Held at one of the most attractive racecourses in the UK, the five-day Qatar Goodwood Festival is truly glorious.
Set in wonderfully picturesque Sussex countryside, this equine extravaganza is a positive feast for all racing purists. Beauty meets beast in a truly inimitable test, with undulations, tight bends and an extravagant loop the order of the day, before a rapid downhill stretch to the finish.
Action kicked-off yesterday, with Godolphin landing a one-two in the feature Group 2 Lennox Stakes, thanks to Charlie Hills’ Dutch Connection and Hugo Palmer’s Home Of The Brave. Palmer also trained third home Gifted Master, and continues in a rich vein of form. As for Godolphin, this is proving to be an outstanding campaign as they fire in winners from all angles.
Today it’s the milers that take centre-stage in the prestigious Qatar Sussex Stakes. Team Godolphin will be hopeful if not confident of success with two contenders, whilst Hugo Palmer runs his 2000 Guineas hero, Galileo Gold. He will be looking to add the Sussex to last month’s victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. That win came in very different conditions to those likely to be encountered today.
On that occasion Galileo Gold was given a peach of a ride by Frankie Dettori, stealing vital lengths in front, before eventually finishing more than a length ahead of Ryan Moore and the French Guineas victor The Gurkha, with Irish 2000 Guineas winner Awtaad back in third. There’s little to choose between the trio of three-year-olds, and it’s no surprise to see them at the head of the betting. It’s also tough to gauge which will be better suited by a sounder surface, with all three having coped admirably with more testing conditions.
The only certainty, is that the winner will be adding their name to an impressive roll of honour. The event has a rich history, and is a race that has been won by numerous high-class thoroughbreds. Originally a race for three-year-olds when launched over a mile in 1878, it eventually extended to four-year-olds in 1960. In 1975 the upper age limit was scrapped, though only a handful over the age of four have found success. Indeed, it is three-year-olds that have remained the dominant force in the Sussex Stakes.
It’s somewhat surprising then, that only two Newmarket Guineas winners have followed up with victory in the Sussex during the past decade. Henrythenavigator and Frankel are the pair in question, though Canford Cliffs and Kingman had taken the Irish equivalent before striking here.
A pair of five-year-olds have won in the same period, and in 2006, course specialist Court Masterpiece, became only the second horse to win at the age of six. Ed Dunlop’s colt was somewhat unfashionable, having progressed from handicaps as a three-year-old, to capturing his first Group 1 at the age of five. Nevertheless, his winning time in the Sussex was among the quickest in the history of the race. He defeated the mighty mare Soviet Song, and the Irish Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes winner Araafa. It was a magnificent performance.
Only the greatest of them all, Frankel (winner twice, in 2011 and 2012), can be said to have a better record in the race than the wonderful mare Soviet Song. James Fanshawe trained her to win the race in 2004. She went on to finish runner-up in both 2005 and 2006. Carrying the familiar silks of the Elite Racing Club, she was a truly sensational racehorse.
She won nine of her 24 career starts, finishing placed in a further eight. She took on the very best fillies and colts over a mile, and was a match for them all. She amassed more than a million in prize money, not bad for a mare with sore feet. She took five Group 1s, and in 2004 was awarded every accolade going, including ‘Highest rated older filly in the World’.
Sadly, in November last year at the age of 15, Soviet Song was put-down, after continuing and debilitating health problems. She was an incredible mare.
We can only hope that today’s race compares favourably with those of the past, and produces a suitably exceptional winner. I’d say we have every chance.