It will be one of those races where ample fascination is vested in the horses themselves. Even so, the showdown between Frankel and Canford Cliffs at Goodwood next Wednesday gains greater resonance still from the men supervising their preparation.
Neither Richard Hannon nor Henry Cecil, champion trainers of 1992 and 1993 respectively, had won another title until last year, when Canford Cliffs made a critical contribution to Hannon's return to the top of his profession. Despite cardiac surgery in the meantime – a triple bypass, no less – Hannon again finds himself setting the pace with 102 winners already, and nearly £1.7m in prize money. With Cecil having completed his own resurgence, from both professional and personal crisis, the Qipco Sussex Stakes cannot fail to gratify nostalgics.
The two men have a corresponding, mutual regard. Back in the spring, admittedly, Hannon permitted himself the observation that Frankel would have to "learn to race properly" to cope with older rivals. In the 2,000 Guineas, Frankel had simply run his contemporaries into the ground. And, having again been sent for home with an aggressive early move at Royal Ascot last time, Frankel gave Hannon some encouragement in the closing stages.
"I thought he was just coming back to them," he said yesterday. "After that they began talking about going a mile and a quarter with him, but I'd have thought they'd go back in trip instead. He'd have been made for the July Cup. But Henry knows what he's doing. He's one of the all-time greats. What I said about 'learning to race' – I think Henry would probably have told you the same. The horse has not got his act together properly yet. But the more racing he has, the better he'll be. And he couldn't be in better hands."
Hannon was entertaining the press during an open morning at his Wiltshire stables. "Entertaining" is always le mot juste whenever Hannon is holding court, somehow maintaining that precarious balance between his convivial instincts and the routines of a frankly industrial operation. (No fewer than 121 individual two-year-olds have already run from his stable this season.) He breezed several of his best prospects for next week, most of them solo. Canford Cliffs came bounding up first, Richard Hughes clinging to a tight rein, but Harbour Watch's work with a maiden winner certainly quickened anticipation of the Tanqueray Richmond Stakes.
The stable had nine winners at Goodwood last year, so vindicating Hughes in an otherwise expensive decision to take a week off beforehand, purely to avoid suspension. He has done much the same this time round, even though it almost certainly cost him the jockeys' title last year. That is an ambition he has now more or less renounced, in increasing exasperation with punitive extra suspensions – triggered by the cumulative bans he considers all but inevitable through a busy season. Hughes intends not to ride at small meetings, whenever a ban would rule him out of a big one.
"You might ride one for your boss, maybe," Hughes said. "But you'd be in and out there as quick as you can, and probably going round the outside. Ryan Moore is looking at it the same way and Frankie [Dettori] has been doing it for a long time. The punishment doesn't fit the crime. I've only about three years left, and you wait all your life for a horse like Canford Cliffs."
He will doubtless attempt to cut down Frankel late, having done the same to no less a rival than Goldikova at Royal Ascot last month. "I didn't think we were going that fast, but three decent horses were off the bridle at the three pole," Hughes remembered. "That's what he does for you. He's a bit like Sea The Stars, he'll just do what he has to do. You feel he will go by anything. And I love riding Goodwood. Speed kills, and it definitely gets you there."
Those words plainly threw down the gauntlet to Tom Queally, who must decide when to strike for home on Frankel. When Canford Cliffs won the Sussex last year, of course, he was receiving weight as a three-year-old – whereas the boot will be on the other foot now. "But Canford has improved and improved since then," Hannon said. "At two, you're just teaching them to jump and run, and Canford took a couple of races last year to learn a different job. He is probably at his peak now, definitely the best I've trained.
"The only thing that would worry me is that he didn't come down the hill particularly well last year, but he's a more mature horse now, so I don't think it'll be a problem. It's going to be a hell of a race. If there are any weaknesses in our fellow, I haven't found them. And Frankel is rated the best in the world. But one of them has to get beat."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Shernando (8.50 Sandown) Strongly fancied to build on his success at Newbury last week, and so conform with many of his stable's stayers once they find the groove.
Emilio Largo (7.40 Sandown) Raised 6lbs for his first handicap success but could well remain ahead of the game, having idled in front after travelling well.
One to watch
Though ultimately beaten a long way at Ripon on Saturday, Motivado (Sir Mark Prescott) merits another chance after disputing an excessive pace and impressing with his gusto.
Where the money's going
Nathaniel is 15-2 from 9-1 with Coral to beat the older horses in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.Reuse content