Churchill to become Sussex Stakes Supremo

Ribchester takes on Churchill, in arguably the clash of the week at Glorious Goodwood today. Godolphin versus Ballydoyle adds to the anticipation, as the Flat racing goliaths go toe to toe.

Three-year-olds have a cracking record in the Sussex Stakes, having won seven of the last 10. Those winning at three and returning at four tend to lose. Though Ribchester failed to land this event last year, he came mightily close. Returning a year later, he gives the dual-Guineas winner Churchill half a stone.

Godolphin’s star miler is without doubt a class act, but numerous talented sorts have failed in the face of such a challenge. Rip Van Winkle and Canford Cliffs, lost out at four, having won the Goodwood showpiece at three. And In 2013 Toronado also succumbed to a classy youngster, having landed the prize 12 months earlier. The three-year-old weight allowance often proves too much for the older horses to handle.

Youngsters that ran well in the 2000 Guineas, have a particularly good record in the Sussex, though they don’t necessarily need to have won the Classic. Ballydoyle’s Henrythenavigator did land the Guineas, during a thrilling 2008 campaign. New Approach and Raven’s Pass proved worthy adversaries, when taking turns in chasing him home in the English and Irish Guineas, the St James’s Palace and then the Sussex at Goodwood.

A year later Aidan O’Brien produced Rip Van Winkle to win the Sussex, despite the horse having only managed fourth in the Guineas earlier in the season. The mighty Sea The Stars had proved his nemesis, but at Goodwood (in the absence of the John Oxx trained star) he proved too strong when dominant from the front in beating flashy four-year-old Paco Boy.

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Rip was back at Goodwood a year later, but was unable to hold off the fast finishing Canford Cliffs in another thrilling clash. Canford had managed only a third-place finish at Newmarket, but had then romped home in the Irish Guineas. Blessed with a devastating finishing kick, he had the perfect partner in the ultra-confident Richard Hughes.

Nevertheless, he too was unable to complete back-to-back Sussex Stakes victories when losing out to a rather special three-year-old in 2011. His clash with Frankel had been eagerly anticipated, but in the event, Sir Henry Cecil’s awesome beast did what he so often did, and simply destroyed the opposition. Frankel did return and add a second Sussex, though his 11-length success in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot a month earlier, had clearly scared off any sort of challenge come Goodwood.

In 2013 Toronado avenged his 2000 Guineas defeat to Dawn Approach, by showing an impressive turn-of-foot to defeat Bolger’s colt in the Sussex. A year later he too failed to give weight and a beating to another flashy youngster, when Kingman quickened impressively late-on to get the better of Richard Hannon’s colt. Kingman himself, had finished runner-up in the 2000 Guineas a couple of months earlier.

So what of this year’s race, and can the three-year-olds maintain their impressive record?

Billed as a clash between Ribchester and Churchill, we have the rather unusual situation of the older horse likely to go-off favourite. Though O’Brien’s dual-Classic winner has a handy weight advantage, his poor performance at Royal Ascot has punters looking to the Godolphin star as the likely victor.

Ribchester arrives having won the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, and then landing the Queen Anne at the Royal Meeting. The Richard Fahey-trained four-year-old may lack the ‘wow-factor’, but has become a rock-solid performer at a mile, and fully deserves his place at the head of the market. However, Toronado, Declaration Of War, Canford Cliffs and Paco Boy were all recent Queen Anne winners that lost out to the youngsters here.

That’s undoubtedly a concern for favourite backers, and should Churchill return to his Guineas’ winning best, the weight differential could once again prove a telling factor. On official ratings, Ribchester has just 2lbs in hand.

I’d go as far as to say, that an on-form Churchill is a Sussex Stakes certainty. His Irish Guineas victory was arguably his best performance. He’s a powerful galloper, who just maybe lacks a change of gear. Goodwood wouldn’t necessarily be his ideal track, though the same could be said for Ribchester. A stiff mile would probably be ideal for both. But it’s this 7lb that will surely prove critical.

A danger to the pair could well lie in French raider Zelzal. Jean-Claude Rouget rarely travels to the UK without landing a major prize. This four-year-old colt will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, and is likely to be doing his best work late-on. I’m not sure he’s quite quick enough to beat the market leaders, and would expect him to be battling it out for minor honours.

This is a race that goes to fancied contenders, and I can’t see anything other than a Ballydoyle – Godolphin epic this afternoon. I’d expect Ribchester to be travelling powerfully and looking the likely winner entering the final furlong. But under a power-packed Ryan Moore drive, that 7lbs age-allowance will prove an insurmountable obstacle.

It’s Churchill for me. Best of luck to all those having a punt.

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