To Friday, the fourth day of five at the Qatar Goodwood Festival - Glorious Goodwood to you and me. Goodwood Friday is one of those days in the calendar marked off on January 1st, along with Cheltenham week, Royal Ascot, and the Breeders' Cup, when I am planning to be at the track for the very best of what the sport has to offer.
But not this year, alas. This year, I - like everyone else - will be confined to the sofa for my Glorious viewing. No bad thing in the context of what's going on around the globe but, for all that it is a first world problem, they are days like these when I feel those invisible bars constraining my liberty. On...
1.10 TDN Australia Handicap (1m3f, Class 3 0-90, 3yo)
We commence with another of those inscrutable, to me at least, three-year-old handicaps. I'm trying to look to the form of races which are working out well, but this year's fractured programme means there are less of those. The ratings boys will have a better handle than me on this one so I'll largely leave it to them - Peter May's numbers, for example, scream Al Qaqaa, the eight length last day victor. A nine pound rise is unlikely to stop him if he is in the same mood here.
I was a fan of Celestran after his Yarmouth win but, for all that he's run well in defeat since, that race hasn't worked out as well as I expected it might. He's not one to give up on yet, however.
Possibly the most interesting, Al Qaqaa aside, is Summit Reach, trained by the wily and in-form 'Raif' Beckett. He made all to hack up in a mile event at Chelmsford which has worked out very well and, while he's failed to go gate to wire over this sort of distance twice since, he ought to have a squeak of stacking them up on this pace-favouring piste. Stall ten won't be an issue for him.
In truth, this is not a betting race for me.
1.45 Oak Tree Stakes (7f, Group 3, 3yo+ fillies & mares)
Low draws have dominated in the Oak Tree Stakes historically. Since 1997, the winner has been drawn 2,2,2,1,5,1,6,6,1,1,1,10,9,2,2,9,10,10,5,1,6,3,10
Put another way, the inside three stalls - after removing non-runners - have won 12 from 69 runners; the outside three stalls have won one from 69 runners. The heat map, which shows all similar races run over this course and distance since 2009, accentuates the point still further:
Invitational has to be of interest. She'd won two at seven furlongs - in slightly lower grade, granted - prior to patently failing to stay a mile on the stiff Ascot track behind Nazeef last time. Back to seven, with a favourable draw and front rank run style, 14/1 is too big.
One Master is in the one box and is a genuine Group 1 filly dropping into Group 3 company. She has a big class edge on Invitational but will need luck in running on this notoriously cambered course. If she gets a clear run she'll probably win.
A Group 3 winner over seven is Breathtaking Look whose draw in nine is acceptable and will be mitigated by a pace-tracking run style. She ran a bold race over six at Newmarket on her 2020 bow (second to July Stakes hero, Oxted) and was only just touched off in a York G3 last time, again over a furlong shorter. Seven is well within her compass as that Sceptre Stakes score last September attests so she ought to go well.
Charlie Appleby runs Althiqa, a Listed race winner in France last time and Godolphin have a second dart in the more exposed Final Song. Fourth in the 1000 Guineas, that one may not have appreciated the soft ground the last twice; even if that's right, however, she has stall 13 - unlucky for most at this range - to overcome.
Anna Nerium and the French filly Wasmya both have good draws if they're lucky in the run.
With a clear passage, One Master will be very hard to beat; but her run style does offer wagering hope that the race sets up for one kept out of trouble. I'll risk Invitational, in spite of her having to concede weight to the three-year-olds and ostensibly being as much as a stone 'wrong' with some of her peers. She'll be near the front, sees out seven well, and looked progressive prior to failing to stay last time.
2.15 Thoroughbred Stakes (1m, Group 3, 3yo)
Just the five go to post for this Group 3, the four-and-a-half length Britannia Stakes winner, Khaloosy, being a shade of odds-on as I write. That was on soft, this will be good to firm; that was 22 runners and truly run, this will be five runners and potentially tactical; that was a handicap, this is a conditions race. He very well might still win.
Against him are a couple of uber-unexposed colts in My Oberon and Tilsit. The former won a York novice last time by six lengths, showing a ready turn of foot. That attribute could be valuable in a contest with no obvious pace angle and, with just two runs to his name thus far, he can progress again.
Tilsit has a similar profile: the second of his two runs to date was a 19 (nineteen!) length romp on the straight track at Newcastle. It's virtually impossible to quantify that in the context of this race except to say he's clearly a capable individual.
The other pair look a lot more exposed.
This is a very different test for Khaloosy and, as such, taking odds-on doesn't appeal. My Oberon looks the more likely of the other two last day wide margin scorers, and he's a sporting bet at bigger than 3/1.
2.45 Golden Mile Handicap (1m, Class 2, 3yo+)
The strongest draw bias race in the calendar just about: low draws have it, high draws do not. Recent winners of this race have been drawn 4,15,9,5,4,2,1,3,3,5,1,1,15,7,1,8,13,5,9,1,3,3,3
Backing the lowest three drawn horses in that time arbitrarily would have returned a profit at SP of 40.75 points.
Moreover, when the going has been good or faster, stalls 1-5 have been responsible for the winner in five of the last seven years, and the second in the two non-winning years.
Here's the pace/draw heat map for ALL handicap races over a mile at Goodwood on quick ground with 14+ runners. Good luck if you fancy Montatham: he'll be a mighty horse to win from there.
Mark Johnston won this in 2012, 2010, 2009, 2001 and 1997 but has had plenty beaten since his last success. He's triple-handed this time and has lucked in with the draw for two of them, the forward-going pair Vale Of Kent and Cardsharp.
Joe Fanning is likely to set the fractions on Vale Of Kent, who was second in the race last year off a seven pound lower mark. That, incredibly, was from stall 17 and he has trap 3 this time: he's a definite player with Goodwood form of 2142 including three big field spins and is generally available at 10/1.
Cardsharp has Will Buick steering and emerges from box five. He has yet to run at the track and looks more of a seven furlong horse.
The highly progressive Prompting is drawn in stall two and is favourite. For all that he won well last time that was in a Class 4 seven furlong handicap on the wide open expanses of the Knavesmire: he looks like he'll be ridden for luck in a better race over further and is therefore not exciting at the price. His trainer, David O'Meara, is in excellent form and he could still be competitive with a clear run.
Another who will come later and need to be commensurately lucky in transit is Sir Busker. He's been impressive this term at a mile and shaped as though needing those extra yards when just failing to get up over seven at Newmarket last time. Up another five pounds for that effort won't help but the 'capper has been struggling to keep tabs on William Knight's progressive four-year-old.
Almufti has the inside stall and a nine pound weight pull with Sir Busker on Ascot running two starts back. He, more than most, will need the splits to arrive but he remains playable for small money at 14/1, hard luck potential notwithstanding.
Mostly, though, I think Vale Of Kent looks likely to run his race and is attractive at 10/1 with extra places if you like.
3.15 King George Stakes (5f, Group 2, 3yo+)
This race is all about Battaash, who is a very very fast horse and oozes class. His price of 4/11 reflects the strong likelihood that he'll win so you'll need plenty of elevens to be prepared to risk them to get some fours.
I had a good bet on Liberty Beach to finish second to Battaash at Ascot where she got chinned on the line by Equilateral. She's since been beaten into second in a Listed race but she won the Molecomb here last year and the slightly easier finish looks more to her tastes. She's my idea of the second and 7/4 without Battaash is the bet if you don't just want to cheer the high class jolly's anticipated procession.
Glass Slippers looks like she will appreciate a bit more give in the ground and perhaps another tilt at the Abbaye is where we'll see her best this term. Al Raya might not be impossible but the rest, including the French runner Ken Colt, probably are just about.
3.45 Glorious Stakes (1m4f, Group 3, 4yo+)
Treacherous punting territory in spite of just seven lining up. The last winner at a double figure price was in 2001 so I'll use that as an excuse to overlook Le Don De Vie, Spirit Of Appin and, reluctantly, Thundering Blue.
That leaves a quartet at 5/1 or shorter headed by Communique, a horse who has forgotten how to win a touch. In fairness, he's been second three times since a Group 2 score in July last year, and was only a half length behind Eagles By Day over arguably a trip too far last time.
Desert Encounter has won absolute bundles - over a million quid, in fact - from his globetrotting exploits and he added another 57 'bags' (bag of sand = grand) when nicking this under a typically late Jamie Spencer ride last term. At around 3/1 he's a less appealing price this time than the 15/2 he returned then, but his case is more obvious. Jim Crowley takes over from Jamie.
Alounak is another to have acquired more than just air miles from his world tour, aggregating better than £330,000 to date. Alas, that was pretty much exclusively for his previous, German, trainer. Andrew Balding has managed 'just' the £30k with the son of Camelot in three spins to date, but he nearly stole the show in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot last month. A capable fellow on his day, he's another who usually runs well in defeat.
That's a comment which can be applied to the 2-from-13 Pablo Escobarr also, though one of his brace was achieved in a maiden race here. This is a different level of difficulty and not one about which I'm excited for his chance.
Thundering Blue was such a devil a couple of seasons back putting his trainer, David Menuisier, on the map. He ran mostly flat last term, however, and it remains to be seen how much affection for the task the now seven-year-old retains. Likeable old sausage, all the same.
This is the sort of race where one arrives at a wager by a process of elimination. All have been serial non-winners in recent times with the exception of the reigning champ, Desert Encounter. He's very far from bombproof but is less unreliable than his rivals and gets the nod on that basis!
4.20 Nursery Handicap (6f, Class 2, 2yo)
I just don't know. Maybe Rooster or Perotti, both off the track for a month and more, both expected capable of better after the break, both representing respected Goodwood trainers. Next.
4.55 Fillies' Maiden (6f, Class 4, 2yo)
The bar beckons.
And that's Friday's somewhat truncated preview. I hope you don't mind me skipping the last pair: you shouldn't because I genuinely have no idea on those - even more so than the 30-odd races which preceded them this week!
As is customary, I will leave you to your own devices on Saturday and wish you well. And, as is customary, you may be very grateful of that come the time...
Many thanks for reading this week, and I hope you've both enjoyed the sport and perhaps found a nicely-priced winner or two.
p.s. There will be a crowd at Goodwood on Saturday. It will be the first occasion since mid-March that racegoers have been permitted to indulge their passion on site and, in these nervous tentative times, that feels like a small win. Let us hope that the macro situation allows for this to become our 'new normal', as there are plenty of racecourses up and down the land who rarely get more than the ceiling 5000 in attendance. In other words, they might get back somewhere close to business as usual, which will be good for all of us one way or another.
Baby steps, but on and up.