The Gurkha nips Galileo Gold in Sussex
The Aidan O'Brien-trained The Gurkha ran out a gutsy winner of the Sussex S. (G1) on Wednesday, the feature race on day two of the Goodwood Festival.
Following two creditable runs in defeat in the St James's Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot and the Eclipse (G1) at Sandown, O'Brien's charge seemed to appreciate the return to a faster surface.
Having broken well under Ryan Moore, registering his first success in the £1-million race, the well-backed 11-8 favorite always traveled kindly on the rail in behind market rival Galileo Gold. Turning for home, the son of Galileo looked to be traveling best of the 10 runners but got slightly caught for room approaching the two-furlong pole.
However, once Moore found daylight on the French Guineas (G1) winner, The Gurkha responded well to his jockey's urgings to quicken up nicely and battle on gamely all the way to the line, fending off the late challenge of Galileo Gold by a neck with Godolphin's Ribchester a short head back in third.
"Ryan was prepared to make the running today if no-one was going to make it but I presume he was happy where he was," O'Brien said.
The Ballydoyle handler was quick to point out that the three-year-old's run last time on soft ground in the 10-furlong Eclipse was a far from ideal preparation.
"We always thought he was a very fast horse, he has an awful lot of speed. He was always a fast Galileo. But we took a chance at Sandown over a stiff mile and a quarter in soft ground and we were just worried that it took a lot out of him but from day one he has always been very quick.
"He is a good traveler who handles fast ground very well and quickens very well. I suppose he is also very courageous which is why he has run the races he did like when we took him out of his comfort zone at Sandown and even at Royal Ascot where the ground was soft.
"Obviously, we know he goes in soft ground but he is at his best on fast ground. I think he'll probably go back and get a mile and a quarter but his ideal trip is a mile I imagine. In an ideal world, we want to keep him on fast ground. He is a very low fast-moving horse.
As to the future, O'Brien outlined a list of potential targets for the exciting colt.
"The lads will decide, if he needs to go back up in trip, he won't mind going back up particularly if it is fast ground as you wouldn't mind going back up at a fairly level track. He has lots of options. "He could go to France for the mile race [Prix Jacques le Marois (G1)], Leopardstown for the [Irish] Champion S. (G1) or head to York [Juddmonte International (G1)]. Obviously, York would be the easiest mile and a quarter and Leopardstown would be the stiffest mile and a quarter. I suppose we will have to see how he comes out of today."
Hugo Palmer, who trains Galileo Gold for Sheikh Joaan's Al Shaqab Racing, said: "I'm disappointed to lose, but immensely proud of the horse. We were slightly hoping something else would make the running, but in the absence of a pacemaker we were hostage to our own fortune.
"Frankie got it absolutely right, and went the perfect gallop in front, giving the horse every chance to hang on, but he didn't quite. It's very hard to lead a field of that quality from pillar to post, and not many horses in history have done it -- I'm not sure we'll try to do it again.
"I could see how well The Gurkha was going in behind, and I wasn't sure how much Frankie had left. The answer was he had a lot left, because we were only beaten a neck.
"We've now beaten Awtaad [eighth today] twice and by clear daylight, leading me to ask how did we get beaten by him in the Irish Guineas (G1)? I just can't help thinking my horses weren't at their best at that time.
"The three-year-olds have come out on top today, but the older horses didn't include Gleneagles -- they were So Beloved, Lightning Spear and Toormore, admirable horses, but not the best of their generation. Every year the media cannot decide who will win the  Guineas (G1) or Derby (G1) so say it is a bad group of three-year-olds, but you should wait until Goodwood before deciding. The likes of Hawkbill, Minding, The Gurkha and Galileo Gold all look well up to standard."
(John Walton/Press Association photo)