After abdication of Yeats, Ask can solve the riddle of the heir to Gold Cup crown

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The Independent Online

The most venerable race of the week is all about an abandoned dominion, and the return of a king. Yeats, winner of the past four Gold Cups, has been retired to enjoy the spoils of victory at stud. And the favourite to succeed him is trained by Henry Cecil, whose comeback from the wilderness is measured by the interval dividing his 70th winner at this meeting, in 2002, and his 71st, last year.

The adoration of the betting public for Cecil has only been heightened by his many private vicissitudes, and the fortitude disclosed by his professional resurgence. But there is a suspicion that the odds about Manifest today incorporate that affection.

Yeats owed his rule not merely to phenomenal competitive longevity, but also to staleness in the staying division. One way or another, this now looks a rather more competitive environment, and the bookmakers are anticipating plenty of improvement from Manifest.

That is exactly what he remains entitled to produce, of course, just five runs into his career. It is quite possible – albeit not guaranteed, on pedigree – that this extreme test will suit him even better, after he hit top gear only in the straight when winning the Yorkshire Cup by eight lengths last month. At the same time, he remains relatively immature, and it was easy to get carried away by that success against just four rivals.

Age Of Aquarius, for instance, has been groomed by connections as their most eligible heir to Yeats, and ran even better against Harbinger at Chester than had Manifest on his own reappearance, at Newbury. Age Of Aquarius has since been turned over at Leopardstown, but that was no disgrace against a rival more comfortable with a test of speed.

Kasbah Bliss, meanwhile, was beaten only in a photo for the Hong Kong Cup last December, and had previously gone even closer when set plenty to do over this trip at Longchamp. He could not quite reel in Kite Wood there last time, similarly, but his trainer reckons he'll be sharper this time.

Kite Wood was alertly ridden from the front that day and should relish this test, while his stablemate, Darley Sun, could yet break into this big time, too. But Rite Of Passage seems far from certain to get home and overall preference is instead for Ask (3.50).

This horse has been around a long time, but remains unexposed in this discipline, having reverted to 12 furlongs after proving no less impressive than Manifest in the Yorkshire Cup last year. And his deeds over the shorter trip – he won the Coronation Cup, and perhaps ran better still when third in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes – identify him as the class act among this lot. He then confirmed his stamina for two miles when winning his second Group One prize, in the Prix Royal Oak at Longchamp.

With several good runs round here to his name, and staying genes on both sides of his family, Ask has been kept fresh after scoring first time out in each of his past three seasons. He looks outstanding each-way value at 6-1.

Cecil, especially dangerous with an improving filly, has a solid candidate for the Ribblesdale Stakes in Principal Role (3.05). She looked ready for this distance when toughing out a duel with Fatanah over 10 furlongs last time, and Gertrude Bell has not had long to get over her generous effort at Epsom.

The Norfolk Stakes looks fiercely contested, Zebedee having impressed over course and distance, but Dinkum Diamond (2.30) sets the standard strictly in terms of runs on the board.

The drums are beating for Business As Usual (4.25) while Afsare (5.0) and Bright Horizon (5.35) respectively offer solid and speculative solutions later in the day.