Almost from its inception in May 1801, Goodwood developed as not only a significant sporting venue but also, as far as this week's meeting is concerned, something of a social occasion. Whether or not today's determined marketing of the course flies in the face of some of the old Duke's aims is a moot point, but the gloriousness of the setting cannot be overstated, at least in fine weather.
To one hand the singular undulating track, a real test of jockeyship with its loops and dips, is framed by rolling golden cornfields; to the other the English Channel sparkles in the distance. The spire of Chichester Cathedral is visible, 7,115 yards away, from the summit of the old Iron Age camp Trundle Hill, at the foot of which the runners pull up at the end of the straight. The course was redesigned to its present form in 1829 by the Duke's wealthy pal, the great racing administrator Lord George Bentinck, who did away with the pernicious practice of winning owners giving a present to the judge after big races. Under his designs nearly 16,000 yards of turf were relaid to form today's finishing straight, at a cost of pounds 639 8s 7d. Labour charges were between 1/6d and 2s a day.
All the Dukes of Richmond have kept the name Charles in the family, in deference to their ancestor Charles II, whose bastard son by Louise de Keroualle was created the first of the line at the age of three in 1675. The present Duke, the 10th, is the King's eight-greats grandson, and as adeptly though he and his team maximise every promotional opportunity at Goodwood, they have yet to come up with anything in the style of the Royal "gents" built in 1904, of "statuary marble with the King's monogram, a double-thickness mahogany seat, marble frieze and skirting, metal-work silver-plated, including door hinges and flushing handle".
The first Goodwood winner, at the meet organised by the local Charlton Hunt and the Sussex Militia, was a black mare owned by local ironmonger Mr Halsted, 6-4 favourite for a pounds 50 hunter's plate of two-mile heats "rode by gentlemen only" and carrying 17 stone.
Incidentally, as well as establishing the racecourse the third Duke also captained Sussex at cricket. The area was a hot-bed of the game; but after one of the first recorded matches, in the village churchyard at Boxgrove, the parishioners had to complain to the Bishop of Chichester. The players had broken church windows with the ball, they claimed, and "a little childe had like to have her braynes beaten out with a crecket bat".
Perhaps appropriately, past winners of the Goodwood Cup - the oldest race still run at the course - included Cricketer in 1825 and Stumps the following year. The 167th renewal on Thursday can give the five-year-old Classic Cliche, one of the stalwarts of the Godolphin team, compensation for last month's Gold Cup defeat and add his name to a roll of honour that includes 1878 heroine Kincsem. The Hungarian-trained mare was unbeaten in 54 races throughout Europe (she travelled by train with her lad Frankie and a cat companion) and won the Goodwood Cup in a canter on her only visit to England.
Wednesday's pounds 125,000 Sussex Stakes, the most valuable race of the week and the only one at Group One level, was founded in 1841 but has assumed real significance in the calendar as the opening round of the all-aged mile championship of Europe only in recent decades. Sheikh Mohammed holds the key with his two Royal Ascot winners, and preference is for the impressive, improving three-year-old Starborough, who runs in his owner's original maroon-and-white livery from David Loder's yard, rather than the year- older boy in blue, Allied Forces.
The main opposition to the pair is likely to come from the Henry Cecil-trained Ali-Royal, whose stablemate Daggers Drawn will contest the Richmond Stakes on Thursday. He is thoughtfully named (his sire is Diesis and his dam is Sun And Shade) and appeared one of the season's most interesting two-year-old prospects when he won on his debut at Newmarket last month.
The Stewards' Cup has been puzzling punters since 1840, and Saturday's six-furlong cavalry charge for handicappers will remain a mystery even when such trifles as runners, jockeys, draw and going are known. At this stage My Best Valentine, Oggi and Surprise Mission make the most each- way appeal.Reuse content