The weather did its best to sabotage Goodwood week, which left the Qatar-sponsored meeting struggling to live to up to its fabled moniker of Glorious.
After punters had been hit for six by winners at 100/1, 50/1, 33/1 and 20/1 on an unprecedented opening day of shocks, they were sent reeling further when the forecasts of heavy rain came filtering through.
I tweeted pessimistically that the rain “would drive a stake through the heart” of the week. But my pessimism was not misplaced as the meeting’s showcase day on Wednesday, featuring the Group One £1 million Sussex Stakes, was ruined by almost 50mm of rain.
I have rarely endured a raceday like it. The relentless rain was accompanied by a raging wind, and there was no let-up from first race to last, and way beyond. Umbrellas replaced panama hats, but even they were rendered useless by the elements, forcing everyone inside where, unsatisfactorily, the misery was exacerbated by being unable to hear any race commentaries from the TV screens, nor any PA announcements. If ever we needed proof that Goodwood, the archetypal summer track, was not really designed to counter such extreme weather, this was it. And coming so soon as it did after Ascot’s King George Day had been similarly washed out, the letdown was a huge disappointment for the many racegoers who count the midsummer double as one of the highlights of their year.
The weather did improve over the next three days, but much of the damage had been done. By now, the going was bordering on Heavy, triggering a raft of non-runners and a series of Rule 4 deductions to winning bets. What’s more, many of the car parks dotted around the course were reduced to mudbaths, leading to traffic snarl-ups that were the last thing required by a venue that can be tricky to get to and from by road at the best of times.
The frustration for most punters was topped by the big race on the final day, the Stewards’ Cup sprint, which went to a largely unconsidered, long-in-the-tooth 7yo, priced 25/1, after a race in which a draw bias reared its ugly head, giving little or no chance to many of the fancied contenders drawn high.
Of all the non-runners during the week, the highest-profile trio were SHUTTER SPEED and NEZWAAH, who had been scheduled to test Guineas heroine WINTER in the Group One Qatar Nassau Stakes, and CHURCHILL, who had been lined up for the latest Goodwood duel on the downs in a Sussex Stakes match-up with RIBCHESTER.
The defections helped Winter complete her fourth Group One success inside 88 days as she defied a step-up in trip and her first examination by older rivals to unleash a polished display and confirm what a class act she is.
Sadly, Ribchester was unable to convert his much more straightforward penalty-kick in the Sussex with a performance that can only be described as bizarre. It was hard to fathom why connections felt the need to make the running, and set an aggressive gallop, in such a mudbath, when they were sitting on comfortably the best horse. It was even harder to fathom why, after the 4yo had slightly lost his pitch approaching the business end of the race, jockey William Buick appeared to stop riding for a few crucial strides as if he’d accepted his fate and wanted to look after his mount on such gruelling ground -- but then got him going again, to such an extent that he ran on strongly to finish a close second, beaten only a neck. For Buick, trainer Richard Fahey and the Godolphin team, this was one that very much got away. Backers of Ribchester (available at 6/5 before the withdrawal of Churchill) were equally aggrieved.
If, by now, you have detected that I left Goodwood in a very grumpy mood, you are right. A meeting that I look forward to each year was the least enjoyable I can remember. To a large extent, Goodwood itself wasn’t to blame. The track can do little about the weather. But even clerk of the course Seamus Buckley, who bowed out after a praiseworthy career, admitted it was the most challenging and trying of his long tenure. Indeed Buckley and his staff must have been mightily relieved that the Sussex turf soaked up the rain as well as it did. At one point on the Wednesday, I had visions of the following day being abandoned.
Even so, nearly every race was affected in some way by the conditions, whether it be via non-runners or horses unable to cope with the ground. Consequently, it might be a risky proposition expecting the form to be franked, and it is with trepidation that I come up with these dozen horses to follow from the meeting. Let’s hope they prove more reliable than the great British weather!
BARRAQUERO (Won, Thursday)
Warm formlines from some of the leading 2yo races run so far this season, at Royal Ascot and Newmarket, were represented in this renewal of the Group Two Qatar Richmond Stakes. But they were upstaged by Brian Meehan’s well-backed son of Zebedee, who stamped himself a smart horse in the making. He’d won only a Chepstow maiden on his previous start, but did it impressively, to back up a most promising debut behind the top-class Expert Eye (see below). I was taken by the determined way he picked up, and the in-form Meehan is convinced the colt is Group One material.
BATTAASH (Won, Friday)
The showcase sprint of Goodwood Week, the Qatar King George Stakes over 5f, is rarely won by 3yos, and while Charlie Hills’s son of Dark Angel had looked spectacularly good in winning fast-ground dashes at Sandown this term, this was an altogether different proposition against proven Group One performers, such as Martha and Profitable, and on a much more testing surface. The fact that he was able to cope with such class and comfort announced his entrance on to the biggest stage. Yes, he had the run of the race, but that was largely because he was the best in the race. The stage is now set for a mouthwatering showdown with the flying filly, Lady Aurelia, in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York’s Ebor meeting on August 25.
BEAT THE BANK (Won, Friday)
Trainer Andrew Balding could hardly have enjoyed a more fruitful meeting, rocking Ribchester in the Sussex Stakes with veteran Here Comes When and also landing the Stewards’ Cup consolation race with Scorching Heat. But his most exciting winner was this 3yo who is fast developing into a proper horse, particularly when there is juice in the ground. Once Ryan Moore had squeezed through a gap on the son of Paco Boy, his charge quickened clear and powered home in what was a good, competitive Group 3 Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes.
BILLESDON BROOK (Won, Thursday)
Goodwood is well renowned for its traffic trouble in big fields up the home straight. But you will rarely witness a more remarkable example of a horse extricating himself to still go on and win than this by Richard Hannon’s fast-improving 2yo filly. Buried in midfield in a competitive 7f Nursery, she not only found herself surrounded by a wall of horses on the inner, but was also bumped, barged and squeezed up to lose valuable ground 2f out. Even as late as the 1f pole, she faced what looked to be an impossible task, but suddenly, for just hands and heels riding, she surged through rivals and quickened up dramatically to get up on the line.
CAPITAL FLIGHT (3rd, Saturday)
The heady days of trainer Paul Cole, capped by Derby hero Generous back in the early 1990s, have long since been consigned to the history books. But the 75-year-old still knows how to handle a good horse when he gets one, and this 2yo ought to win him a race or two. I’m not saying he’s a world-beater and might not even be Pattern class. Indeed I suspect the form of this maiden, won by Mark Johnston’s Dee Ex Bee, has already been over-rated. But it was most encouraging to see the son of Zoffany recover and run on so takingly after being badly squeezed for room when attempting to burrow up the inner for his initial challenge 2f out and getting shuffled back to last.
CRYSTAL OCEAN (Won, Saturday)
Goodwood drew some sharp criticism for a revamp of its race programme that rendered its sell-out day, the Saturday, its weakest by far in terms of quality and prize money. The seven races featured just one Pattern event, the Group Three Gordon Stakes, and that attracted only five runners. Nevertheless it was a good, tight-knit affair and went the way of a serious candidate for the St Leger in Sir Michael Stoute’s son of Sea The Stars. The strong suspicion, after thirds in the Dante Stakes at York and at Royal Ascot, was that the best was yet to come, and he delivered the goods here in a style that suggests the extra 2f of the Doncaster Classic and the long, galloping straight at Town Moor will be right up his street.
ETERNALLY (2nd, Friday)
Despite seven non-runners, the Group Three Oak Tree Stakes for fillies over 7f, now known as the L’Ormarins Queens Plate, was still a decent heat on the fourth day of the meeting, so John Gosden’s 4yo daughter of Dutch Art deserves plenty of praise for her display on her belated seasonal bow. A quiet improver last backend, she set out to make all and didn’t give away readily, beaten only by a classy favourite with a turn of foot. Given her liking for dig in the ground, she can be expected to enjoy a profitable autumn.
EXPERT EYE (Won, Tuesday)
Before the rain arrived, Goodwood treated us to an enhanced opening day that featured a tremendous Qatar Lennox Stakes over 7f and an intriguing Qatar Goodwood Cup, upgraded to Group One status for the first time. But the highlight was a sparkling performance by Sir Michael Stoute’s 2yo, who evoked memories of Frankel in the same Khalid Abdullah colours by cruising to victory in the Group Two Qatar Vintage Stakes. The renewal badly lacked strength in depth, but the son of Acclamation could hardly have done it more easily, sauntering to the front 3f out and coming clear under hands and heels. A 2,000 Guineas contender, without question.
KHAIRAAT (3rd, Tuesday)
After bolting up on his seasonal re-appearance, Sir Michael Stoute’s Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned 4yo looked typical of the kind of late-maturing middle-distance types that the trainer excels with. But he flopped badly when well-fancied at Royal Ascot, probably because of the fast ground, and arrived here for the opening race of the meeting (a terrific 10f handicap) on a retrieval mission. The son of Shamardal didn’t win, but he showed more than enough, from an unsuitable wide draw, to suggest he’s back on track, picking up strongly from an uncompromising position in rear and denied only by being carried left in the final strides.
POET’S WORD (Won, Friday)
Much of the lustre surrounding Friday’s Group Three Betfred Glorious Stakes was lost by the withdrawal of favourite Frontiersman. But it was still pleasing to see Sir Michael Stoute’s lightly-raced 4yo take full advantage with a return to winning ways. An absence from the track of almost three months was a worry, but the son of Poet’s Voice out of a Nashwan mare looked immaculate in the paddock and as a strong, galloping type, he relished the step-up to 12f. Effective on most surfaces, he can continue to improve and could even have a Group One prize waiting for him.
STRADIVARIUS (Won, Tuesday)
The rain not only fell from the skies on the Sussex Downs. It was also administered by John Gosden’s highly progressive 3yo, who rained on the parade of crowd-pleaser Big Orange in the Group One Goodwood Cup on the first day of the meeting. Although he was in receipt of 13lbs from the favourite, I convinced myself the inexperienced son of Sea The Stars faced a very stiff task after winning what was only an ordinary Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot. But the stamina in his pedigree brought out tons more improvement, and he stayed on strongly in his first try at the 2m trip. He bolsters the strong hand Gosden has in the St Leger at Doncaster next month, alongside stablemate Coronet, but will be of most interest as a Cup horse over the next two or three seasons.
THREADING (Won, Wednesday)
I’m often reluctant to take at face value runaway wins in testing ground, particularly in 2yo maidens containing youngsters clearly not at home on such a surface. But this was an extraordinary debut by Mark Johnston’s daughter of Exceed And Excel, especially as her pedigree screams fast going and especially as she had to overcome a low, wide draw which did not appear favourable on the second day of the meeting. As a nod to such negatives, she was weak in the market, but travelled with supreme ease, glided to the front and quickened a street clear. She is surely Group class.