Roger Varian feels Eldar Eldarov has not yet reached the ceiling of his ability ahead of his bid for Gold Cup glory at Royal Ascot on Thursday.
The four-year-old is a previous winner at the showpiece meeting, having last season claimed the narrowest of victories in the Queen’s Vase.
He went on to secure Classic honours in the St Leger at Doncaster and lost little in defeat when a strong-finishing second to Giavellotto on his reappearance in last month’s Yorkshire Cup.
Varian has been delighted with his star stayer since and while he has trained several Group One winners in recent years, the Newmarket handler admits having a genuine contender for the two-and-a-half-mile feature is a bit special.
“He’s in great form and has done everything right and everything asked of him since his good run at York,” said Varian.
“It’s exciting to get him back out and back to Ascot, he obviously won at the Royal meeting last year and it is very exciting to have such a strong contender for the Gold Cup.
“It promotes that sort of horse, which is great – we all like to have fast horses and milers but to have stayers is great also and I think the staying programme has had a bit of a resurgence over the last few years and I hope it will continue to be the case.
“The Gold Cup is one of those iconic races, it’s got masses of history and there is always something nice about having a good staying horse. A horse like Eldar Eldarov might be in the camp for two or three years to come yet and as we have seen with some of those good staying horses, they can capture the public imagination as well.
“He’s got a long way to go before he’s held in any similar regard to any of those top staying horses, but he has won a Queen’s Vase, he’s won a St Leger and his profile is on the rise, I think.
“His best days could very much be ahead of him, so we are very much looking forward to running him in the Gold Cup.”
Eldar Eldarov disputes favouritism with Andrew Balding’s Coltrane, who plundered the Ascot Stakes 12 months ago and doubled his course tally with an impressive display in last month’s Sagaro Stakes.
Three-time champion jockey Oisin Murphy will partner Coltrane and is relishing the opportunity.
“He’s trained well and won the Sagaro in good style,” he said.
“It looks a hot race, as you’d expect. Eldar Eldarov is the St Leger winner and carries 1lb less, you also have to respect whatever Aidan O’Brien has in the race (Emily Dickinson and Broome) and Courage Mon Ami is an improver as well.
“It’s a wonderful chance and I’m looking forward to riding Coltrane. I watched Yeats dominate the race, and Stradivarius, so it’s great to be riding a horse who is probably going to go off favourite.”
Subjectivist was sensational in winning the Gold Cup in 2021, but an injury which initially threatened to end his racing career has restricted him to just two subsequent starts.
Charlie Johnston’s six-year-old was well beaten on his return from almost two years off in Saudi Arabia, but his third to Broome in the Dubai Gold Cup was a step in the right direction.
Courage Mon Ami is unbeaten in three starts for John and Thady Gosden, but faces a big rise in class as he bids to provide Frankie Dettori with a dream Gold Cup success in his final year before retirement.
Willie Mullins is represented by Grade One-winning hurdler Echoes In Rain, as he looks to become the first trainer to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in the same year.
The daughter of Authorized was last seen winning the Mares Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival and carries the colours of Barnane Stud, which is owned by the family of former England international cricketer Craig Kieswetter.
“Her win at Punchestown was really impressive. When she travels well she has an electric turn of foot and she just powers home,” said Kieswetter.
“Hopefully things work out accordingly throughout the race and she settles down nicely and then she can give everyone a crack coming down the straight there.
“Most importantly we’re just looking forward to another big day at the Royal meeting and it would be amazing if the green and red silks can come home first.”