Goodwood Festival 2014: Es Que Love’s the winner once again – at 22nd sight

The five-year-old won the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood today

goodwood

There are many ways to set up a first Group Two triumph, but until today getting beaten 21 times on the spin was not one of them.

Es Que Love has been a perennial whipping boy over various distances in all sorts of company since winning a minor handicap early last season, but it finally clicked again when he captured the Lennox Stakes, the highlight of Glorious Goodwood’s opening day.

And if that was not surprise enough, the horse he beat was last year’s champion two-year-old Toormore, a second odds-on loser in a row for Richard Hannon following Beacon’s defeat in the Molecomb Stakes to provide a small ripple of concern ahead of Toronado’s eagerly awaited meeting with Kingman in Wednesday’s Sussex Stakes.

The Es Que Love Partnership stumped up 110,000 guineas for the five-year-old last autumn, which was some punt for a horse seemingly going nowhere and with so much mileage on the clock, but they surely could not have dreamt that he would win at this level.

In fact, the winning trainer, Clive Cox, was quite confident going into the race, convinced that more patient tactics than adopted last time at Newbury would pay dividends.

Es Que Love’s jockey Adam Kirby played his hand late and to a nicety to win by a neck, although there was a nasty sting in the tail for the rider when the stewards judged that he had used his whip incorrectly. This was his fifth such transgression in the past six months and he now faces a lengthy ban.

The Toormore camp were understandably downbeat. This was meant to be a confidence booster after below-par efforts in the 2,000 Guineas and at Royal Ascot and, though the three-year-old by no means disgraced himself, Hannon, who offered no excuses, knows he is not the horse he was and will adjust his sights accordingly. “He was a very good two-year-old, but is not as good a three-year-old – that’s all there is to it,” the trainer said.

In terms of official ratings, there is next to nothing between Toronado and Kingman (3.05 Goodwood), but whereas the former has needed to dig deep to achieve his mark, the latter has left the impression there is a bit more in the tank if required.

Jockey Richard Hughes will doubtless have something up his sleeve to try to tip things Toronado’s way, just as he did in last year’s thriller when swooping wide and late to take revenge on Dawn Approach, who had beaten him on two previous encounters.

But it is difficult to think what the twice champion can do to gain an edge this time. With the field reduced to four following the withdrawal of War Command, there could be some tactical fun and games, but whatever the pace Kingman’s turbo-charged finish should settle the issue.

Highland Reel’s extraordinary, 12-length winning performance in Ireland earlier this month prompted bookmakers to install Aidan O’Brien’s colt as favourite for next year’s Derby.

A follow-up in the Vintage Stakes may not be the formality it seems – he was as green as a cabbage at Gowran Park and faces tougher opposition on a drop back to seven furlongs – but Highland Reel (3.40 Goodwood) is perhaps a champion in the making and may well have the class to come through this test.

All eight runners in the Gordon Stakes hold a St Leger entry and the best of them, both here and at Doncaster, might turn out to be Scotland (2.30 Goodwood), third to Eagle Top in the Group Two King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot last time and progressing with every run.

Mark Johnston’s horses invariably make their presence felt at this meeting, especially in the handicaps, but sending out three of the first four in today’s opener, including the winner, Sennockian Star, was quite special. Maid In Rio (1.55 Goodwood), a big jump ahead of the handicapper after dotting up at Ascot last Friday, looks a stable banker in today’s opener.

Paul Hanagan injured his left arm when White Nile fell in the Summer Handicap and will need to pass the doctor before being allowed to ride. To add insult to injury, he missed out on riding Inxile, who won the finale.

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