06/14/2004 11:00PM

An international marathon

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Thursday's Ascot Gold Cup at 2 1/2 miles will be a battle royale among the best stayers from England, Ireland, France, and Japan.

The Group 1, $410,000 marathon will be a test for French invader Westerner, whose three-race winning streak was stopped by Forestier in the Prix Vicomtesse Vigier at Longchamp on May 23. Westerner, the winner of last October's 2 1/2-mile Group 1 Prix du Cadran, will have Gerald Mosse on board for the first time.

Mr Dinos has lost twice since winning last year's Gold Cup but will appreciate a return to his favorite distance after finishing fourth in the 1 3/4-mile Yorkshire Cup in May. Royal Rebel is another who can stay but he must improve off a dull fifth in the two-mile Sagaro Stakes on April 28, his first race since winning his second consecutive Gold Cup on June 20, 2002.

Vinnie Roe was beaten just a neck by Royal Rebel that day. Vinnie Roe should improve off his second in the Saval Beg Stakes last time and looks like the horse to beat. Japanese invader Ingrandire is a threat after leading throughout to win the Grade 1, two-mile Spring Tenno Sho at Kyoto by seven lengths with Japanese Derby winner Neo Universe and Japan Cup winner That's the Plenty well behind.

Godolphin has a pair of entrants on the program. In the Group 2, 1 1/2-mile Ribblesdale Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Saeed bin Suroor will saddle Punctilious, winner of the Group 3 Musidora Stakes and third in the English Oaks. She must contend with Cheshire Oaks winner Hidden Hope, a daughter of Daylami. In the five-furlong Group 3 Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds, Suroor has Skywards, a Machiavellian colt who won his maiden at Newmarket last time by five lengths.