Reflections on a glorious Goodwoood

The Gurkha (right), who won the big race of the Qatar Goodwood Festival, the Group One Sussex Stakes. Photo: racingfotos.com
The Gurkha (right), who won the big race of the Qatar Goodwood Festival, the Group One Sussex Stakes. Photo: racingfotos.com
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Glorious by name it might no longer be, but glorious by nature it most certainly is. That’s the Qatar Goodwood Festival, which enhanced its burgeoning reputation over five compelling days.

The welcome injection of interest and investment by the Qatar racing regime might mean that the age-old tag of ‘Glorious Goodwood’ has been dropped for now. But there’s no doubt that it remains an apt description of the fare on offer high up on the Sussex Downs.

I’ve been going to Goodwood since Notley landed the Stewards’ Cup for Richard Hannon snr back in 1991, and I can’t remember a more enjoyable renewable. The course’s irresistible views and vistas, bewitching ambience and relaxed but highly professional presentation have always made it a pleasure to visit. But now the standard of the racing is scaling new heights. Of the 35 contests Goodwood staged last week, not one failed to satisfy either in terms of quality of horse or competitiveness of race.

Much of the credit must go to Qatar, who have ballooned prize money to unprecedented levels that will soon sail by the £5 million mark. But the track itself deserves praise for adopting a mindset that places an emphasis on the best that racing can offer. Without the need for gimmicks or sideshows, this is the sport at its purest, staged in a social atmosphere at its most hospitable. The very antithesis of fight night at Lingfield or concert night at Newmarket. A wry smile almost greeted the arrival of the only bad weather of the week, given that it washed out that interminable racing gimmick, ladies’ day.

Here’s an idea. If we are serious about enticing new racegoers, let’s start by taking them to Goodwood for a day in the middle of the summer. They’ll be amazed to discover that racing is not about getting drunk, wobbling about in high heels or bopping along to Busted.

Crowd numbers were actually down by about 2,000 over the five days, although the aggregate still topped 100,000. But in an era when so many courses are happy to pile in as many as possible, few saw that as a negative. Goodwood does not do overcrowding. Indeed it is one of the few tracks to put a cap on its attendance (25,000 for the Saturday), allowing racegoers to move around in relative comfort. Anyone who has sweated buckets in the sweltering heat, buried in a mass of more than 40,000 people on a summer Saturday afternoon at York will know what I’m talking about.

Rant over, let’s move on to the horses and the highlights. After a summer largely blighted by rain, what a delight, and a relief, it was to witness action on proper good-to-firm ground. It was the catalyst for reliable results and nailed the myth that Goodwood is too tricky a track for successful punting. In fact, once you have worked out the idiosyncrasies of the course, most of which revolve around the draw, Goodwood can be a haven for safe and happy betting.

DAY ONE (TUESDAY)

The meeting kicked off with a deserved success in the Group Two Lennox Stakes for Charlie Hills’s consistent 4yo DUTCH CONNECTION. Fast ground and 7f are the colt’s ideal conditions and he unleashed a classy performance. The day also marked the first example of Ryan Moore exhibiting the value of patience when trapped for room in the home straight. He waited for an opening in the Group Two Vintage Stakes on WAR DECREE and when one came, Aidan O’Brien’s colt did the rest to exact thorough revenge on his Newmarket conqueror, BOYNTON.

DAY TWO (WEDNESDAY)

If you still needed your appetite whetting for the meeting, by 3.15 pm on day two, you were salivating for more. Because THE GURKHA, GALILEO GOLD and RIBCHESTER had just delivered one of the races of the season in the Group One Sussex Stakes. It would have been inconceivable had a colt as good as O’Brien’s failed to win three times on the trot. But my respect for Hugo Palmer’s gritty runner-up grew enormously in defeat, while the improvement being made by Richard Fahey’s third marks him down as a Group One winner in waiting. A comment, incidentally, that can be similarly applied to ULYSSES, impressive winner of the Group Two Gordon Stakes.

DAY THREE (THURSDAY)

Not even the rain and sea fret could cloud another tenacious performance and a second successive Goodwood Cup for the admirable BIG ORANGE. Very much in the mould of Double Trigger and the late Persian Punch, he’s the kind of stayer the public take to their hearts. No less tough is MEHMAS, who defied a penalty and an astonishing drift in the market to take the Richmond Stakes. How, in a four-runner race, did a proven Group Two 2yo go out to 5/1?

DAY FOUR (FRIDAY)

For my money, always the pick of the five days. Intriguing action, highlighted by a monumental gamble in the Betfred Mile on FRANKLIN D, who confirmed that much-maligned race trends really do matter, and a brave win in the Group Three King George sprint for TAKE COVER, who confirmed that, after winning the race in 2014, finishing second last year and second also in the 2013 Stewards’ Cup, Goodwood course specialists really do exist.

DAY FIVE (SATURDAY)

A fitting finale combined class, provided by the Group One Nassau Stakes winner MINDING, with yet another bookie-bashing gamble as DANCING STAR became the second successive 3yo to take the Stewards’ Cup after the previous 20 over the course of 12 years had all bombed.