It's one of my favourite racing weeks of the year. We are blessed with both quality and quantity, on both sides of the Irish Sea, and shenanigans can be expected both on the track and off it!
I am of course referring to the week where Glorious Goodwood's glamour and glitz clashes with Uproarious Galway's clamour and kitsch.
If that seems a little unfair on the party of all racing party's in the far west of Ireland, then forgive a laboured scribe in his quest for an elegant rhyming couplet.
Between the pair of them, Galway and Goodwood will race through twelve days, an overlap of which compresses the action into one week. This week. And what a compression it is: 81 races will be won and lost by supper time next Sunday.
Stories will be written, heroes will be worshipped, and punting fortunes will be won and lost.
Allow me, in the midst of this triumph largely of quantity over quality, to point to ten contests which have the capacity and the class to elevate themselves above the throng.
The third race on the opening day of Glorious Goodwood, the Lennox Stakes is a Group 2 event that sees a clash of the generations, and one in which the three-year-old contingent have had the upper hand in recent seasons. Indeed, from just 30% of the runners since the race was introduced in 2000, the vintage crop have nabbed half of the fourteen renewals. Moreover, blindly backing them turned a profit.
This year, just two of the ten strong field are aged three, but they include likely favourite, Toormore. Richard Hannon's Group 1-winning juvenile has thus far fallen a step short of matching those endeavours in 2014. Still, the year is young, and the step back to seven furlongs - and drop in class - may fit the bill for Middleham Park Racing's finest.
He'll meet stiff opposition from the likes of Johnny G's Gregorian, last year's winner Garswood, and the German raider, Amarillo; and this looks a heat set to ignite the atmosphere across a most beautiful of sporting theatres.
Three and a half hours later, and 543 driving/ferrying miles northwest of that early skirmish on the downs, Galway will unleash its first big pot of the week. The Galway guys and gals will already be ten races into their session by this point, with only sporadic outbreaks of quality displayed thereto.
But this is where it gets interesting. A flat handicap over - funnily enough - not a mile, but a mile and half a furlong, the Topaz Mile is a race where pace and position have almost as much bearing on the outcome as weight and class. If you think I'm being pedantic by referencing the half a furlong, watch the leader paddling and screaming for the line after they've turned for home!
In a race generally contested by sixteen-plus runners, a low draw, and the tactical speed to use it, has been a sizeable advantage. Eight winners since 2000 were drawn six or lower, and raced no further back than mid-division.
Almost all of the big field flat handicaps at Galway have hard luck stories, such is the configuration of this endearingly quirky track, but if you can find a prominent racer drawn low you at least eliminate a part of the scope for in-running carnage.
Ah, the good stuff. Ignoring all the faux hooplah about duels on the Downs and the like, assuming the key protagonists rock up, this will be the best quality race of the week. Of many a week.
Kingman is the star draw, but the dual Group 1 winner is still not a confirmed runner. With the going currently good, good to firm in places, and Kingman a winner from soft/heavy through to good/firm, it's unclear (to me at least) what exactly the turf issue is, but there's no such haziness about the magnitude of the disappointment should Juddmonte's juggernaut sidestep the Sussex for the Jacques le Marois.
Against him, assuming he runs, are the Qatari boys' Olympic Glory and Toronado, both of which are 'jocked up' at time of writing; Sir Michael Stoute's rapidly improving filly, Integral (In-tuh-gruel, unless you're American in which case In-teg-rule is gratingly acceptable); and any one of a trio of Ballydoyle bullets, where War Command could be the most explosive. Godolphin don't want to miss this party either, and they could send Outstrip into combat.
If Kingman stands his ground, he's expected to win (4/6 on the current boards), and three year olds do have a belting record. But against the massed ranks of Qatar, Dubai and, erm, Kildare, he'll need to bring his A game. No wonder Prince Khalid is mulling his options.
Should they all stand, never mind a Duel on the Downs, we could have a Celebrity Death Match on our hands... Bring it!
Pond-hopping once more for the evening shift, and a change of gear entirely is in the offing for the Galway Plate, a 22-runner two-and-three-quarter mile handicap chase, for a juicy prize.
Expect JP McManus to set both commentator and punters alike a merry cap identification test - he currently has fifteen of the 52 declarations - and with three winners in the last four years, we can probably expect at least one of those caps to appear in the photography at the business end.
Testament to the competitive nature of this shemozzle is the fact that Messrs. Weld and Mullins (WP) have just five wins between them since 1988. Willie, Irish racing's monopolist trainer, has but one of that quintet, and he'd be far less likely to ready one for Galway than Dermot, the Master of Rosewell House. And yet even he of the 27 (TWENTY-SEVEN) Leading Trainer awards at the Galway Festival hasn't bagged this brute since 2005, when Ansar doubled up on his win the previous year.
Look to recent form (1st or 2nd last time out won twelve of the last seventeen), youth (six and seven year olds have won ten since 1997, from just 29% of the runners), and those towards the bottom end of the handicap. And good luck in picking out your cap!
As with Royal Ascot, the big race of the week from a historical perspective has long since ceased to be the major class race, or the major betting race. No matter, for the Goodwood Cup is almost always a great race, and often offers value to punters smart enough to decipher its form book code.
At this stage, the venerable veterans (relatively, at least), Cavalryman and last year's winner, Brown Panther, head the ratings. They've mopped up some good prizes this season, with the former grabbing Group 2 glory the last day, and the latter snaffling a brace of Group 3's on terra softer.
But all eyes will be on HRH's Estimate if she shows up, and hopes will be that she's over her accidental (presumably) bout of morphine-induced squiffiness. In truth, it looks for all the world like a legitimate - and most unfortunate - case of smoke without fire; so let's hope she runs - and runs well - and that the other matter is left to the forensic mobs to unravel, rather than the conspiracy theorists.
There are others in the entries - notably, Eye Of The Storm, perhaps - that can sway the verdict too in what should be a typically exciting two miler for the Cup.
Thursday is the turn of the hurdlers to take centre stage, for a relative sprint at the minimum worth €150,000 to the winner. Even at the current exchange rate that's about two hundred quid so well worth getting. (Irish lads, I'm joking! 😉 )
The Welds, Mullins and Hendersons will all be glad that Michael Winters isn't showing up this year, because 'who he?' has nicked the last two renewals of this valuable handicap, and with different horses to boot. There will be no Missunited this year, and no Rebel Fitz either. That's largely because most winners, that pair included, go on to bigger and better things.
So the question to ask when looking at this punting minefield, is "Which horse looks most likely to go on to bigger and better things?"
Unsurprisingly, recent progressive form is a core factor in the profile of Galway Hurdle winners, and ten of the last sixteen winners won or ran up last time. Of course, that won't be enough to either isolate the winner or make a profit, but it's a start.
Ally to that the strength of the domestic runners - just one British raider, subsequent Champion Hurdle second, Overturn, has spoiled the local party in the last two decades - and a leaning towards youth once more (five to seven year olds have won the last nine, and occupied 28 of the 36 place positions in that time). The Gigginstown pair, The Game Changer and Desertmore Stream, may be interesting in that context, granted a run.
There are higher class races on Friday's Glorious Goodwood card, but there is nothing more likely to entice the punter than the Betfred Mile. Despite being a mile race - or perhaps because of it, given that the trip snakes around a tight bend - this event has a notorious draw bias.
To that end, in a field which is habitually a score deep, just three horses have overcome a berth of ten or more. A double digit draw is not quite terminal, but it's a death sentence with little chance of reprieve.
It's not enough merely to be gifted a single figure draw, though. No, a likely winner also needs the early toe to grab a position from which to optimize the good fortune of the post position tombola. Well drawn prominent racers will form a small subset of the field and have historically accounted for a majority of winners of this race.
Age, and its relationship with experience - and therefore the prospect of the 'capper catching on - has been material. Horses in their third year have the best recent winners-to-runners record (five from 54 since 1997, 9%). They're followed in somewhat linear fashion by four-year-olds (7 from 113, 6%) and five-year-olds (4 from 86, 5%). Six-year-olds continue the linearity with a sole victor from 38 starters (3%), and 44 older nags have failed to register since 1997.
Oh yes, and as with pretty much every single race at the Sussex track all week, pay close heed to the Johnston contenders. He's won this race thrice in the past five years, and didn't even have a runner in one of the other pair!
The weekend starts here. At least, in most weeks it does. Naturally, at Galway in Festival week it starts on Monday. Which is to say the previous Friday. Jaysus, as the locals might say, it's a long way home for the faint-livered.
Friday is highlighted by the Guinness Handicap, a mile and half dodgem race. That is, of course, assuming you're not more drawn to the Love Shack Dolls, who will be playing live music all night. I'm imagining a hybrid of the B52's and the Pussy Cat Dolls, but I'm uncertain how that might manifest itself...
It's probably best for a keyboard-basher of my age and ignorance in such matters to focus on the fetlocks, and there be plenty declared here. Jim Bolger's entry is bulging with talent: he has four of the seven rated 100 or more, and it's safe to assume he'd be keen to win the race. The other trio of top-rated turfers all call Ballydoyle home.
And yet this has been a race for the little guy - relatively at least - and generally for those further down the rating lists. Friday night might be better spent with a pint in hand, rather than a betting slip. For those who insist on both, good luck in this one!
Although Galway still has two days of play left, it's the punting equivalent of trying to drink through a hangover in the hope that it makes you feel better. Funny, then, that a noteworthy proportion of attendees will be attempting a literal version of just that. And I wish them well with it.
Meanwhile, on the Downs, the ladies will be preparing to strut their Group 1 stuff. It's another of those lip-smacking clashes of the generations and, though Taghrooda won't be here (having won the King George a week prior), there are many to stir the loins of a top drawer stallion in due course.
This has been a most streaky race down the years. Sir Michael Stoute won it in 2002 with Islington. He then repeated the dose in 2003 and 2004 with Russian Rhythm and Favourable Terms. Then, in 2007/8, it was Aiden O'Brien's turn to back up, this time courtesy of Peeping Fawn and Halfway To Heaven. 2009 was Sir Henry's time to triumph, and the magnificent man sent out the magnificent mare, Midday, to a hat-trick of victories.
At the end of Midday's - and Sir Henry's - reign, it was Johnny G who took over as Master of the Nassau, and arguably as senior trainer in Newmarket (though Sir Michael may not quite concur). His Winsili was best in 2012 and The Fugue triumphed last year, all of which means that in the last dozen years only six different trainers have tasted Nassau glory.
Johnny G has retired The Fugue - still entered here - and Taghrooda won't run, as stated. But he still has three viable options in Sultanina, Pomology and Eastern Belle. The first two fought out the finish to the Lancashire Oaks, and have the requisite combination of stamina and class to go close in what should be a fitting cameo of class in the closing act of Goodwood's 2014 production.
32red? What?! Yes, there's been a hullabaloo and hooplah about a name change for the Stewards' Cup. Well, it's all rather distasteful, isn't it? Let's just stick with the Stewards', shall we?
Whatever it's called, these remain the facts.
1. It's a six furlong handicap
2. It will be contested by not many less than thirty horses
3. It's a bloody hard race in which to find the winner
Those stats and trend boys (and girls) will tell you that, despite the numerical vastness of the cavalry charge, the numbers point to a clear profile type. I'm not sure whether to believe them or not but, in the absence of a better idea, these pointers might steer us in the right direction...
- Horses aged four to six have won all of the last 16 Stewards' Cups
- All of the last nine winners were rated 95+
That narrows the 144 current declarations down to 36 possible winners. Hey, you're welcome!
It's going to be a punishing endurance test this week, for sure. The smart punter will choose his battles and limit her intake of alcohol. For the rest of us, we'll just have to take our chances!
Good luck, and/or Sláinte.