Sussex Stakes looks wide open - but will it become another Downs duel?
Glorious Goodwood is shaping up to be the biggest and best yet '“ and another Duel on the Downs is in store in the Â£1m Qatar Sussex Stakes.
This is year two of the Qatar Goodwood Festival and prize money for the five-day extravaganza is up from £4.5m to £4.9m.
That has led to some top-class entries for all the big Group races and handicaps – with the Sussex Stakes set to be another sizzler.
With 31 still in the frame for the £1m contest it could be the most open renewal for years – yet, as ever, the prospect of a head-to-head between two three-year-olds in particular, Galileo Gold and The Gurkha, is set to grab the headlines.
Galileo Gold is owned by festival sponsor Sheikh Joann’s Al Shaqab Racing and trained by Hugo Palmer while The Gurkha is Coolmore’s contender, trained by Aidan O’Brien.
Both camps talked up their chances of taking the prize at this week’s festival launch in London.
Galileo Gold won this season’s 2000 Guineas and St James’ Palace Stakes –beating The Gurkha in the latter race at Royal Ascot – but O’Brien’s runner took the French 2000 Guineas in May.
Frankie Dettori will ride Galileo Gold and said: “Hugo (Palmer - trainer) was always very bullish about Galileo Gold in the spring. The original plan was to run him in the French Guineas but when I rode him work I was very surprised how well he had done from two to three so we decided to change our minds and go to Newmarket.
“Ireland (the Irish 2000 Guineas) didn’t work out because of the ground, but he went to Royal Ascot and redeemed himself. A lot of people talked about my ride but it is the horse that does the talking and without him I couldn’t have done what I did. He has great cruising speed and did it all on his own.
“The Qatar Sussex Stakes looks a great race with the three Guineas winners meeting again, plus the older horses joining in. I am looking forward to the challenge. I am not going to say he is going to win but I am confident enough to say he is going to run a huge race if luck is on our side.”
O’Brien, who last won the Sussex Stakes in 2009 with Rip Van Winkle, said The Gurkha seemed to be in good form since he came second in the Coral Eclipse at Sandown.
“The Gurkha has been a very hardy horse at home and has taken his races very well. Obviously, the Qatar Sussex Stakes will be another test for him but should tell us a lot more about him. We are very happy with him so far.
“You can talk about what happened in the St James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot but you can’t say for certain that if circumstances had been in our favour the result would have been different.
“It was an evenly run race and we were happy with the way The Gurkha ran on the day. We got beat, but you can’t win every day and the ground probably didn’t really suit any of the runners that day.”
Kevin Buckley, Coolmore’s UK representative, added: “I have huge respect for Hugo’s horse (Galileo Gold) but we think an awful lot of The Gurkha and are looking forward to the ‘Duel on the Downs’.
“His victory in France was emphatic and we might have gone a bit too far in stepping him up to a mile and two furlongs last time out in the Eclipse, although in fairness the race was won by a good improving horse (Hawkbill).
“The Gurkha has a great mind and let’s not forget he has had a steep learning curve. He didn’t run at two due to the fact he had not one but two colic surgeries. He is lucky to be around with us. He is showing so much to Aidan and the rest of the team at Ballydoyle that we feel confident in running him in the Qatar Sussex Stakes.”
Seamus Buckley, Goodwood’s clerk of the course, said there had been a lot more rain this year than last but staff were working hard to get the ground just right for the festival.
He said on Monday: “I walked the course this morning and was very pleased with its condition - it is good going now. Goodwood can dry out extremely quickly and within 24 to 36 hours it can go from good towards firm - we have got to keep that in mind.
“But we have a had a lot more rain this year - in May, June and July so far we have had 224 millimetres, 82 millimetres more than in the same period last year - a near 60 per cent increase, so there is plenty of moisture in the ground at the moment.”
“We have put some fertiliser on and the turf is in great condition and has a lovely level surface. We are due more showers so we don’t have to think about any watering yet.
“We are always trying to produce the best possible racing surface and keep everyone happy - it is a big task.”
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