As I start this blog on a Sunday evening, the skies are leaden with rain, only one cricket match in the country came to any sort of conclusion today, and quite frankly it’s cold. Not the normal circumstances one would associate with Glorious Goodwood (or, to give the festival it’s proper name, the Qatar Goodwood Festival), but the more familiar and reassuring sight of an army of entries from Mark Johnston means we’re certainly in the right place. Although the references to the weather and the sponsors are slightly tongue-in-cheek, they are nevertheless important factors – the Goodwood ground turned soft after 40mm of rain over the weekend, and the significant increase in prize money means many trainers will have placed more importance on this meeting than they might have done previously. As I update this on Monday, we have our first high profile defections of the week, with Gleneagles not being declared for the Sussex Stakes on Wednesday, followed by Limato and Air Vice Marshal being withdrawn from their engagements on the Tuesday. It means day one is looking tricky and until we know exactly how the ground is going to play out, it’s worth keeping the stakes small today…
2:00 – Class 2 Handicap, 1m1f192y, 4yo+. In what is sure to be a recurring theme throughout the week, the ubiquitous Mark Johnston saddles three here, and all look to have decent chances. So much like when Coolmore arrive at races mob-handed, the biggest clue is to be found in jockey bookings. Zand is the favoured mount of Joe Fanning, and is making his debut for the Johnston yard having come over from the continent. He is lightly raced, certainly compared to his stablemates Fire Fighting (14 races in 2015) and Sennockian Star (13 races in 2015), and so may go under the radar in terms of his price. He is not without risk but may be worth an ew punt. Luca Cumani’s Mount Logan has posted RPRs of 107 the last twice he has raced, and looks likely to put up another big performance, whilst Adam Kirby will want to prove his worth to his boss after being taken off Postponed recently. If there’s one person who’s going to be desperate for winners this week it’s Richard Hughes as he bows out from race riding and focusses on training instead. He rides Master The World for David Elsworth, and is another consistent sort – his 5 races this year have seen just 8lbs difference between his best and worst performances.
Selection: MOUNT LOGAN
2:35 – Group 2, 7f, 2yo. This race was won in impressive fashion last year by Highland Reel, and Aidan O’Brien would have been confident Air Vice Marshal can turn the tables on his Newmarket form with Birchwood and repeat the trick. He was my selection before his withdrawal, so bearing in mind the penalty Birchwood picks up in a race that has just 8 runners but looks high on quality, there are numerous threats, not least Galileo Gold for Hugo Palmer, whose red-hot stable must fancy their charge to handle this step up in class with aplomb. Galileo Gold also has crucial experience on good to soft. Those of you who managed to read my Royal Ascot previews will know you cannot bet on a 2yo race without at least considering the Mark Johnston entries, who seem to take their racing well and often make their extra experience tell. In this case, Beaverbrook and Welford have 11 starts between them (compared to 17 for the rest of the field combined) but it is the latter who seems to have the more progressive profile, and is Joe Fanning’s chosen ride – so Welford may be worth chancing at the prices. However, the bookies can’t split them and nor can I. Strong Challenge may be Godolphin’s second string here but he has crucial winning course experience, and his beating of Gutaifan looks better by the week. He looks to have a great chance.
Selection: GALILEO GOLD
Alternative: IBN MALIK
3:10 – Group 2, 7f, 3yo+. In this race last year Toormore was a beaten odds-on favourite, and as he hasn’t won since the Craven Stakes in April 2014, it’s hard to fancy him as favourite here in spite of several commendable performances in defeats over the past 12 months. At this stage of the season, as the 3yos mature properly into their bodies, the weight-for-age allowance becomes a vitally important feature of races like this, and so it is with that in mind we focus on the key chances here, and principally Dutch Connection. This horse was excellent in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, before following that up with a fine effort when finishing second to Territories at Chantilly. Both his defeats this season have come over a mile and 7 furlongs looks to be the perfect trip for this colt. Limato’s withdrawal makes the second pick a bit more straightforward, with preference given to Tupi, whose 4th placed finish behind Dutch Connection at Royal Ascot was sandwiched by two decent Newmarket victories. His draw may just help him run into the places…
Selection: DUTCH CONNECTION
3:45 – Class 2 Handicap, 1m6f, 3yo+. A handicap for those with stamina in abundance, and we begin with Battersea, a horse who was highly-progressive in his 3yo season until an inexplicably bad run at Newmarket in October. He then wasn’t seen again until this month, when he finished 8th of 14 runners over 1m4f; however, he is entitled to come on for that reappearance and the step up in trip could suit him. Ajman Bridge is another who is trying this distance for the first time, his most recent being over an extended 1m2f at York two weeks ago. Combining his career-high mark with his first attempt over this distance makes him too short for me to consider, although a good run from Mount Logan in the first might change my mind on the day… Notarised, for that man Mark Johnston, could lead them all a merry dance if he’s allowed to dictate as he did at Haydock, but his run at Newcastle wasn’t quite so impressive. His form figures read 319101, so it could be that he’ll struggle to follow up as is often the case. However, Johnston’s horses are trained to race (sounds ridiculous when you say it but some horses appear to save all their best work for the gallops) and so I’m willing to take a punt on him again. At the prices it might be worth chancing Forgotten Voice for Nicky Henderson; he is sure to get the trip regardless of the ground and certainly has the ability.
4:20 – Class 2 Handicap, 5f, 4yo+. Double Up is the clear favourite and seems to have found his niche at 5 furlongs, winning three times and placing once in four starts since dropping back to this distance as a 4yo. He certainly warrants his position at the top of the book and so the task then is to find decent value elsewhere. The old boy Humidor seems to be enjoying his racing still, and his last victory also had James Doyle in the saddle. At a lower weight, however, Top Boy might just get his nose in front for a change. The winner of only one turf race from 31 starts, his last four starts read 2342 and so we’ll take a chance on this one as well.
Selection: DOUBLE UP
Alternative: TOP BOY
4:55 – Class 2 Maiden, 6f, 2yo. A race for two year olds that haven’t yet won. Wow. Richard Hannon is the place to start seeing as he saddles five of the entrants, and Richard Hughes takes the seemingly prize ride of Papa Luigi. However, this will be his fourth start and whilst his chances are obvious, there is little value in backing a horse that hasn’t yet shown he can get in front at the line. Inland Sea, who will be ridden by Harry Bentley, has only had one start whilst Dyllan has had two – the sum of their combined three starts is three fourth places. Whilst none of Hannon’s runners should be ignored, attention is instead drawn to Goodwood Zodiac, an unlucky second at Epsom last time out, and Sir Roger Moore, who has a series of eyecatching entries and I’m always willing to forgive 2yos a bad run in the heady confines of Royal Ascot.
Selection: GOODWOOD ZODIAC
Alternative: SIR ROGER MOORE
5:30 – Class 3 Handicap, 1m, 3yo+. Having already fancied one Hugo Palmer horse on the card, it’s hard to resist another, especially with a jockey as good as James Doyle on board. Strong Steps looks to have every chance if he takes to the ground well (his only victory has come on the all weather and he’s not encountered ground softer than good yet), but his 10f second at Ayr last month shows stamina shouldn’t be a problem for him. Ifwecan has hit the crossbar the last twice, and three of his last four runs have seen him post RPRs in the mid-90s, whilst Kieran Shoemark claims 5lbs on board Hannington for Andrew Balding, and steered him to victory last time out – some claimers are not worth the weight they take off, but I don’t think this is the case here.
Selection: STRONG STEPS