the Yorkshire Cup.

His trainer David Elsworth is back to try again with another smart and gutsy stayer in Desert Skyline, who finished sixth behind Stradivarius in the 1m6f Queen’s Vase last year and third in the 2m Goodwood Cup.

He put up his best effort when stepped up to 2m2f in the Doncaster Cup, looking a thorough galloper in the process, and is being aimed firmly at the 2m4f Gold Cup.

Desert Skyline was third under a penalty in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot a fortnight ago, and Elsworth said: "He ran a sound race there – we were very pleased with him.

"This trip won't be too far, that's for sure. We're trying to win the Ascot Gold Cup and this is the route we're going."

Will Max Dynamite return to his best?

Max Dynamite looked top class when romping to victory in the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup at the 2015 Ebor meeting and confirmed that impression with two huge efforts in the Melbourne Cup since then.

He was beaten just half a length into second place later in 2015 and was a highly creditable third at Flemington last November.

But Max Dynamite comes here under something of a cloud having shown little in two outings over hurdles this spring, well beaten at Cheltenham and then pulled up at Punchestown.

Is there further improvement to come from Count Octave?

There was just a neck between Count Octave and Stradivarius when they clashed in the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot last June, with Andrew Balding's representative headed only inside the final furlong.

The gap had extended to five lengths when the pair met again in the St Leger at Doncaster three months later, but the soft surface may have been partly responsible and he has come out this season and won a novice event at Wolverhampton, before finishing a creditable third behind Defoe at Newbury.

Balding said: "I hope he'll run well. The race wasn't run to suit last time and it turned into a bit of a sprint.

"We've always liked him and the extra two furlongs will be to his advantage."

Can the Queen follow up with Call To Mind?

Her Majesty won this with 11-4 favourite Dartmouth last year and, although her Call To Mind is a longer price this year, he is far from a no-hoper.

The four-year-old beat Count Octave in the March Stakes at Goodwood, before finishing a neck second in a Group 2 event over 1m7f at Chantilly.

He warmed up for this with a fourth over 1m4f at Newbury and trainer William Haggas said: "I was a bit disappointed with him first time out and I'm expecting a better show this time – the trip and the ground will suit better. It's a strong race but he needs to get up and get going."

Ante-post gamble On To Victory comes here on the back of a second in a Listed race at Nottingham and trainer Eve Johnson Houghton said: “He's come on a ton for the run, but whether he's quite up to beating Stradivarius, time will tell.

"He's very progressive – he’ll improve all year.”