Glorious Goodwood 2019: Day 1 Preview, Tips
Peak summer as July morphs into August means a sumptuous week on the Sussex Downs for relaxed high society, strawberries and cream, views the envy of every track in the land and, of course, five days of classy and compelling racing.
The weather for the week looks changeable, agonising territory for both meteorological and equine forecasters, though the meeting is likely to start just on the quick side of good. Here are some thoughts on the opening skirmishes, on Tuesday.
1.50 Unibet Handicap (Class 2, 1m 1f 197 yds, 4yo+)
A mile and a quarter older horse handicap with 18 declared: start as we mean to go on, eh?
Mark Johnston has a remarkable record in the race, and indeed at the entire Festival, winning this opening prize six times, albeit from a whopping 37 starters. He’s added substance to that record with a further nine placed runners meaning anything ‘Always Trying’ saddles in the opener commands respect.
Johnston has done the decent thing this time, only entering two, Aquarium and Ventura Knight. Both are hardy stalwarts that have been kept busy hitherto in 2019, and I’ve backed the former a couple of times. Although I’ve not collected he has run better than his finishing position suggested and may again go well.
Stablemate Ventura Knight has Ryan Moore booked but has a habit of finding one or two too good. He may again be on the premises for minor money.
Cieren Fallon takes five pounds off the in form Saeed bin Suroor’s Mountain Hunter. The five-year-old won a couple of valuable handicaps in Meydan in the Spring and might just be back on UK time now. He has top weight but is not out of it.
Also in the Godolphin blue is Setting Sail, trained by Charlie Appleby and ridden by James Doyle. He’s been consistent and progressive this season, going up four pounds for a career best in a valuable York handicap last time. He may not have stopped improving yet but that extra impost could mean he’s more poorly handicapped than some.
I’ll take a chance on Alan King’s BERINGER (15/2). Campaigned at a mile for most of his career, he finished very well over ten furlongs to finish a narrow second at Sandown last time. He was second over course and distance last season and, though his hold up style means he’ll need to be lucky as well as good, he’ll be playable each way with as many extra places as you can find.
2.25 Qatar Vintage Stakes (Group 2, 7f, 2yo)
A race that revolves around the trumpeted Visinari. Hyper-impressive when blitzing his field on debut, he was a little flat last time out. That was in the six furlong July Stakes and he is expected to improve for this extra furlong. His long stride has been lauded as ‘freakish’ by Simon Rowlands, something of an expert on such matters, and that other deep thinker of the game (and somewhat under-rated on-course presenter) James Willoughby has also pinned his colours to the Visinari mast.
I’m a believer, for now. The Visinari of that opening day romp wins just about any race he steps into this season; the Visinari of the July Stakes will find one or more too good all season. 3/1 fails to adequately reflect the upside in my view, though you do need to be forgiving by nature.
It is not a shallow race, however. The previously equally well-touted Lope Y Fernandez represents Ballydoyle, his second in the seven furlong Chesham Stakes being at the hooves of Pinatubo, who also shows up.
Pinatubo has gone from Wolverhampton to the Woodcote to a wondrous Ascot effort this season, and he fair ran away with the Chesham. This easier seven ought not to be a problem given how he coped with Epsom’s six, nor ought the uneven nature of the track. He’s a worthy favourite if you’re not convinced by talk of strides and cadence.
Lope Y Fernandez was well enough beaten at Ascot but may improve again for the run, which will be his third versus Pinatubo’s fourth. Still, on the face of it, it is difficult to see those tables being turned.
And still there is more depth. Mystery Power is a Kingpower colt trained by Richard Hannon that has gone from a Haydock maiden to a Group 2 win at Newmarket in a brace of runs. Both were over this range, the maiden working out nicely with second and third winning since (nine lengths back to the fourth). He would be the each way angle but for the dreaded seven runner curse hanging over the field.
Clive Cox’s (Alan Spence’s, more correctly) Positive brings an unbeaten-in-one record to the party. He was very impressive in putting five lengths between himself and his closest rival that first day and, while much more is needed here, he is potentially smart.
It’s a fascinating renewal of the Vintage Stakes, as it should be with such unexposed juveniles, and I’ll hold a candle for VISINARI (3/1) once more in what may be more of a watching than wagering race. Mystery Power (13/2) is probably a tad over-priced as an unbeaten Group 2 distance winner.
3.00 Qatar Lennox Stakes (Group 2, 7f, 3yo+)
The same trip but for three-year-olds and up, the Lennox looks arguably a little shy of Group 2 class this time. Most of the field are older horses unlikely to lurch forwards in performance terms and a number have already shown themselves to be not quite at the requisite standard any more.
The exceptions, unsurprisingly, are the three at the head of the market, and it would be more a disappointment than a shock were they not to lay claim to the Lennox between them.
Favoured as I write is the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Zaaki, who was just touched off in a Group 2 at Ascot last time. That was over a mile and therein lies the problem with this typically late-maturing chap: all of his best form has come at distances of eight furlongs and beyond. That allied to a hold up run style means that, while he may well be the best horse in the race he is probably not the best suited horse to the race conditions.
Fellow four-year-old Hey Gaman has the same season string of 112 as Zaaki, and represents the eminently capable James Tate. This son of New Approach, out of a Dubawi mare, has been transformed by a drop to seven furlongs this campaign, winning in Listed company at Leicester and then in a Longchamp Group 3. There was little disgrace in running second to Romanised in a Curragh Group 2 last time, that one being a bona fide Group 1 horse on his day. Hey Gaman is sure to be well suited by seven and top of the ground and may be the one Zaaki has to chase down.
The likeliest lads are completed by Space Traveller, game winner of the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot last time. That was at this distance but he needed every yard in a truly run race to prevail on that more searching strip. Such reservations about this quicker piste are allayed somewhat by Richard Fahey’s Bated Breath colt’s prior form at six panels. He gets a seven pound weight for age allowance as a three-year-old, but his peers have not fared terribly well in recent years (1/13, 3 further places, from a group which included four favourites or joint favourites, and ten sent off at single-figure odds).
Of the more exposed brigade, Suedois is hard not to like. He’s picked up Pattern placed purses on each of his last nine runs, and has been second and third in the last two renewals of this race. At eight years of age, he’s not getting any faster, but he does know the route from stalls to jam stick better than most around these parts.
Sir Dancealot is the minister without portfolio in this field. He’s lived up to his name, dancing a lot and mostly at Group 1 level in recent times; but he’s been shy of the required standard at six furlongs and a mile. In his defence, his best form seems to be at seven as he demonstrated when winning this race last season. As well as that G2 score, he was a close up fifth in the G1 Prix de la Foret last autumn and won the G2 Hungerford Stakes in between. It might then be argued that he’s been campaigned at the wrong distance, a line I’m sure his trainer David Elsworth will utter should Sir Dancealot double up.
There are old friends like Breton Rock and Flaming Spear down the lists but it is hard to see them being good enough.
It’s a tricky race and I’m coming round to Sir Dancealot (13/2) being the value, but I just prefer the less exposed Hey Gaman (4/1). I’ll probably split my stake between them 65/35 or thereabouts in favour of James Tate’s runner.
3.35 Qatar Goodwood Cup Stakes (Group 1, 2m, 3yo+)
The feature race of the day and, historically, of the meeting is the Goodwood Cup. Two miles are traversed, up around the loop, and then back down into the straight.
The favourite is that magnificently consistent stayer, Stradivarius, trained by that magnificently consistent handler, John Gosden. He’s won this race the last two years and is heading towards the sort of immortality reserved for the likes of Yeats and Double Trigger in recent times. Indeed, his two Goodwood Cup victories form part of an eleven race Pattern string which has seen him unbeaten in his last seven, including three Group 1’s (and another, in this race, prior to two 3rd place efforts in 2017).
In spite of his invincibility through two seasons he can be backed at not far short of even money (8/11 to be precise). The most likely reason for this, given he’s beaten his three closest market rivals and not raced against the rest, is that he never wins by very far. Indeed, those seven straight victories Stradivarius brings back to the Sussex party have been won by an aggregate of just nine lengths. That’s an average of one and a quarter lengths.
In other words, he gives the appearance of being beatable. But he’s tenacious and always seems to find enough. That trait makes him tremendously likeable and he is by far the most probable winner.
Re-opposing after defeat in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot (two and a half miles, soft ground) are both Dee Ex Bee and Cross Counter. Dee Ex Bee was stepping up from Group 3 company to take silver that day, running a career best in the process. But he looked to have a better run of things there than fourth placed Cross Counter who was given a huge amount to do and finished very strongly in difficult circumstances.
Cross Counter’s CV includes wins in the Melbourne Cup and the Dubai Gold Cup, with his domestic form as a three-year-old last term including a Group 2 win over Dee Ex Bee in the Gordon Stakes (1m4f) here. I confidently expect him to reverse form with the Johnston runner and prove the biggest threat to Stradivarius.
Of the rest, Southern France seems to need a lot to go right for him and may simply not be up to this. He was a fairly close second to the favourite in the Yorkshire Cup early this season but looks a touch flattered by that run (1m6f).
Wells Farrh Go is marginally more interesting. There’s no doubt Tim Easterby’s four-year-old enjoys it around Newmarket’s July course and his front-running style could be well suited to this track also. The challenge there is that one or both of Dee Ex Bee and Dashing Willoughby may also want to go forward.
Dashing Willoughby is one of a trio of three-year-olds, an age range with a weak record in this contest historically. Aside from Stradivarius – who has shown the calibre of Classic generation entry required to prevail – we have to go back to 1990 and Lucky Moon to find the next winner of that age. Just three 3yo’s since 1973 have beaten their elders in the Goodwood Cup and that frames the uphill challenge Willoughby, South Pacific and Harpo Marx face.
The latter is very likely in as a pacemaker, which could compromise the chances of either or both of Dee Ex Bee and Wells Farrh Go, but South Pacific is not completely discounted despite being 28/1 in a place. He cost a million euros as a yearling and stayed on best of all to win the mile and a half King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot last time. A later developer with a stout enough pedigree, he wouldn’t be the worst each way bet in the race and might prove the pick of his peer group.
It’s a cracking contest in prospect, and one where STRADIVARIUS will obviously take a lot of beating. CROSS COUNTER (4/1) however looks a rock solid each or ‘without the favourite’ bet, and South Pacific (28/1) might reward small Hail Mary each way players. I’m really looking forward to this one.
4.10 Maiden Stakes (Class 2, 6f, 2yo)
You’re on your own here…
4.45 Chelsea Barracks Handicap (Class 2, 5f, 4yo+)
That’s more like it. 14 runners over five fast furlongs. Although there is not a lot of evidence with which to work, those drawn widest have struggled in similar contests, as have those held up. It may be worth noting that, since 2010, only one winner has returned a single figure price, with the average winning odds in that time being a little over 18/1.
Harry Hurricane looks a probable to lead the charge, and he may take some catching on a track where he nearly won in May. ‘Nearly’ is the thing with this lad, though: four wins from 51 careers starts but a further 16 placed efforts underlines that suspicion.
Mick Appleby’s Saaheq looks to have solid form claims on his Scottish Sprint Cup win – just four pounds higher here – but the yard is not in the best of form at the moment.
Dark Shot is a consistent performer who tends to find one too good: he’s finished second six times since his last win, which was 25 runs ago. Less exposed and perhaps more enticing is the filly Maygold. A winner of four of her 14 starts, she’s been in the frame on five further occasions. Her record in five furlong handicaps is 2113631241 including one over this course on good ground, her only previous visit to the track.
Another to note is Lord Riddiford, who won the 3yo equivalent race, the Tatler Handicap, at last year’s meeting. Just four pounds higher here, this race will have been the plan for a while. He’s drawn high enough in eleven, however, and that tempers enthusiasm.
It’s good to have a ‘cliff horse’ or two: an animal that you know is going to bleed you of your bankroll but which you simply cannot leave unbacked. Mine for this season is currently Line Of Reason. He’s high class but probably ideally wants five and a half furlongs. If he hasn’t slid too far down the handicap, he might have a chance in the Portland in September; but I’ll have to back him (again) here for reasons of cranial malfunction more than current form.
Koditime has fallen a long way in the ratings – back to his last winning mark in fact – and Count Otto was an easy winner over six last time for a trainer who resides nearby and loves a Goodwood winner. Both are candidates for what is quite a long shortlist.
And then there’s the quirky but capable veteran Muthmir. Now nine, he has an excellent head to head record with those in the field against which he’s previously raced, as can be seen below:
It’s interesting/painful to note that nine of those 19 out of 21 head to head ‘wins’ are against my mucker, Line Of Reason!
Plenty of chances in a terrific little sprint handicap. With Ed Walker’s team in such fine form, I’ll take a chance on the filly, Maygold, each way.
5.15 Unibet Fillies’ Handicap (Class 3, 1m, 3yo+)
Day One closes with a fillies’ handicap over a mile. In bigger fields, low draws tend to be favoured over a mile but this is not as big a field as some of the mile handicaps this week, and I’d not completely dismiss a wider drawn filly.
It is a devilishly difficult race and, as the seventh of the afternoon, one in which us multi-race place/win players need not fret. That is my ‘get out of jail free’ card and I’ll deploy it. Too difficult.
If you really insist – you shouldn’t, for your pin will be at least as adequate as mine – the most token of token selections is ‘Raif’ Beckett’s Chaleur. Beckett won the inaugural running in 2016 and all three winners to date have been three-year-olds. This three-year-old filly will have come on for her seasonal reappearance at Newmarket a fortnight ago and has a workable middle draw.