If there is someone who believes that there is a happier week to be had in racing all Summer than Glorious Goodwood, I am prepared to meet the dissenter.
Goodwood starts tomorrow and five days of pure Summer enjoyment will follow. Perhaps the quality of racing isn’t on a par with Royal Ascot, and the absence of Gleneagles in Wednesday’s Sussex Stakes won’t help the marketing bods, but there’s still an awful lot to like on the Downs this week.
Others will write about the stunning setting with views over endless fields to the North with Chichester and the Isle of Wight to the South. I prefer to unashamedly plug Spire Cottage in nearby Hunston. I first stayed there half a dozen years ago (more, I fear), stumbling upon it by chance on the outskirts of Chichester. The garden annexe was mine for the week and, back when I was young enough to smoke and it not take a visible toll, I enjoyed lovely wine and sweet cigarettes in the Spire Cottage garden after racing.
Glorious Goodwood is seldom intense: it happily lacks the workload of other major Festivals and seems to ebb at a civilised pace until Saturday, when the Nassau Stakes and Stewards’ Cup make things ever so slightly less bearable as the masses arrive.
I suspect I am swimming against the tide when I voice my concern at the recent tendencies of flat trainers to withdraw their horses due to the changes in going. It’s right that they have an absolute final say on when and where they run their horses and I have no doubts that every trainer in the land has their horse’s best interest as the main priority in reaching discussions. I’m not quarrelling with the trainers, I’m just sulking as a punter.
On Saturday, the excellent John Gosden decided Ascot had seen too much rain to risk his superstar Golden Horn taking his chance in the King George. Earlier today, we learned that the incomparable Aidan O’Brien has similar misgivings for Gleneagles ahead of his hotly anticipated Duel on the Downs with Royal Ascot winner Sollow.
Both trainers are superb craftsmen and beyond reproach, but for me it’s those horses who prove their mettle at various trips, on various tracks, on different types of ground — and who might even run the risk of, shock horror, losing the occasional race that we take deepest into our hearts.
Perhaps it’s a good job I’m not involved in the lucrative breeding industry with this kind of heresy. It’s just I’d always rather see a champion taken out of his or her comfort zone to prove themself anew before being packed off to make millions at Stud.
I was at a Christening in Cambridge yesterday and, as I approached the Chapel, I took a call from the Racing Post’s Graham Green who was pressing me on my reaction to the farce that saw Speculative Bid (remember him?) fail to come out of the gates in the big betting race of the day at Ascot on Saturday.
As the horses crossed the line, Speculative Bid had been declared a runner. “Weighed in, weighed in” came the loudspeaker, and the bookies paid out. Then they sounded the far from golden horn alerting us to a stewards’ enquiry. Nope, Speculative Bid had not been a runner.
Rules 4s applied to winning bets (a bit too late for those on-course bookies and off-course firms who had already paid out in full). And then, just as we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. They changed their minds again and Speculative Bid, once again, was a runner.
I told Green that the authorities were guilty of “first-rate bungling” and wondered if that was a bit strong. The more I reflect on it, the more I feel I was being moderate. Let’s hope the inquiry is less fudged than what we endured at the weekend.
There’s no point hiding away. It’s time to find a winner and what could possibly go wrong with an uncertain forecast and the notoriously difficult undulations of Goodwood in finding the winner of the near-impossible lottery that is the Stewards’ Cup on Saturday?
Well I’d love to see Tropics go close. He ran the race of his life when going down by a neck in the July Cup and, although he’ll have nowhere to hide, it would make my Summer if he could go close again on Saturday.