Even the most avid Flat racing fan would struggle to claim that last week’s Goodwood reached glorious proportions. A mix of disappointing weather, lacklustre performances, late withdrawals and a general lack of star quality left me somewhat underwhelmed by action on the Sussex Downs.
Several eagerly anticipated clashes failed to materialize, with Churchill the most notable absentee. Ribchester was left the short-priced favourite for the Sussex Stakes, but ran a bizarre race in the Goodwood mud, eventually finishing runner-up to the 20/1 winner Here Comes When.
The Nassau Stakes attracted a stellar cast, but the heavy rain decimated the field with Nezwaah, Shutter Speed and Wuheida all ‘pulled’ due to the testing conditions. Several of those that stood their ground are known ‘sound surface’ types, which left the path clear for a relatively comfortable success for Ballydoyle’s dual-Guineas heroine, Winter.
Despite the diminished field, Winter’s performance was one of the week’s standouts. Her ability to see-out the 1m2f trip was far from assured. There’s plenty of speed on the dam side, though the infusion of Galileo genes clearly did the trick. Indeed, she wasn’t stopping at the line, suggesting a mile-and-a-half wouldn’t be out of the question. The Irish Champion Stakes is now a possibility, and her performance there will determine the latter season targets.
After her victory on Thursday, Aidan O’Brien was ruling nothing out, when saying: “I wouldn’t rule out a mile and a half and we are now very comfortable at a mile and a quarter. She is a strong, powerful mare with big powerful feet and she weighs between 530-540kgs. The lads will decide her future, but she has the option of Leopardstown (where she is also entered in the Matron Stakes), or York.” When asked about Chantilly in October, O’Brien added: “It’s possible, but the Arc is a good few races away.”
A powerful performance from Winter had been expected by many, and though Sir Michael Stoute’s Expert Eye was sent off favourite for the Vintage Stakes, few would have anticipated such a destructive display from the juvenile. Entrepreneur, King’s Best and Golan, landed the 2000 Guineas for Sir Michael around the turn of the century, with that last success coming in 2001. This son of Acclamation out of a Dansili mare, now heads the market for next year’s Classic. And there’s little wonder after this stunning performance.
He cruised into contention two-furlongs out, ‘pulling double’, then stormed clear, crushing runner-up Zaman by almost five lengths. The second had previously finished less than a couple of lengths behind Gustav Klimt in the Superlative at Newmarket, giving validity to claims that this was the juvenile performance of the season.
Stoute isn’t one for pushing his juveniles, and said as much after the eye-catching performance: “It's too early to talk about the Guineas, it's only the beginning of August in his two-year-old season. He does tick a lot of boxes as he's a well-balanced, well-made horse with a good mind and a lot of pace. We'll go step-by-step and I won't be putting him up to a mile yet. I am excited - he's brimful of promise, put it that way.”
The trainer’s style is emphasised by the steady progression of three-year-old Crystal Ocean, another Goodwood standout. He was a dominant winner of the Gordon Stakes on Saturday, a race Stoute has targeted with many of his best over the years. Conduit and Harbinger both took this race, with the former going on to win the St Leger at Doncaster. Both became high-class four-year-olds, winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot. Stoute also won the Gordon with Snow Sky in 2014, and with Ulysses 12 months ago. The former took the Hardwicke Stakes in 2015, whilst the latter won this year’s Coral-Eclipse before chasing home Enable in the King George.
Crystal Ocean has only five career starts to his name, and is tiptoeing along quite nicely. Thought by his trainer to be too immature for a crack at the Derby, he may well attempt to emulate Conduit by going for the St Leger in September. “We've loved him from early days. He's a lovely stamp of horse with a good mind,” said a satisfied Stoute. He went on: “He goes on soft ground – we knew that because he did in the Dante – but I was concerned about this ground because this is the worst they will ever get. He's a good athlete and that helps. We'll look at the Leger. I wouldn't say definitely, but we'll consider it.”
The final shining light on an otherwise overcast and dreary Sussex Downs, was new sprinting sensation Battaash. Trained by Charlie Hills, the three-year-old arrived at Goodwood’s King George Stakes, having previously scorched the Sandown turf in winning the Coral Charge. Hills had shown concern over the testing conditions, but this son of Dark Angel out of a Lawman mare, came through this latest test with flying colours. He toyed with the opposition, before storming clear a furlong from home. The top-class duo of Profitable and Marsha were left looking decidedly pedestrian by the impressive winner.
The lucky pilot was Jim Crowley, and he was clearly impressed, saying: “I don’t think I have ridden a better sprinter. I rode Battaash in work at Charlie's ten days ago and it was like riding a motorbike up the gallops.” Of the potential mouth-watering clash with Lady Aurelia in the Nunthorpe at York, the jockey added: “Bring it on. It would be lovely to win a Group One for the boss.”