Grudge match in Sussex, Minding in Nassau promise to make Goodwood glorious
Technically it’s the Qatar Goodwood Festival, thanks to the infusion of cash from the oil-rich Persian Gulf state, but some eagerly awaited performers promise to make this week’s summer garden party as “Glorious” as ever. The five-day meeting runs Tuesday through Saturday, punctuated by the summit of Guineas winners in Wednesday’s Sussex (G1) and by star filly Minding in the closing-day Nassau (G1).
Although Tuesday’s opening card doesn’t have such a ready-made headliner, the Vintage (G2) features a couple of very smart juveniles. Godolphin’s undefeated Boynton and Coolmore’s War Decree ran one-two in Newmarket’s Superlative (G2) at this seven-furlong trip. Note that Boynton broke his maiden for Charlie Appleby at Goodwood. Isomer was runner-up to Aidan O’Brien’s highly rated Churchill in the Chesham at Royal Ascot prior to his maiden score at Salisbury. Godolphin’s other runner, the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Thunder Snow, was sixth to O’Brien’s smashing Caravaggio in the Coventry (G2) and may be happier on the better ground here. The Richard Hannon yard has a history of success at Goodwood (Jr. taking over seamlessly from the retired Sr.), and convincing debut winner Larchmont Lad rates as the most appealing of his Vintage trio.
Godolphin is not only triple-handed in the next race, the Lennox (G2), but the royal blue team also fields the top three betting interests in course-and-distance specialist Dutch Connection (trained by Charlie Hills), Home of the Brave (Hugo Palmer), and Birchwood (Richard Fahey). Dutch Connection, who broke his maiden here, came back to finish second in the 2015 Lennox as a sophomore. The multiple Group 3 hero figures to relish the cut back in trip off a second to Mutakayyef (a possible Arlington Million [G1] contender) in the Summer Mile (G2) at Ascot. Fellow four-year-old Home of the Brave has yet to face the tricky gradients of Goodwood, but he is a seven-furlong aficionado riding a two-race winning streak. Sophomore Birchwood, a hampered fifth in last year’s Vintage, went on to finish a close third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), and the application of a visor recently got him back on the winning track at Chester. Perhaps the biggest threats to Godolphin domination are three-year-old Gifted Master, if the talented speedster can return to form for Palmer, and Sheikh Hamdan’s multiple Group 3 scorer Markaz.
Wednesday is all about the Sussex, and a rematch (grudge match?) between Galileo Gold, The Gurkha, and Awtaad. Each captured a mile classic – Galileo Gold in Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas (G1), The Gurkha in the French equivalent and Awtaad in the Irish, beating Galileo Gold. The triumvirate squared off in the St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot, where the combination of soft ground and a tactical masterpiece by Frankie Dettori clinched it for Galileo Gold over hot favorite The Gurkha.
The burning question is whether Galileo Gold can confirm that result in the Sussex, which would be especially gratifying to his Qatari ownership. Although the Palmer trainee is proven over the course, having garnered last summer’s Vintage, a different set-up on faster ground could make a difference to The Gurkha. One of O’Brien’s army, The Gurkha shortens up off a second in the 10-furlong Eclipse (G1). Awtaad is likely better than he showed at the Royal meeting as well, considering how he traveled better than Galileo Gold at every stage at the Curragh.
The fourth sophomore to try elders in the Sussex, Ribchester, has to step up on bare form. Third to Galileo Gold in the 2000 Guineas, the Fahey pupil came right back to take Royal Ascot’s Jersey (G3) despite lugging the co-top weight of 132 pounds.
The older brigade appears to have its hands full, especially having to concede eight pounds to their younger foes. Lightning Spear comes off a rattling third to Tepin in the Queen Anne (G1), his first start for David Simcock, and the Qatar Racing runner could have more up his sleeve. The classy veteran Toormore was fourth to Tepin two back, but loves Goodwood. The Hannon charge spearheads Godolphin’s team including Richard Pankhurst as well as Ribchester. Kodi Bear has been disappointing since his dynamic victory in last August’s Celebration Mile (G2) over this course and distance, but trainer Clive Cox keeps expecting him to jump up. So Beloved has class concerns at this level but is another with course form, and the hard-knocking Gabrial was third in this race a year ago.
The Sussex is bookended by a pair of Group 3 events. The 12-furlong Gordon (G3), a prominent St Leger (G1) trial, reprises Newmarket’s Bahrain Trophy (G3), with Platitude (the runner-up), Harrison (third), Goldmember (sixth) and Prize Money (eighth), who’s on a retrieval mission after flopping as the favorite last time. But they’re facing sharp-shooting class droppers in Ulysses, eligible to rebound after a 12th in the Derby (G1) at Epsom (where he was thrown in the deep end off a maiden win), and O’Brien’s Shogun, who may likewise enjoy the class relief after being drubbed in a trio of classics.
One race after the Sussex, speedy two-year-olds will dash five furlongs in the Molecomb (G3), and Mark Johnston’s The Last Lion has attracted early favoritism. Global Applause had looked good before a subpar outing as the favorite in the Norfolk (G2) (in which The Last Lion was second), and it would be no surprise if he reverts to his strong formline via Mehmas (see below) here. Sportsmanship isn’t among the budding stars at Ballydoyle (so far), but an O’Brien-trained War Front juvenile can’t be overlooked. Nor should The Last Lion’s stablemate, Yalta, who aired in his first two starts before finding the Coventry and July (G2) beyond him.
Thursday brings another notable juvenile contest, the six-furlong Richmond (G2). Final declarations will be revealed Tuesday, but the story line could be about Godolphin’s ultra-impressive Blue Point taking his first real class test versus July hero and Coventry runner-up Mehmas. Other marquee names in the mix include Norfolk winner Prince of Lir; O’Brien’s Intelligence Cross, second to Mehmas in the July, and possibly Peace Envoy; and Windsor Castle romper Ardad.
Big Orange is expected to mount a title defense in the two-mile Goodwood Cup (G2), and he warmed up the same as last year, with a front-running coup in the Princess of Wales’s (G2). Aside from the usual cast of stayers, there’s a very interesting fresh face in O’Brien’s Sword Fighter. Already proven over this trip when winning the Queen’s Vase, the sophomore followed up in the Curragh Cup (G2) and gets a massive 17-pound weight break from his elders. Stablemate Housesofparliament, who won the Bahrain Trophy over a slew of Gordon runners, is also in the frame.
Rounding out the Group action is the Lillie Langtry (G3) for fillies and mares over 1 3/4 miles. Trainer Ralph Beckett, who won this last summer with future St Leger heroine Simple Verse, can choose from three candidates – Hereawi, a sophomore daughter of Dubawi and Beckett’s 2008 Oaks (G1) victress Look Here; Pamona; and She Is No Lady. Ballymacoll blueblood Yarrow is another of interest.
Scottish is the highest-rated among a dozen engaged in the 1 1/2-mile Glorious (G3), while 17 fillies and mares, topped by Always Smile and Nathra, are provisionally in the seven-furlong Oak Tree (aka L’Ormarins Queens Plate) (G3).
A total of 15 three-year-old milers is currently eligible for the Thoroughbred S. (G3), with Godolphin’s Emotionless the most eye-catching in his second start back from surgery. Others under consideration for Godolphin include the Group 2-winning filly Promising Run, who exits a fifth in the Coronation (G1). Sir Michael Stoute’s placegetters from the Jersey, Thikriyaat and Forge, are also possible.
The five-furlong King George (G2) could lure as many as 20 quality sprinters, from reigning titleholder Muthmir to Cotai Glory, Goldream, Take Cover, Jungle Cat, and such sophomores as Easton Angel, Marsha, and Washington DC. As with the rest of the Friday card, we’ll know more once entries are announced Wednesday.
While punters abroad are most obsessed with trying to solve the puzzle of the six-furlong heritage handicap known as the Stewards’ Cup, North American fans may be more inclined to tune in for the Nassau.
European champion Minding will be heavily favored to rack up her sixth career Group 1 victory in the 1 1/4-mile prize. She may meet a stablemate or two, for O’Brien still has Alice Springs and Ballydoyle in calculations. Qatar’s Al Shaqab Racing would love to spring the upset with Prix Saint-Alary (G1) winner Jemayel, and other sophomores contemplating the task are Swiss Range, Hawksmoor, and Queen's Trust. Only three of the 10 remaining at Monday’s entry stage are older distaffers – Godolphin’s Beautiful Romance and Simcock's Goodwood-proven pair of Carnachy and Bateel.
Photo of Galileo Gold toppling The Gurkha and Awtaad (center) courtesy of Champions Series via Twitter