The Qatar Goodwood Festival – or Glorious Goodwood as it is better known – offers one of the most picturesque settings in the racing world for the latest European leg of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge in Wednesday’s highlight, the Sussex Stakes.
A fees-paid berth in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile is on the table for the winner of this time-honoured mile contest, by some measure the most prestigious race among three G1 contests at the five-day festival.
Since 1995, 3-year-olds have won the Sussex on a dozen occasions, with older horses taking the spoils the same number of times. Frankel had the distinction of winning for each camp.
Although the purse for this latest edition is drastically reduced to £275,000 (from £1 million) owing to coronavirus economic imperatives, a vintage renewal is anticipated with top older milers facing off against leading members of the Classic generation, among them two Guineas winners and two Guineas seconds.
A total of £2.3m is on offers from Tuesday to Saturday, when racing will take place behind closed doors – apart from Saturday, when a ‘test’ crowd of 5,000 racecourse members and guests will be admitted. The Sussex Stakes is also part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
Sussex Stakes: a bit of context
History: established in 1841, though as an entirely different race from the one we know today as it was a 6f event for 2-year-olds! Chequered history in early days – not run some years, walkovers in others – before becoming a mile race for 3-year-olds in 1878, with older horses admitted in the 1960s. Now Glorious Goodwood’s pre-eminent contest, it has been won by a plethora of top milers headed by Brigadier Gerard(1971), who strolled home by five lengths, and the only dual winner, Frankel (2012, 2013).
Star turn: Frankel (2012) After his unconvincing victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes, there were those who thought Frankel might have had a race on his hands as he squared off against older horses for the first time in the original ‘Duel on the Downs’. He didn’t. Khalid Abdullah’s nonpareil treated his rivals with contempt in a stunning display as he thrashed brilliant miler Canford Cliffs by five lengths. He beat Farrh by six in 2013.
Most wins (trainer): Sir Henry Cecil (7) Bolkonski (1975), Wollow (1976), Kris (1979), Distant View (1994), Ali-Royal (1997), Frankel (2011, 2012).
Most wins (jockey): Sir Gordon Richards (8) Marconigram (1928), Corpach (1936), Pascal (1937), Radiotherapy (1946), Combat (1947), Krakatao (1949), Le Sage (1951), Agitator (1952).
Breeders’ Cup Challenge
The winner of the Qatar Sussex Stakes will receive an automatic fees-paid berth in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile at the two-day championships at Keeneland on November 6-7. A minimum travel allowance of $40,000 will also be provided for all starters based outside North America; the Challenge winner must already be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup programme or nominated by the pre-entry deadline of October 26 to receive the rewards.
Already qualified (4): Vardy (Queen’s Plate, Kenilworth, South Africa), Raging Bull (Shoemaker Mile, Santa Anita), Gran Alegria (Yasuda Kinen, Tokyo), Circus Maximus (Queen Anne Stakes, Royal Ascot)
Breeders’ Cup past performance
The Sussex Stakes has been a pivotal contest when it comes to the Breeders’ Cup Mile – and never more so than two years ago, as Goodwood runner-up Expert Eye became only the second British-trained horse ever to land the turf highlight.
That year’s Sussex Stakes winner Lightning Spear was seventh at Churchill Downs.
Interestingly, however, Britain’s only previous winner, Barathea, was also second in the Sussex Stakes, in 1994.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien is seeking his sixth winner of the Goodwood contest – and it is worth noting that four of the previous five ended up at the Breeders’ Cup, albeit more often in the Classic than the Mile.
After winning the Sussex Stakes in 2000, GIant’s Causeway was narrowly beaten by Tiznow in a epic Classic on the dirt at Churchill Downs, while 2008 victor Henrythenavigator also finished second to Raven’s Pass on synthetics at Santa Anita, where Rip Van Winkle (2009) was down the field behind the great Zenyatta. Rock Of Gibraltar, the 2002 Sussex Stakes winner, was beaten by French-trained Domedriver in the Mile at Arlington after a luckless passage.
Among other Sussex Stakes winners to have appeared in the Mile in recent years are Toronado and Ribchester, who finished eighth and fifth respectively. Last year’s winner, Too Darn Hot, was retired by the time the Breeders’ Cup came around. Half-length runner-up Circus Maximus was fourth at Santa Anita.
Top contenders for 2020
Siskin (Ger Lyons/Colin Keane) – Juddmonte colt unbeaten in five career starts in Ireland, notably when landing second G1 success with highly impressive display seasonal debut in Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas (Sussex opponent Vatican City easily held in second); now meets older horses and gets 8lb allowance from them under weight-for-age conditions; has given trouble at stalls.
Kameko (Ian Balding/Oisin Murphy) – Qatar Racing’s 2000 Guineas winner is back to the one-mile trip of his course-record Classic success at Newmarket (Wichita second) after a respectable fourth when failing to stay in the Derby at Epsom.
Mohaather (Marcus Tregoning/Jim Crowley) – after luckless passage when well fancied in Queen Anne Stakes, lived up to reputation back at Ascot with impressive turn of foot to dismantle field in G2 Summer Mile (San Donato 3¾ lengths back in second);
Circus Maximus (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore) – gutsy three-time G1 scorer is one of three for five-time winner Aidan O’Brien; beaten only a half-length by Too Darn Hot as a 3yo and comes here after battling success under fine ride from Ryan Moore in Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Wichita (Aidan O’Brien/Frankie Dettori) — has not won above G3 company but close up in best 3yo mile contests so far this year, having been second in 2000 Guineas, where he was beaten only a neck by Kameko, before another sound effort when third in St James’s Palace Stakes.
What they say
Aidan O’Brien (trainer of Circus Maximus): “He never wins by far and is the same in his work – he’d just about put his head in front or wait for another horse no matter what you work him with, so we don't know what his limit is. He is a very tough horse.”
Marcus Tregoning, trainer of Mohaather: “He went through the gears well last time and Dane [O’Neill, his jockey] gave him just the one tap. If he’d given two or three, then he would have probably won by six lengths. It was a good exercise as it proved he got the mile well and it gave us an indication that we are good enough to have a go. I don’t see why he won’t handle the track because he’s a neat horse who travels well and has plenty of speed. Hopefully he’s going to run a big race.”
Ger Lyons (trainer of Siskin): “Physically he’s improving – you can see him getting stronger – but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he needed the run going into the Guineas. I had him ready. He’s working well but he does need to improve to beat these guys. It’s one of the hottest races of the season and I’m just hoping the big races have left a mark on some of those horses because we’re the fresher horse. He won’t lack for race practice – if he gets beat it’s because he’s not good enough.”
Aidan O’Brien, trainer of Wichita: “We were delighted with his run in the St James’s Palace Stakes and he’s coming forward all the time.We think he’s really maturing. He’s a massive horse and we think every month that goes by he’s progressing.”