It’s not only the race of the week at what used to be known as ‘Glorious Goodwood’, it could quite likely be one of the races of the season. Tomorrow’s £1 million Qatar Sussex Stakes, a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita on November 5, is the latest in a series of showstopping renewals that has pitted some of the finest milers in the world against each other at what is now one of the richest race meets in Europe. Isabel Mathew reports.
Goodwood has long signified all that is glorious for fans of British racing. From the rolling hills of the South Downs to views of the English Channel and the Isle of Wight, the outstanding setting that holds five days of top-class midsummer racing is unquestionably a highlight of the calendar.
Created in 1802 under the third Duke of Richmond, and a favoured track of many a champion trainer, owner and jockey, the racecourse received a boost last season with a 10-year sponsorship deal that resulted in the renamed Qatar Goodwood Festival.
Now with a staggering £4.9 million in prize money on offer, up three per cent from 2015, it is a meeting that never fails to produce competition at the highest level, from the juvenile division upwards, not least in the two G1 highlights, the Qatar Sussex Stakes tomorrow (day two of the festival) and the Nassau Stakes (which will be run on the final day - on Saturday).
The Sussex is worth £1 million now, an enormous increase from £300,000 just two years ago, thanks to Qatar’s sponsorship. This overtakes Europe’s other top mid-season mile event, the €700,000 G1 Haras du Fresnay-Le-Buffard Prix Jacques Le Marois, just two weeks later at Deauville.
The mile-and-a-quarter Nassau is now worth £600,000 and is one of the most valuable races of its kind in Europe, so much so that the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks winner, Minding, heads the stellar line-up.
The massive investment from Qatar, which made history as the biggest ever deal in British racing at the time, has added an extra dimension to the festival. It is also of key importance to the racecourse team that they keep to the traditions that saw the former ‘Glorious Goodwood’ become so popular after it was extended to a five-day meeting in 1970.
“We received feedback after last year that the Qatar Goodwood Festival was the same great race meeting, with the same style and feel, except with a huge amount more prize money,” says Group Sports Managing Director Adam Waterworth, referring to the record of over 100,000 spectators during the 2015 meeting. “If we can repeat that again this year, I will be delighted.
“I think the one thing that the prize money did last year was to provide more strength and depth to all races. It is also worth running for the places, especially in the Group events, which can often equate to the same amount as winning a lot of races.”
The first running of the Sussex was in 1841, when it was a race for 2-year-olds. Some 37 years later, it changed to its current conditions (for milers aged three and above). Since then, many of the greats have taken part, not least Frankel, the only horse to win it twice (2011, 2012), as well as last season’s unbeaten winner Solow, who became the G1’s fifth French-trained winner.
Indeed, the race just seems to be getting stronger. The last few years have been studded with memorable runnings, regularly billed as “duels of the downs”. They include Frankel versus the previous season’s winner, Canford Cliffs, in 2011, Dawn Approach against Toronado two years later, and Toronado against Kingman in 2014. Then there were Henrythenavigator and Raven’s Pass in 2008.
The excitement this year is because the European champion 3-year-old miler title is probably on the line. The race brings round two of the battle of the Guineas winners after a thrilling, but some would say inconclusive round one on soft ground in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, where Newmarket hero Galileo Gold turned the tables on Awtaad, the horse who had beaten him in the Irish version, the pair split by The Gurkha, who had been so impressive when winning the French Guineas that he started favourite at Ascot.
Galileo Gold just favourite
There were excuses for the two beaten classic winners, particularly Aidan O’Brien’s The Gurkha, who was short of room at a key point in the race, and the going is expected to be much faster this time, but Galileo Gold is just shading the Ballydoyle colt for favouritism.
Already a confirmed performer at the track, the Hugo Palmer-trained Galileo Gold was one of four memorable winners for Al Shaqab Racing during the festival last year, when the son of Paco Boy took the G2 Qatar Vintage Stakes. This tally also included British champion 2-year-old colt Shalaa in the G2 Qatar Richmond Stakes.
As well as being part of British Racing’s QIPCO Champions Series, the Sussex has been a ‘Win and You’re In’ event for the Breeders’ Cup Mile for the last three years. Over the years, several Sussex Stakes winners and contenders have subsequently gone on to show themselves in their best light again across the Atlantic, both in the Mile and in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
One example was Barathea, who went on to take the 1994 Mile, while Rock Of Gibraltar finished a possibly unlucky runner-up eight years later. Giant’s Causeway took the same place in the Classic after an epic battle with Tiznow in 2000, and Raven’s Pass gained his revenge on Sussex Stakes conqueror Henrythenavigator when the pair were first and second in the Classic in 2008.
Santa Anita a possibility
Should Galileo Gold continue to add to his already impressive achievements, a tilt at the Mile at Santa Anita on November 5 has been mentioned by connections as a likely year-end target.
Of course, reigning BC Mile winner Tepin will be a tough nut to crack at Santa Anita. America’s outstanding turf mare proved her mettle when she came over to Britain to win the G1 Queen Anne Stakes on the same card as Galileo Gold’s St James’s Palace at Royal Ascot. Indeed, there had been a chance that, instead of waiting for Santa Anita, the principals could have locked horns in the Sussex. Such is the level of prize money now on offer at Goodwood that Tepin was given an entry in tomorrow’s race. However, she will not be travelling and runs instead at Saratoga on August 13 en route to the Woodbine Mile in September.
The festival certainly had an international flavour last year, when Dubday created history for Qatar after Doha-based handler Jassim Al Ghazali trained him to win the G3 Betfred Glorious Stakes, one of the four successes for Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani’s Al Shaqab, creating a link that is sure to involve more runners in the near future.
Encouraging international challengers is just one of the plans Waterworth and Goodwood’s owner, the Earl of March, have to keep improving the racing programme at the meeting.
G1 ambitions for two races
“Getting the Group 2s - the Qatar Lennox Stakes, the Qatar Goodwood Cup and the Qatar King George - up to Group 1 is very much our aim,” says Waterworth.
“When one of those is promoted, the prize money will go from £300,000 to £500,000 - the Qatar Lennox Stakes and the Qatar Goodwood Cup are the ones we are most keen on and think we have the most chance. Hopefully the winners this year will help us.”
One of Goodwood’s greatest advocates has been Richard Hannon senior, who through Toronado’s Sussex win for Sheikh Joaan in 2013, undoubtedly played a role in showcasing the beauty of Goodwood to the Qataris.
With 73 winners at Glorious Goodwood before he retired at the end of 2013, matched only by Sir Henry Cecil, he became almost a standing fixture in the winner’s enclosure, in particular with his 2-year-olds.
His son, Richard Hannon Jr., has followed in the same vein, training eight winners at the festival last year, while long-time stable jockey Richard Hughes chose the track to hang up his boots last season before becoming a trainer himself.
All the elements are in place for Goodwood to host a memorable five-day racing bonanza in the garden party atmosphere that has become its trademark.