Racing: Kheleyf primed to fulfil early promise

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The Independent Online

The 'Slappers R Us' element that rather plagues the modern summertime race meeting apart, the sport atop the Sussex Downs still holds a timelessness after more than 200 years.

The 'Slappers R Us' element that rather plagues the modern summertime race meeting apart, the sport atop the Sussex Downs still holds a timelessness after more than 200 years. When Pantagruel won the first race (a three-heat contest over six miles in total) held on the third Duke of Richmond's estate in 1802, the English Channel shimmered silver to the south and ripe, rolling cornfields flashed gold to the north. They still do. Goodwood did not earn its alliterative epithet for nothing.

For the purist, Royal Ascot and York's Ebor meeting may have more strength in depth, and many an unkind word has been uttered about the idiosyncrasy of the track's twists, turns and gradients, which combine to invoke more genuine hard-luck stories than an asylum seekers' convention.

But as the tens of thousands who make the Panama-wearing pilgrimage to this week's five-day garden party on the hill will attest, in a setting as magnificent as this one it sometimes matters less who won or lost than where the game was played.

The week's big one comes tomorrow with the Sussex Stakes, first run in 1841 and now the first all-aged pitstop on the European top-level miling circuit. Eleven were declared yesterday, among them the last two 2,000 Guineas heroes, three-year-old Haafhd and four-year-old Refuse To Bend. Also flying the flag for the Classic generation is Antonius Pius, whose waywardness lost him the French Guineas, and four-year-old filly Soviet Song carries the distaffers' banner.

Antonius Pius will be stepping back up in trip after being outpaced in the July Cup. Another who found laying up with specialist sprinters at Newmarket too hot a task was Kheleyf (3.15), who returns today in the Lennox Stakes to the seven-furlong trip over which he won the Jersey Stakes.

The Green Desert colt's deeds as a juvenile failed to live up to the words that made him such a talking horse last year (after Frankie Dettori described him as the best two-year-old he had ever sat on, he promptly got beat) but after spending the winter, spring and early summer recovering from a leg injury and strengthening up, he emerged at Royal Ascot as a smart-looking prospect. The contemptuously easy way he travelled throughout before quickening clear in the final furlong is not easy to forget.

Despite five victories from 11 runs, Trade Fair has been a frustrating sort. The son of Zafonic has been highly tried, and actually started favourite for both the Group 1 races he has contested, the Dewhurst Stakes at two and last year's Sussex Stakes, though he won neither. Physical vicissitudes were partly to blame and he started his four-year-old campaign with something to prove and, despite his comfortable win in Ireland nine days ago the jury is still out over his willingness to knuckle down in a finish.

It is a frightening thought on a bright summer afternoon that the St Leger is only 46 days away and the Gordon Stakes, over a mile and a half, is the first of the recognised post-Derby trials for the longest and oldest Classic and one which has a reasonable record as a pointer to Town Moor with two winners of both races in the past six years. Of today's contenders, Duke Of Venice (2.40) is the highest-placed in the early St Leger market, a tentative fourth favourite. The Theatrical colt was, like his Godolphin stablemate Kheleyf, a mighty easy Royal Ascot winner, in his case by six lengths in the Queen's Vase in a fast time. The half-mile drop back in distance should not pose a problem.

Duke Of Venice is one of a mere seven St Leger entries from the boys in blue. Aidan O'Brien has 16, including Mikado, but the fact that the Sadler's Wells colt was once considered near the top of the Ballydoyle pecking order may now be seen as damning him with faint praise. However, there was a deal to like about his seasonal debut against older opposition last month at The Curragh and he is a most interesting contender.

There is a sharp contrast in provenance for two who can be fancied for the other Group 3 contest on the card, the Molecomb Stakes. Skywards, a brother to No Excuse Needed, is one of the much-conquering Godolphin team; Beckermet (3.50), was cheaply bought but is damn fast and progressive to boot.