Dutch Connection won the battle of the Godolphin horses to land the biggest prize on the first day of Glorious Goodwood as the 2016 festival got off to a superb start.
Australian-based jockey James McDonald was the toast of the track as he timed his run on the Charlie Hills-trained star - runner-up in the same race last year - to land the £300,000 Group 2 Qatar Lennox Stakes.
The race was the highlight of a thrilling opening day of five on the Downs which will see an amazing £4.975m of prize money dished out.
That’s a record and so is the number of entries for the week as a whole, and the action continues on Wednesday with what should be a cracking renewal of the Qatar Sussex Stakes.
On day one, Dutch Connection led home a one-two for Godolphin, as Home Of The Brave, from Hugo Palmer’s stable, took second, a length and three-quarters adrift of the winner, and the same distance ahead of his stablemate, Gifted Master, who made the early running.
The winner, sent off the 9/4 favourite, was ridden by McDonald, the New Zealander who rides primarily in Australia and is on an extended stay in Britain following a riding ban for Godolphin jockey William Buick.
McDonald is enjoying a purple patch, and drew a comparison with the great American jockey Steve Cauthen, who began his career in Britain with Hills’ father, Barry, who retired from training last year. In turn, it was to ride for Charlie that McDonald first appeared in Britain three years ago.
Remembering their first meeting, Charlie said: “James came down and rode out on his first morning, and dad said, ‘Who’s that jockey? I haven’t seen a jockey like that on these gallops since Steve Cauthen,’ so that’s a high accolade.
“We seemed to hit it off pretty well. I think he is a world-class jockey and he’s still very young, so I think we are going to see him here quite a bit. He’s young, seems very laidback and has a good relationship with horses. He is very positive.”
Of Dutch Connection, Hills said: “He won his maiden here well and ran a good race in the Lennox Stakes last year. He brought some good form into this race and I always felt that he had a favourite’s chance.
“We will have to speak to John Ferguson and Sheikh Mohammed to see where we go next. There are options for him in Saratoga and maybe the Prix Maurice de Gheest in France as well.
“I wouldn’t mind bringing him back to six and half furlongs, but I would have thought that a two-turn mile would be right up his street. Fast ground is really the key to him, he loves it quick, and he’s a fine, big horse who should improve as he gets older.”
This was Dutch Connection’s first victory at Group 2 level, and he could go higher on a quick surface, said Hills. He added: “He really deserved this - last year was tough. He was second in this race and was knocking on the door a good few times. We took him to America and it never stopped raining every time he ran - it’s been the same this year.
“I cannot see any reason why he couldn’t win a Group 1 on the right ground and there are plenty of options for him now, not just here but abroad as well. They went a good solid pace and he has a high cruising speed so it played into his hands.
“Running him over a mile on stiff tracks like Ascot has just been finding him out, and when he got to the front I was a little concerned, but then he pulled away.”
McDonald, 24, was registered his first success at Glorious and his second ever winner at the Sussex venue.
He said: “The race panned out well. The strong pace set it up well for my horse. He travelled very well and when I eased him out the race was over a fair way from home. Once he coasted up to the leader, it was all over.
“He is a very good horse who is very capable on his day. Hopefully he can win that elusive Group One in the future. He adapted to the conditions underfoot superbly and I wouldn’t run him on any ground apart from that.
“He’s an awesome horse and I can’t believe that I have won a big race for Charlie Hills. He’s an absolute brother of mine - he brought me over here and he and his team have shown so much faith. I can’t thank them enough.
“It has been brilliant. I head home on Saturday, so I am making the most of my opportunities and hopefully I will get a couple more.
“I only come over here for short stints but I have got a lot of support and I am delighted with how it has gone.”
McDonald had earlier finished a one and three-quarter length second aboard Thunder Snow in the Qatar Vintage Stakes and he said: “I was thrilled with him. He was a lovely colt who was very immature but he ran superbly well. He has a nice future.”
Earlier Mark Johnston, the Yorkshire-based Scot who makes Goodwood appear like his home track in July each year, got away to a cracking start at this year’s Festival.
Johnston saddled the first and third in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Handicap, with Fire Fighting, the 8/1 co-favourite and mount of Adam Kirby, beating runner-up Oasis Spirit by a neck, with the winner’s stablemate, Stars Over The Sea, one and a half lengths further behind. Stars Over The Sea and fourth-placed Second Wave were also 8/1 co-favourites.
This was Johnston’s 67th winner at Glorious - putting him four behind the current leading trainer Sir Michael Stoute - and taking his overall winning tally at the track to 119. It was also his sixth victory in the race, his past victors including Yavana’s Pace, who, remarkably, won a Group One contest at the age of ten.
Johnston bought Fire Fighting as a yearling for €70,000, but has twice tried to sell him since - at the end of last season and the one before. He said, tongue in cheek: “This horse is a bit special - we wanted him so much we took him to the sales and couldn’t sell him. Thank goodness, because of what he has done since - it’s wonderful.
“I think there are a lot of horses out there that could be like this. You have to wonder whether is he tough and that what makes him able to race a lot or is it the fact that he races a lot makes him tough.”
Kirby gained his fourth Glorious success aboard Fire Fighting and said: “It was a typical Goodwood race with a lot of runners and you can get locked in down the inside. I did well to get a run through.
“Everyone would love to own this horse. He turns up on the big Saturdays and you will always get a good run for your money with him.”
The Aidan O’Brien-trained War Decree (6/4 favourite) ran out a comfortable one and three-quarter length winner of the Group Two Qatar Vintage Stakes under Ryan Moore to provide his trainer with his 16th winner at Goodwood and his 14th at the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
Moore settled the son of War Front in behind the leaders early on with the two-year-old travelling well throughout the seven-furlong contest.
In the home straight, O’Brien’s charge took a while to respond to Moore’s urgings but, approaching the furlong pole, came to challenge Thunder Snow for the lead. War Decree quickened up well inside the last half-furlong to assert clear of his rivals and win readily.
Kevin Buckley, UK Representative for Coolmore, said: “War Decree has definitely improved from the Superlative Stakes last time. We had a 3lb advantage today, he is still a little green but that was an exciting performance.
“It did look a rough race but being by War Front he acted well on the ground and that is why we decided to come here. He can stay at this distance or step up a little bit. We might look at the Champagne or the National Stakes. Going to America is certainly a possibility given his pedigree.”
Buckley also paid homage to the Ballydoyle handler. He said: “Aidan is a genius. The way he can improve animals is unbelievable and he has had another successful season with the horses staying healthy which is the most important factor.”
Moore, registering his 115th winner at the Sussex venue and his 29th at the Qatar Goodwood Festival, said: “Like all of Aidan’s two-year-olds, he has improved a great deal from Newmarket. Every run, he has progressed and he is a very well-balanced and good-moving horse.
The Mick Channon-trained Elidor (16/1) was a game neck winner of the 14-furlong Better Odds With Matchbook Summer Handicap under an inspired De Sousa ride.
Having been settled in the mid-division by De Sousa, the six-year-old steadily made progress in the home straight. Travelling well on the wide outside, the son of Cape Cross came to challenge for the lead at the furlong pole.
Having hit the front inside the final furlong, Channon’s charge stuck on gamely to repel the fast finishing Qewy and score by a neck.
Channon registering his 101st Goodwood winner and 13th at Glorious, said: “He keeps turning up bless him. He has always had a bit of class and I am delighted. It is nice when you can win at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood. He is tough and just a very good horse.”
Kirby made it a double for the day with a 13/2 success on Boom The Groom in the Weatherbys Private Bank Stakes - after the start was delayed when Union Rose unseated David Probert, who was taken away by a course ambulance.
Frankie Dettori was second on Thesme - and left still looking for winner number 2,995.
Godolphin secured their second win of the afternoon when James Doyle landed the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing EBF Stallions Maiden Stakes on 11/2 chance Best Solution for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
The last, the Smarter Bets With Matchbook Betting Exchange Fillies’ Stakes, went to Oisin Murphy on 13/2 contender Desert Haze, trained by Ralph Beckett. Andrea Atzeni came from nowhere on Haggle to finish second.
Wednesday brings the biggest race of the week - the £1m Qatar Sussex Stakes - and a field of 10 will bid for glory, the biggest number the rae has had for 11 years.
Updats on day two on this website.
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