Racing: Gloomy outlook for Zafonic's admirers: Glorious Goodwood: Fear of defeat on unsuitably soft ground may keep away the 2,000 Guineas winner

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The Independent Online
THE CLOUDS and a single question swirled around Goodwood racecourse yesterday. Would the ground be firm enough to allow Zafonic to run in today's Sussex Stakes?

Reports from the Met Office rather than the gallops now hold more sway on whether the 2,000 Guineas winner will be seen on these shores again.

Scratched from Royal Ascot's St James's Palace Stakes because of the going, Zafonic now appears unlikely to run here, though the colt will be flown in this morning.

It was California Day at Goodwood yesterday, but the course has been receiving almost Missouri weather in recent days, and Zafonic will not be risked on ground softer than good.

The final decision will be left to his trainer, Andre Fabre, though the Frenchman's inspection march around Trundle Hill may be little more than a short walk during a duty-free run.

Rod Fabricius, Goodwood's clerk of the course, optimistically categorised the ground as good to soft after half an inch of rain had fallen in 24 hours. However, yesterday's race times and the opinion of the little men who actually travelled over the terrain suggested the turf was soft. Fabricius may need sponges and a long tarpaulin if he is to attract the meeting's biggest draw.

'I would hope we would run,' Grant Pritchard-Gordon, the racing manager to Zafonic's owner, Khalid Abdullah, said yesterday. 'But obviously it depends on what the ground is like when we look at it tomorrow. It is good on the round course, but it is soft and loose in the straight and they are finishing tired.

'Goodwood dries very quickly and we must be hopeful as we are anxious to run.'

But team Abdullah is not anxious enough to send their vaunted horse into play unless everything is in his favour. Massive reputation is at risk.

Racing is now left with the unsatisfactory scenario of having its most valuable asset locked away in a box in Chantilly. Like an old master in a private collection, we know he is there but we never get a chance to enjoy him.

If he misses the Sussex Stakes, Zafonic will be aimed at the Prix Jacques le Marois next month, but as Deauville regularly provides easy going that is by no means a definite appointment either.

The only flicker of consolation for British racegoers yesterday was that the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in September has now taken slightly greater prominence on the horse's agenda.

The promoter's dictum of always leaving the punters wanting more is now in danger of being taken to dangerous extremes with Zafonic, and there are those searching for other reasons for the colt's non-appearance. The suggestion that he has some sort of breathing problem is the most popular theme doing the rounds.

Whether he can reproduce his Newmarket flair must also be open to doubt as Zafonic has been on the go, on the gallops at least, since the beginning of the season. His trainer may again suffer the frustration of cocking the horse without seeing him fire. 'It has been very difficult for Andre,' Pritchard-Gordon conceded yesterday.

With Zafonic a doubtful runner, and his main rival in the billing, Sayyedati, likely to be inconvenienced by the ground, the Group One race is there for the taking. It may be claimed by Alflora (next best 3.10).

Stonehatch (3.45), in the Richmond Stakes, may staunch the run of quirky results at the meeting. Britain's highest-rated juvenile, Stonehatch proved he can handle this ground in Royal Ascot's Coventry Stakes. Others to consider are Chief Minister (2.30) and another horse who will enjoy the conditions, PISTOL RIVER (nap 4.15).

(Photograph omitted)