Day two of five, Wednesday, at the Qatar Goodwood Festival - Glorious Goodwood to you and me - and another septet of equine head-scratchers, chin-rubbers and brow-furrowers upon which to ruminate. As with Tuesday we begin at 1.10pm, and as with Tuesday, we begin with a fillies' handicap, the...
1.10 British Stallion Studs EBF Fillies' Handicap (1m2f, Class 2 0-105, 3yo+)
Eight go to post on good ground for this first of seven on the afternoon. Three fillies represent the Classic generation, each in receipt of nine pounds of weight for age.
I've tried twice to find a way into this race, and I've failed both times. I don't want to deliberately mislead anyone, which I'd be in danger of doing, so we'll move swiftly on.
1.45 Unibet Goodwood Handicap (2m5f, Class 2 0-105, 3yo+)
An extended two and a half miles around the loop means traversing all of Goodwood's ups and downs, in some cases in both directions. It's a test of balance and stamina as well as requiring a hint of class. They don't bother with starting stalls so you need a horse that's not going to lose ten lengths at the tapes: even over this marathon trip a missed kick spells game over. My route into all Class 2 staying handicaps is Ian Williams.
In the last five years he's chiselled out a small starting price profit - and a much greater exchange or early price edge - as well as hitting plenty of placed runners (30%), as the image below articulates.
This race has gone to Williams on three occasions (2017, 2014, 2008) and he is double handed in the quest for a fourth Goodwood Stakes.
The Grand Visir won the Ascot Stakes (2m4f) last year and was second in the Queen Alexandra Stakes (2m6f) last month, so he loves Ascot and staying trips on the flat. This is not Ascot, however. He's up from 100 to 104 which might not be enough to stop him, though whether he has the same affection for this track I'm not sure. Still, he has plenty of ticks in boxes for a game like this.
Meanwhile, Blue Laureate is developing into a cliff horse for me: a lamentable effort in this year's Ascot Stakes was sandwiched between two close enough placed spins in Class 2 staying handicaps. His overall win record of 1 from 16 in flat handicaps is sub-optimal but I have to have him in my corner as he still looks well handicapped and is in the right hands. James Doyle takes over the driving today.
The likes of the admirable Coeur De Lion, as well as Oleg and Hollie Doyle, and Mark Johnston's Summer Moon will all have their supporters. But I'm siding with Ian Williams, at 9/1 and 16/1, a long-term EV+ play in these races.
2.15 Unibet Handicap (1m4f, Class 2 0-105, 3yo)
A three-year-old handicap over twelve furlongs where we're required to project on from what horses have already achieved - often over shorter trips - to today's challenge. Eleven runners but 6/1 the field tells you how tough this is.
One means of undertaking such projection is to look at how well races have worked out. Three runners catch the eye in that context.
The first of them is Mambo Nights, trained by Richard Hannon. He's won his last two, and before that was third in a Salisbury novice from which the runners have collectively raced 39 times since. They've managed to win 15 of those races (38%). Indeed, as you can see from the below (right hand side 'Then What?' section), ALL of his races have worked out well. He's bred for this trip, unexposed at it and no horse has got to within two lengths of him so far this season.
Although George Scott's form is not great just now - still time to turn that around - his Sarvan is also an improver whose form is panning out. See the image below, which shows not just how Sarvan's second to Spectrum Of Light looks well, but also (at the bottom) the excellent record of George Scott when placing a runner into a handicap for the first time. I alluded to the Scott/Curtis trainer/jockey combination on Tuesday; it appears again, as one of my three Report Angles, for this chap today.
And thirdly Cozone, trained locally by Amanda Perrett, a lady who just loves a winner at Goodwood (I know, who doesn't?). We can see how well his non-winning pair of races in 2020 have unravelled in the ensuing weeks from 'Then What?' again and, in the extended view below, I've also inspected the trainer's and sire's performance.
To that end, we can see that Mrs P is in good form (note the place percentage of 40% in the past fortnight) but that she's struggled to get winners on the Sussex Downs in recent times for all that she has tried. If that's a knock, the breeding - by a Derby winner out of a mare bred from Dansili - offers hope. He might at least win the Fred Winter if failing here! (Whilst that may appear harsh, he has an excellent pedigree for that change of direction).
Of the rest, A Star Above may get a form boost from Au Clair De Lune, whom she beat last time, that one fancied (by me at least) in the last on Tuesday.
Yes, it's very trappy, but I will lean nervously in the direction of 9/1 Mambo Nights, who threatens plenty more at this trip and whose form is rock solid.
2.45 Molecomb Stakes (Group 3, 5f, 2yo)
A flying five for fast juveniles, the Molecomb has advertised the ability of the likes of Cotai Glory, Kachy, Havana Grey and Liberty Beach in recent years. This is all about speed.
The one I like most is Sardinia Sunset. Second in a hot early season novice, she then finished a fine fourth in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot. Dropped to Listed grade last time she made no mistake, scoring by a length. She has the highest Topspeed figure, the highest Racing Post Rating, the highest Peter May 'SR' figure, and is best in at the weights with her fillies' allowance. She was also fast enough to lead in her first two races yet tactically versatile enough to sit in behind when winning that Listed pot last time.
There are plenty of dangers, including Michael O'Callaghan's impressive debut scorer, Steel Bull. He was slowly away that day and, if breaking more alertly for the experience, will be a threat to all.
I'm not mad about Significantly, who has found one too good on each of his three starts and has recorded regressive time figures in the process; but Wings Of A Dove could conceivably take a step forward. Behind Sardinia Sunset in both that Newmarket novice and the Queen Mary, she showed up really well having fluffed the start behind Ubettabelieveit in the National Stakes at Sandown.
Army Of India reverts from a turning six on the all-weather to a straight turf five, the Mark Johnston-trained dual scorer having the pace to contest the running and the stamina to see out any burn up on the front end. He'd be far from a shock winner for all that he lacks the class of some of these.
9/2 Sardinia Sunset looks decent to me.
3.15 Sussex Stakes (Group 1, 1m, 3yo+)
What a race in prospect. What. A. Race.
This mile set-to includes the winners of the 2000 Guineas (Kameko), the Irish equivalent (Siskin), the Queen Anne Stakes (Circus Maximus), and the Summer Mile (Mohaather). Throw in Wichita, close third in the St James's Palace Stakes, and Vatican City, runner up behind Siskin at the Curragh - and San Donato, second to Mohaather - and we have a sumptuous serving of something special.
Stepping away from the individual ability of this septet to stare at some cold facts for a moment reveals that three-year-olds have won 13 of the last 21 renewals (62% of the winners, from 42% of the runners). That's a nod to how many three-year-olds are retired at the end of their Classic season as much as the weight for age allowance but, regardless of which you place greater store by, the fact is that the younger gang have historically had an advantage.
Favoured is the unbeaten Siskin, who did well to extricate himself from a pocket in the Irish 2000 and win by daylight. That looked unlikely for much of the race and is testament to the acceleration of Ger Lyons's colt, a son of First Defence. He travels well, has tactical speed and is unbeaten: what's not to like? Well, perhaps nothing; but maybe the fact that he was withdrawn from the Middle Park Stakes after getting extremely worked up in the stalls at Newmarket on his only trip outside Ireland.
That might just have been a freak, of course, but he is unlikely to truncate in price in the early yards of the race so, if you love him, it could be worth backing him once the gates have opened and he's shown himself to be focused on the job. There is a very good chance I'm over-analysing what happened at Newmarket, however.
More recently at the same Suffolk venue, Kameko came with a sustained run to score in the 2000 Guineas. While there was no fluke about that, the perception remains that he's a ten-furlong horse who got away with it on a stiff straight mile track. This easy turning mile just may test his speed too much and his stamina not enough.
Siskin's trainer is most afraid of Mohaather, the four-year-old Showcasing colt who bounded away from his rivals in an Ascot Group 2 on the round course at the Berkshire track last time. Steady early fractions made for a sprint finish and he proved much the best in that context. It was also steady early over the same track and trip - but on the straight course - when he couldn't cope with Circus Maximus's masterclass in front end control in the Queen Anne. Mohaather has yet to do it in Group 1 company - beaten five lengths on both occasions he's tried. While it is too early to say he cannot win a G1, he looks short enough even if there were credible excuses for both his defeats at the top table.
Circus Maximus re-engages here, having been a close second in this race last year. There, he gave best only late on to the excellent-on-his-day Too Darn Hot, and his overall CV is impressive, including Group 1 mile wins in the St James's Palace and Prix du Moulin as well as that Queen Anne score. He's tough and high class but probably does need to grind it out from the front; that makes him susceptible on a speed track like this.
His barn mates, Wichita and Vatican City, are not without hope. The former represents this year's St James's Palace form in the absence of Palace Pier and Pinatubo, small margins in front of him at Ascot. I presume he'll chase Circus Maximus's lead - it certainly doesn't make sense for them to take each other on. Previously a neck second to Kameko in the 2000 Guineas, he may reverse placings with that one on a track which, as mentioned, is more about speed.
Vatican City was another to suffer interference in the Irish 2000 but still did best of the rest behind Siskin. It's a stretch to suggest he'd have beaten the winner with a clear run, so I won't; and it is hard to find a reason why he should reverse form here, for all that there is not necessarily a huge amount between them.
The 25/1 outsider San Donato may outrun his odds without perhaps being good enough to make the frame. His winning form is at six furlongs so it's a fair shout that a mile on Ascot's uphill finish, even in a steadily run race, asked too much stamina-wise. This easier mile threatens to be just as much about speed as that Ascot Group 2 but a little less about stamina. He'll be held up for a late run and I'd be happy to take evens he doesn't finish last!
This is a great race but not an easy one from a betting perspective. To be frank, I don't really like any of them enough at the prices to bet. So I won't. So there. 🙂
Really looking forward to watching it, though, natch.
3.45 Alice Keppel Fillies' Conditions Stakes (Class 2, 5f, 2yo)
I'm not going to pretend I have a line on this race.
What I will say is that Jane Chapple-Hyam's unraced filly is interesting, a) because this is a deep end in which to lob an unraced filly, and b) because Jane has a very good five-year course record. She is also capable of saddling debut winners as the image below shows:
The red 14/30 imply that J C-H is in poor form; while no winners from 20 runners in the last 30 days is frustrating, a quarter of those have made the frame which is in line with her two-year place strike rate (see the 'All' row). In a race where the standard of opposition is not quite top class, there will be worse throwaway penny wagers than 33/1 Lady Amalthea this week.
4.20 Theo Fennell Handicap (7f, Class 3 0-95, 3yo+)
We close with a seven furlong handicap where as many as twenty runners line up. Seven furlongs is a draw bias trip, as we can see from the image below which displays 'percentage of rivals beaten' (PRB).
The PRB3 line - rolling three-stall average PRB - shows an almost linear relationship from low (very good) to high (dreadful).
The draw / run style heat map relates a similar tale. Low, and especially low and led, is the way to go.
Let's try to apply that information to the actual pace map for the race:
There's a bundle of pace on by the looks of it, so I'd want to be siding with a low drawn horse ridden for luck. They aren't drawn any lower than 1, from which stall Arigato (at around 17/2) will emerge. He's a seven furlong specialist, and maybe also a Newmarket specialist, but he has conditions and is in great form.
Dirty Rascal is 12/1, won the race last year and has stall four for his repeat bid. He's changed trainers, from Richard Hannon to Tom Ward, but not owners, and he runs off the exact same handicap mark as last year. His chance is obvious.
18 others who could play a part but draw is my kingmaker angle.