Ground key to Rules Gold bid
All eyes will be on Forgotten Rules on Thursday as the unbeaten favourite bids to give Dermot Weld another Gold Cup success at Royal Ascot, ground permitting.
Another product from the powerful Moyglare Stud operation, Forgotten Rules has come a long way in a relatively short space of time.
The five-year-old did not make his debut until April of last year, when every man and his dog seemed to know he would making a successful start in a Punchestown Festival bumper. He duly obliged.
He then provided Weld with yet another Galway Festival success on his first start on the Flat, before taking a big step up in class in his stride in the British Champions Lon g Distance Cup.
The son of Nayef's comeback victory in the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan confirmed he would be the one to beat in Royal Ascot's two-and-a-half-mile feature, but Weld's prayers for rain in Berkshire in the days leading up to the showpiece meeting have been ignored by the weather gods.
Weld trained another soft ground operator in Rite Of Passage to win the 2010 Gold Cup in drying conditions, but he was not seen again that season and made just two subsequent appearances before retirement.
Speaking on Thursday afternoon, Weld said: "I'll see what the ground is like tomorrow. All I want is safe ground for all the horses. This is a race over two and a half miles for older horses. It's not like it is for sprinters.
"I just want some kindness in the ground. "
The man hoping to steer Forgotten Rules to Gold Cup glory is Pat Smullen and he is also praying for a suitable surface.
"If there's one horse I hope the ground is nice and safe for it's him, as he's the one horse I want to run," Smullen told At The Races.
"That's him, he needs the ground to be safe for him to take his chance.
"He's in tremendous form and he's a horse I'm looking forward to riding."
Aidan O'Brien has saddled a record six previous winners of the Gold Cup, with four of those triumphs claimed by the mighty Yeats.
This year's Ballydoyle representative is Kingfisher, who was runner-up behind esteemed stable companion Australia in last year's Irish Derby and earned his trip to the Royal meeting by winning Leopardstown's Saval Beg Stakes almost a fortnight ago.
O'Brien said: " Donnacha (O'Brien) was delighted with him in Leopardstown. He relaxed very well and came home very well.
"He ran a lovely race first time at Navan and came forward lovely.
"Obviously with the Gold Cup you're never sure with the extreme distance. You're never sure when you go past two miles what will happen but we're looking forward to the run."
The Irish challenge is completed by the Willie Mullins-trained Simenon, second and fourth in the last two Gold Cups, and Sabrina Harty's outsider Kalann.
Mullins said: "He's in good form I think. He had a good run at Sandown and we're hoping he can get into the first four."
The home team is headed by Mizzou, who made an impressive seasonal return in Ascot's Sagaro Stakes in late April.
Like a number of horses in the field he is going into the unknown stamina-wise, but trainer Luca Cumani is confident his charge will last out of the marathon distance.
He said: " Mizzou has been is good form since he won the Sagaro and I am very happy with him. I decided that he didn't need another run to get him to his peak for the Gold Cup."
"Fast ground would not be a problem as that is what he won on in the Sagaro, but the two-and-a-half-mile trip is the big imponderable. His style of racing - he's so relaxed - suggests that he has every chance of getting it, as does his breeding.
"I thought ever since he was a close third in a Listed race at Ascot last October that he could be a Gold Cup horse. He's a straightforward colt and his development over the winter was very good.
"Like all Group Ones, winning the Gold Cup would mean a great deal. I have been second in it twice before, with Arzanni (1991) and Eastern Mystic (1986) but that was back in the mists of time!"
Tac De Boistron has won one of Europe's other major staying prizes, the Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp, for the last two years.
He is another horse who prefers cut in the ground, however, and while he has been given the green light to run, trainer Marco Botti admits conditions will not be ideal.
He said: " We spoke with the owners and although it is not his ground, he is an eight-year-old now and they felt he should take his chance.
"We just have to hope he goes through it. He ran a good race on good ground in the Yorkshire Cup (last year), so it is not as though he doesn't handle it at all, but it is obviously not ideal.
"Some horses get away with quick ground once. We have been very conservative with him throughout his career and feel we have to give it a go once.
"The good thing is the track is in very good condition. It is fast ground, but they maintain the track very well, which is a bonus.
"I think they will keep the ground fresh and as long as it is safe ground for everybody, everyone can be happy."
French hopes rest on the shoulders of Bathyrhon.
His trainer Pia Brandt said: "We think the horse is still moving forwards and we think the Gold Cup looks a good race for him.
"He showed at Longchamp that he can go on quite fast ground and he has also done well on very soft ground, so that is not a worry.
"It will be a very tough race but we have a good horse with a lot of stamina."