Mighty Mouse, as they once called him, is doing what he loves most. He’s 500 yards away but getting closer and closer. His hooves are rhythmically drumming into the ground — that unmistakable sound of a racehorse in full flight.
It’s 7.22am and Warren Hill in Newmarket is teeming with stables finishing their preparations for Royal Ascot. On this particular morning, our focus is on the chestnut whose fan club includes the Queen. In a flash, he bounds enthusiastically past and his rude health is obvious.
He may be small — hence the nickname — but his achievements have put him in the land of giants. Mighty Mouse is rather better known as Stradivarius. This is the story of a horse whose remarkable stamina and durability have propelled him to the brink of history.
Stradivarius’ remarkable stamina and durability have propelled him to the brink of history
On Thursday, Stradivarius will attempt to win the Gold Cup, Royal Ascot’s crowning race, for the fourth consecutive year. If the odds-on favourite is successful, he will emulate Yeats, the great Irish stayer, who was successful in every edition of the marathon two-and-a-half mile contest from 2006 to 2009.
What would set Stradivarius apart, though, is his win in the 2017 Queen’s Vase at this fixture.
No horse has won at five straight Royal Ascots in the post-War era but if public affection has anything to do with it, this wonderful beast will create a new benchmark.
Stradivarius, the People’s Champion, will carry the hopes of the nation at Ascot on Thursday
‘It’s tough to get them to Ascot once or twice, never mind five times,’ explains John Gosden, the champion trainer who has faultlessly handled Stradivarius’s career. ‘I’m prepared to say I’ll never train another horse like this in my life — nor have I ever trained another like him.’
There is a reason Gosden, 70, makes this statement.
To give context to why Stradivarius is something out of the ordinary, digest these numbers: he has run around Ascot nine times in his career, which equates to 19 miles and two furlongs. In his six victories at the course, he’s beaten 47 rivals.
In total, he has run 27 times since making his debut as a two-year-old in October 2016. There have been 17 wins — seven at Group One level — but the mind-boggling part of this comes with his training regime.
In all those mornings, six days a week for 10 months over six years, it is estimated he has put more than 7,000 miles in the legs dashing up Warren Hill.
Stradivarius has run 27 times since making his debut as a two-year-old in October 2016
‘He’s always very active,’ explains Gosden. ‘He’d have been the hyperactive kid in the classroom, you know.
‘To the teacher, he probably would have been a bit irritating. He’d always have something to say and he would give his mate next door a dig in the ribs. He’s that kind of busy character.
‘This horse is striking in that he is a chestnut with a white face. He’s like The Minstrel (the 1977 Epsom Derby winner), with four white socks. That in itself is quite striking. When you see him, it’s like The Lone Ranger is riding into town!
‘But what is wonderful about the horse is that he has taken all that energy and all of that alertness and he’s channelled it into being a racehorse. He will go out on to Warren Hill and he will roar and scream at other strings of horses coming his way. You have to let him express himself.
‘The idea that you would take that away from him would take half the fun out of his life. For a seven-year-old full horse, he still has great enthusiasm.
‘He’s a bit like Stanley Matthews, you know? To be able to hold it at that level and to have the appetite to keep doing it is something else.’
Stradivarius will attempt to win the Ascot Gold Cup for the fourth consecutive year
Gosden (right), who now trains in partnership with his son, Thady, has a glint in his eye as he talks about Stradivarius’s character. So, too, do Rab Havlin, one of the senior jockeys at Clarehaven Stables, and Bradley Bosley, who rides Stradivarius on the gallops most mornings.
‘It was as if he knew the cameras were there this morning,’ says Bosley. ‘He literally pulled me all the way up the gallop. He knows he’s good but he’s such a loveable character.’
And how they love him at Clarehaven Stables. Andy Laird, another long-serving member of staff of 27 years, looks after the barn in which Stradivarius is housed. He feeds him Polos and extra strong mints as a treat.
‘He’s not like a pet — he’s like my mate,’ says Laird. ‘You get more attached to these horses than you do to some people. You can’t help it. I’m not going to Ascot and I wouldn’t even if I had the chance — I’d be terrified I’d jinx him. I know him inside out and I could tell you by looking at him if there was something wrong.’
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Stradivarius on this particular morning and the mischievous side of his character is firmly on display when he gives Sportsmail photographer Andy Hooper the run around when he attempts to take pictures.
He can also become the first horse to claim five straight Royal Ascot wins in the post-War era
He only stands still when offered a pick of grass and once he’s been fed the photoshoot is over.
Should things go as everyone at Clarehaven House hopes, there will be plenty more photos for the collection. This is not lost on Bjorn Nielsen, the man who owns Stradivarius and bred him with hopes of winning at Epsom like his sire, Sea The Stars, did in 2009.
‘It is amazing how things turn out,’ says Nielsen. ‘If he had run in and won the Derby, would people still know him now? If he had been trained by any other than John, would he have turned out the way he has done? It’s so rare to get a horse to be so consistent over such a long period.
‘The Queen (who presents the Gold Cup) said to me after he had won the race for a second time, “Maybe you should think about giving someone else a chance next year!” It was a lovely, spur of the moment comment. I know she is a big fan and she’s looking forward to seeing him run.’
Her Majesty isn’t the only one.
Stradivarius, the People’s Champion, will carry the hopes of the nation.