In this week of this concertinaed and truncated whirlwind season in this topsy-turvy year, racing hosts its summer landmark Glorious Goodwood festival. Without crowds for the first four of five days, the final card on Saturday will welcome racegoers to a British track for the first time since mid-March. Hallelujah for that: on, and up.
To the racing and, for the first four days of Goodwood - the Qatar Goodwood Festival to give it its correct name - I'll be offering some daily thoughts on the action. Readers are advised to familiarise themselves with the content of this draw and pace article, both elements having a strong bearing on proceedings under certain conditions at the Sussex Downs venue.
I'm taking the chance that the going will be good on the opening day and, with a dry week forecast, tightening up to good to firm later in the week. Day One is Tuesday 28th July, and the feature race is the Goodwood Cup, a Group 1. But before that, and more briefly than is often the case, we commence at 1.10 with the...
1.10 EBF Fillies' Handicap (1m, Class 3 0-95, 3yo+)
A three-year-old-plus handicap where eight of the twelve declarations are of the Classic generation. They receive both an eight pound weight for age allowance and are generally open to more improvement, a double whammy against their elders.
John Gosden is in bamboozling form right now as the below image demonstrates, and he saddles handicap debutant Wasaayef. Gosden has struck at a 30% clip in the last two years with horses off a layoff, has a 23% win rate with 'cap debs, and currently boasts a 34% strike rate for the past fortnight.
A neck second to Queen Daenerys in a novice last September, she was spotting that one six pounds. The winner was fourth in the Oaks, and the third and fourth have both won since, so this is strong handicap form. Expect her to race handily, and she's available at around the 3/1 mark.
1.45 Unibet Handicap (1m2f, Class 2, 4yo+)
After the relative calm of a dozen fillies comes the storm of 18 older horses traversing the round course before clambering over each other and the camber (cambering over each other?) in the straight. Ten furlongs is the trip.
Four- and five-year-olds with at least a distance win have taken out 17 of the last 18 renewals of this race, according to Andy Newton's Goodwood Day 1 trends. Higher weights and multiple winners have had much the best of it so my shortlist is comprised of Sky Defender, Babbo's Boy, Derevo, and Alternative Fact.
Sky Defender is one of only two in the race for Mark Johnston - who took this pot in 2016, 2014, 2012, 2009, 2006 and 2000 - with the other being the better fancied but unproven at the distance, Maydanny.
Sky Defender has second top weight but also has the assistance of Joe Fanning, who rides this track for Johnston so well. Ignoring a last place finish at York last time, he won a Class 2 handicap at similarly quirky Epsom over this trip two back. His is a bold 'catch me if you can' style generally, and there are plenty of alternatives for the lead in a race thick with both quality and quantity. But very few riders have Fanning's ability to judge the fractions, making 28/1 tempting for very small money.
Babbo's Boy is interesting, too, and at 33/1 in a place. A Class 3 winner two back over ten furlongs, he ran poorly last time when upped in distance. With a liking for a bit of juice in the turf, any rain will help his cause and trainer Ralph Beckett calls up Rossa Ryan for the steering: they're 7/21 in the last year together (+15.87, A/E 1.88, IV 3.27)
Sir Michael Stoute offers Derevo for our consideration. A typically well-bred Juddmonte colt, he is both bound to improve for his seasonal bow and likely to improve for being a year older, Sir Michael being a master of patience. Derevo notched three wins from his five starts last term, though they were all in small fields. He could fare no better than a 12 length sixth in a 19-runner late season handicap at Newmarket which is a niggle. So, too, is his car park stall - 18 of 18 - and those two knocks mean he's not for me at single figure quotes.
The last of my trendy quartet is Alternative Fact: Ed Dunlop trains this one, an experienced three-time winner including once at ten furlongs. A hold up horse with a turn of pace he's interesting for all that he'll need plenty of fortune in transit.
All four are drawn 13 or wider, however, and that's a concern. In the circumstances, I'll be treading very carefully with Sky Defender and Babbo's Boy with as many extra places as I can get.
2.15 Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes (7f, Group 2, 2yo)
The first group race of the week and a strong favourite in the imperiously-bred Battleground. By War Front he's out of the superstar mare, Found, herself winner of an Arc and a Breeders' Cup Turf. The Naas maiden in which he was a two and a half length sixth on debut has worked out extremely well: as well as Battleground himself winning the Listed Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot, the ninth placed horse won the Group 2 Railway Stakes with the winner of the Naas maiden finishing second in that G2. Indeed, here's the Future Form view of selected runners from the maiden, with the bottom line P/L bottom right corner:
I'm not inclined to try to speculate about the rest of the field, though I would say that the favourite has more scope to improve than many and already has better form than most/all of his rivals. Good ground won't be an issue and he ought to win, I think, albeit that 11/8 leaves little margin for error.
2.45 Lennox Stakes (7f, Group 2, 3yo+)
A seven furlong Group 2, and a good one at that. I always feel that seven furlongs is a specialist trip, especially when looking at top class races. Indeed, 17 of the last 20 winners of the Lennox Stakes were already seven-furlong winners.
Only six of those twenty victors also won last time out. Six more were beaten over a mile, though not beaten far; and the three winners who ran over six furlongs the time before were also all beaten at that shorter trip. Meanwhile, six of the eight winners who ran over seven furlongs last time won that race, too.
In other words, forgive a beaten horse if it was running over a different - potentially the wrong - trip; but demand that a horse which ran over this range last time won. Tragically, from my research perspective, that only eliminates the 33/1 poke Graignes on its first UK run for George Baker. Sigh.
Below is the UK/Ire form as depicted in Instant Expert, sorted by distance win percentage:
The seven-furlong specialists in the field are Space Blues, Safe Voyage and Sir Dancealot. Let's begin with the last named, winner of this race for the last two years and a 6/1 shot this time around. There are clearly no concerns about course or distance, nor about the ground. Those are his sole two visits to the course thus far. Last year Sir Dancealot came here off the back of a beating over a mile, and the year before he took the same route as this term: beaten in the six-furlong July Cup. He has won at 5/1 and 6/1 those two years and looks a very fair price again at 13/2.
Safe Voyage comes here having won the Surrey Stakes at Epsom over this trip. He was previously second to Space Blues, again over seven, at Haydock. He has some high class form at seven and a mile from last year but almost exclusively on deep ground. If the going was soft, he'd be my idea of the value; but it's not and he isn't, for all that he's clearly a talented lad who otherwise fits the profile.
The favourite is Godolphin's Space Blues, winner of the aforementioned Haydock Listed contest and most recently a Longchamp Group 3. In an eight-runner field over in France that last day, the two British horses finished 1-2, nodding once more to the dearth of talent in the French ranks currently. Frankly, whilst I've loved this fellow since he careened through a 19-runner York handicap field last May, his form thereafter is either below this level or has been achieved in that questionable Gallic context. It obviously won't be a shock if he wins, but I don't give an especially better chance to him than to Sir D who is twice his price and more.
Of the remainder, Duke Of Hazzard hasn't especially been looking like he wants a drop in trip from a mile though he's a dual Group winner here; Pierre Lapin has to bounce back from a horrible run in the Commonwealth Cup and proved he's trained on from a highly promising juvenile season; and the rest, with one possible exception, don't look good enough.
The possible exception is Glorious Journey. A G2 winner in Meydan in January, and then third at the uber-valuable Saudi Cup meeting in February, the Charlie Appleby-trained five-year-old was a neck second to Limato in a Newmarket Group 3 and the winner of a Newbury Group 2, both over this distance, last season. If he's recovered from his early year globetrotting exertions and is fit enough he'll have a hand to play. Those are quite a few if's for a horse at a single figure price, mind.
3.15 Goodwood Cup (2m, Group 1, 3yo+)
The feature of the day - arguably of the week - is the Group 1 Goodwood Cup. Seven go to post and it is 14/1 bar two, so ostensibly a match, a notion given greater substance with the fact that the third favourite, Nayef Road, was beaten ten lengths by the favourite, Stradivarius, last time.
Stradivarius is a win machine and the latest of a terrific line of staying champions. Because of their limited value at stud - National Hunt broodmares await - stayers tend to be kept in training for longer. As a result, we've seen the likes of Double Trigger, Yeats, and Persian Punch to name three return time and again to favoured haunts for their Cup jaunts.
But this lad Strad, recency bias acknowledged, might just be the pick of them. Such is his talent that talk of an Arc tilt at season end is not quite in the realms of fantasy (though it is still ambitious). For this gig, he has no peers, not from the older brigade anyway. The John Gosden inmate has won the last three renewals of the Goodwood Cup, has a gear change unrivalled among stayers and comes here off the back of arguably his most impressive performance thus far, when bashing up Nayef Road and co by at least one postal district.
But where there's an ointment there's usually a fly, and where the ointment is Gosden's it is usually Aidan O'Brien buzzing around the bottle; in this case with his progressive and weight-advantaged three-year-old Santiago. As a juvenile, Santiago was good enough to finish second to Alpine Star, subsequent Group 1 winner at a mile. He then won his maiden at that trip to round out last season.
This term, in two races just eight days apart, he won the Group 2 Queen's Vase over a mile and six at Ascot, flew back to Ireland, and took out the Group 1 (obvs) Irish Derby. Wow. The former race was on soft ground, the latter on good. Talented and versatile he might arguably have aimed at twelve furlong G1 glory rather than this two mile challenge; but getting a whacking great stone and a pound in weight for age makes him a formidable foe for the champ.
Here's how I expect this to play out: Nayef Road takes them along early in a bid to draw the sting, while the SAS - Santiago and Stradivarius - keep their powder dry marking each other from midfield. On the turn for home, the moves are made and the best turn of foot wins.
Aided by that chunky weight differential, I feel Santiago might just wrest the laurels from the old fiddler, Stradivarius. It's not a strong feeling, and I have ultimate respect for the champion; but he is vulnerable on these terms given the progression in the other lad, and the price disparity - 2/1 vs 8/13 - is greater in my view than it ought to be.
3.45 Qatar Handicap (Class 2, 5f, 4yo+)
A cracking sprint handicap and one where the rarely sighted "Possible Pace Collapse" prediction is in play...
True, it is sometimes the case that when races look like this, connections take heed and manage their runners accordingly; but here, the likes of Caspian Prince, Ornate and Acclaim The Nation don't really know another way to race regardless of the deliberations of their humans.
As such, for me, it sets up for either a more tactically versatile runner or a waited with type. As can be seen from the map, it might not be overly lazy to narrow consideration down to two: Well Done Fox and Celsius.
Well Done Fox is a two-time Listed scorer at the minimum and drops back to this trip after two efforts over six. Prior to that he ran a respectable, in the context of this handicap, race in the 5f Group 1 King's Stand Stakes, and was a decent fourth in the 5f Group 3 Palace House Stakes on his other run this term. He's not won for two years but nor has he faced a field of five furlong handicappers in his career before. The drop in trip, into a searing pace, might be just what he needs and 12/1 is fair each way value.
Celsius is just about favourite, and this looks an ideal setup for him, too. A winner in five of his eight five furlong handicaps, and second in two more, Tom Clover has trained this four-year-old to continuous improvement thus far. He is a regular tardy starter, however, and if he's not careful this better collective might be away and gone before he can catch them up. If he breaks alertly it will be a very good opportunity to further his winning ways at 7/2.
4.20 Maiden Stakes (6f, Class 2, 2yo)
4.55 Fillies' Handicap (1m 4f, Class 3 0-95, 3yo+)
A card book-ended by fillies' handicaps closes with this one over twelve furlongs. This time, seven of the dozen runners are from the Classic generation, and in receipt of eleven pounds weight for age. Unexposed, progressive and getting most of a stone. Yes, they lack the physical maturity of their elders in most cases, but the deck is stacked in their favour to my eye. This race, which I assume is the one introduced in 2013 for the late August meeting, has been won by a 3yo for the last six (of seven) years.
The relatively locally trained Asiaaf was a winner here two back. That was over ten furlongs, the Marcus Tregoning resident having run a solid second at Sandown since. Stepping up to this distance for the first time, improvement could be forthcoming though her pedigree (New Approach out of a Shamardal mare) doesn't scream as much.
One whose lineage does point to a mile and a half, and whose form profile has embroidered that implication, is 10/3 Dancing Approach. Trained by Roger Charlton, she's won her last two since being stepped up to this trip. By Camelot out of a New Approach mare, such races are the metier of the sire, as can be seen from the sire snippets:
We can also see from that snapshot that both trainer and jockey are in good recent form (the green 14 and 30 noting good form in the past 14 and 30 days respectively). This filly has an obvious chance.
Tulip Fields is another bred for this sort of job, and so too it seems is her trainer, Mark Johnston, who wins Glorious Goodwood handicaps for fun. She's a little more exposed than some, however, and my eye is drawn more to the George Scott-trained Au Clair De Lune.
By Sea The Stars, whose progeny have fared extremely well against this type of assignment - see below - she is out of Missunited, who herself was a winner here of the Group 3 Lillie Langtry Stakes on her final start. Raced in the same owner/breeder colours of Vanessa Hutch as her dam, she will have been primed for this target. Incidentally, her year older full brother, Eagles By Day, runs in the Goodwood Cup earlier on the card, another suggestion that there could be more to come from this filly.
As can also be seen below, the George Scott/Ben Curtis axis has been a potent one in the last twelve months. She's 11/2 and should run well.
And that's a wrap for the opening day of the Qatar Goodwood Festival 2020. A slightly briefer overview and a few more Geegeez Gold components; hopefully one or both of those tweaks is to your personal tastes. Regardless, I'll be back with Wednesday's preview soon enough. I'd love for you to join me!
Oh, and do leave a comment below with your best value play(s) and your reasons why - share the knowledge 🙂