WH Stayers’ Million 2019: Which horses have qualified ahead of Gold Cup?

Published on: May 27, 2019
Author: Jamie Clark
2019 WH Stayers' Million qualifiers include Dubai Gold Cup winner Cross Counter (right)

The eight Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million qualifying races are done and dusted with seven horses potentially going forward in search of a cool £1,000,000 bonus.

All they have to do now is win the Gold Cup (2m 4f) at Royal Ascot, Goodwood Cup (2m) at the Glorious meeting and Lonsdale Cup (2m) during the York Ebor Festival.

As tough as that feat sounds, Stradivarius managed it last season and went on to round off his campaign with victory in the Long Distance Cup on British Champions Day at Ascot.

So, which horses have qualified for the WH Stayers’ Million this term? Let’s take a look with some added analysis from OpenOdds’ racing experts…

Cross Counter

Powerful international owners Godolphin don’t have Classic calibre colts and fillies this year, so their great hope of plundering big prizes is Cross Counter.

Trained by Charlie Appleby, this four-year-old gelding made rapid improvement last season when catching the eye and fourth in the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot.

He came out and landed another handicap at that venue before making the step up into Group 3 company look effortless at Glorious Goodwood.

Cross Counter smashed the course record for 1m 4f in the Gordon Stakes when winning eased down by 4 1/2 lengths.

The runner-up Dee Ex Bee has come out and won twice this season, but more on him below. Cross Counter was then just bested a head in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur at York by stable companion Old Persian before making history Down Under.

No British trained horse had ever won the Melbourne Cup, one of the richest and most prestigious Flat handicaps in the world.

Despite twice getting hampered in "the race that stops a nation", Cross Counter got up to score by a ready length at Flemington.

This was sensational stuff on his first start over 2m and, given how the race panned out, it’s an effort you can mark up.

Cross Counter confirmed his status as an international superstar when eased in grade and a comfortable winner on reappearance.

That latest victory came in the first WH Stayers’ Million qualifier, the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan, where he tracked the leaders and never had a nervous moment after hitting the front a furlong-and-a-half out.

Both the runner-up, Ispolini, and third horse home, Call The Wind, have had chances to frank the form subsequently but haven’t. Cross Counter is nonetheless a leading contender for the Gold Cup.

Master Of Reality

2019 WH Stayers' Million qualifiers include Master Of Reality (left)

2019 WH Stayers’ Million qualifiers include Master Of Reality (left).

It’s anyone’s guess who the leading Irish stayer is at this stage of the season, but Master Of Reality sprang a surprise in the Group 3 Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan back in April.

Trained by Joseph O’Brien, this French import is owned by Lloyd Williams and was gelded over the winter. Master Of Reality was made to battle for his win on reappearance after getting narrowly headed in a tussle to the line over Mustajeer.

Neither the winner nor runner-up have been able to follow-up, however, and the horse that may be worth taking out of the Vintage Crop is the third home, Southern France.

Twilight Payment and Capri, who were both further behind Master Of Reality, reversed the form when the trio dropped into Listed company for the Saval Beg at Leopardstown over the same 1m 6f trip.

He was giving weight all-round for this ease in grade, however, and still kept on to be fourth and beaten just over five lengths.

The extra three-quarters of a mile at Royal is a complete unknown for this WH Stayers’ Million qualifier winner.

Whether connections will step Master Of Reality up in trip for the Gold Cup or keep him over the same distance and aim for the Curragh Cup (for which he also holds an entry) remains to be seen.

Dee Ex Bee

Dee Ex Bee landed two of the 2019 WH Stayers' Million qualifying races

Dee Ex Bee landed two of the 2019 WH Stayers’ Million qualifying races.

Last year’s Epsom Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee has been crying for stamina tests and proved that by winning not one but two qualifying races in the series.

While that doesn’t entitle trainer Mark Johnston and owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum to any additional bonus, it means their four-year-old Farhh colt commands respect.

Dee Ex Bee ran some solid races in defeat last year, including the premier Classic and when chasing home Cross Counter at Glorious Goodwood. He was also a nine-length fourth in the St Leger at Doncaster.

That form has been advertised by the runner-up Lah Ti Dar, who landed the Group 2 Middleton Stakes at York this season over an arguably inadequate trip.

Johnston always maintained Dee Ex Bee would come into his own when going in the stayers’ division, and he aptly demonstrated why with an impressive victory in the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes at Ascot on his return to action.

That 2m test is the only WH Stayers’ Million qualifier run on the same course as the Gold Cup. Dee Ex Bee also got the better of some well-regarded sorts who ran below to form when pushed out to score by 3 1/4 lengths.

He then somewhat surprisingly took up an engagement in the similar grade Henry II Stakes, also over 2m at Sandown.

Dee Ex Bee was one of three from Johnston’s stable in the race, but gave a 3lb penalty to a small but select field and made all to follow-up at the Esher venue.

As he galloped on relentlessly, there is every reason to think stepping up an extra half-mile will be no problem.

While Dee Ex Bee will not get a soft lead in the Gold Cup, like Goodwood conqueror Cross Counter he’s a clear contender for the Royal Ascot feature.

Morando

The shortest of the 2019 WH Stayers' Million qualifiers was the Ormonde Stakes at Chester won by Morando

The shortest of the 2019 WH Stayers’ Million qualifiers was the Ormonde Stakes at Chester won by Morando.

King Power Racing are an emerging force as Flat racehorse owners and Morando was something of a surprise winner for them and trainer Andrew Balding at the Chester May Festival.

St Leger winner Kew Gardens was backed as though defeat was out of the question in the extended 1m 5f Group 3 Ormonde Stakes at the Roodee, but came a cropper on unseasonably soft ground under a penalty.

Morando was the beneficiary of that Irish raider flopping and champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa gave his mount a cracking ride. This victory on reappearance was the first time he had raced beyond 1m 4f.

Thoroughbred pedigrees can’t tell you everything about a horse, but Morando’s suggests that going up an extra seven furlongs to the Gold Cup trip is beyond him.

Indeed, he isn’t even entered in that race but could go in the Coronation Cup at Epsom instead.

The Hardwicke Stakes over 1m 4f is also a possible for Morando and, if the owners are well-advised, he’ll keep to one or other of these engagements.

It would be a huge ask to do anything else, because he won the shortest distance WH Stayers’ Million qualifier.

Raa Atoll

A 2019 WH Stayers' Million qualifier was run in Germany and won by Raa Atoll

A 2019 WH Stayers’ Million qualifier was run in Germany and won by Raa Atoll.

One of the new races to be added to the series was the Group 2 International Oleander-Rennen at Hoppegarten outside Berlin in Germany.

Raa Atoll proved a smart purchase for wealthy Irish owner-trainer Luke Comer from John Gosden’s yard as he stayed on strongly to win this 2m race at a big price.

When in the care of Gosden, this four-year-old son of Sea The Stars was a fine 2 3/4 lengths fourth to Old Persian in the King Edward VII Stakes when short of room at a key stage.

The China Horse Club were prepared to part with Raa Atoll, however, after he trailed in last of seven in the Princess Of Wales’s Stakes at the Newmarket July Festival.

It turns out he simply needed further than those 1m 4f assignments.

While Raa Atoll doesn’t have a Royal Ascot entry, he will be supplemented if able to follow-up or running well i the Belmont Gold Cup across the Atlantic and coming back from America in good order.

Like many of the WH Stayers’ Million qualifier winners, he is unexposed as a stayer but has a stamina laden pedigree which suggests replicating his German exploits and racing over further won’t be a problem.

Stradivarius

After winning the WH Stayers' Million last year, Stradivarius has qualified for it again

After winning the WH Stayers’ Million last year, Stradivarius has qualified for it again.

Defending champion stayer Stradivarius did nothing wrong in winning the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup over a less than optimum 1m 6f at the York Dante Festival for the second season on the spin.

That has given one of Gosden’s stable stars a run ahead of his Gold Cup defence. Like so many of his appearances, this wasn’t visually impressive from Stradivarius but he is not that kind of horse.

He only ever does enough to win his races and that shows the Bjorn Nielsen owned five-year-old is a very intelligent animal. Stradivarius now has to give weight-for-age in the Gold Cup, but we’re only talking 1lb.

Now unbeaten in six runs, only Order Of St George when racing on unfavourably soft going on British Champions Day 2017 has bested him over 2m or further.

Stradivarius is the undisputed kingpin of the staying division and the one they all have to beat.

It is very hard to pick holes in his profile. Stradivarius has won the Goodwood Cup twice in his career already, is undefeated in three career starts at York and was value for more than the winning margin at Royal Ascot 12 months ago.

A repeat of his WH Stayers’ Million success could well be on the cards. Winning it again may be more difficult though, as Stradivarius faces renewed competition from younger legs.

He remains on top, however, until some other horse knocks him off his lofty perch.

Called To The Bar

The last horse to qualify for the 2019 WH Stayers' Million was Called To The Bar (left)

The last horse to qualify for the 2019 WH Stayers’ Million was Called To The Bar (left).

The French Flat stayers’ scene has been dominated in recent years by Vazirabad, but he’s injured. In his absence, the Group 2 Prix Vicomtesse Vigier was won by Called To The Bar.

This Henrythenavigator gelding is a five-year-old like Stradivarius and has a good record over the 1m 7f trip of that Longchamp race which was the final WH Stayers’ Million qualifier.

In landing the Vigier by three lengths, the Pia Brandt trained Called To The Bar was getting weight from key rivals. Holdthaisgreen and Call The Wind struggled when giving him 4lb and finished fifth and third respectively.

The latter in particular had a strange race, coming on and off the bridle with Freddy Head’s horses not really giving their running throughout a valuable day in the French Flat calendar.

Called To The Bar has a Gold Cup entry and, given they’re qualified for the bonus, connections may well give it a crack.

Those extra five furlongs at Royal Ascot are not guaranteed, however, especially on his breeding. His sire was a famous miler and damsire most effective over 12 furlongs.

It may be that 2m is the extent of the stamina Called To The Bar has, so some of those in behind – particularly Call The Wind who landed the Prix du Cadran on Arc weekend – may be better suited by the Gold Cup.