Infallible has best credentials on first day of 'garden party'

The limo-riding element that rather plagues the modern summertime race meeting apart, the sport on the Sussex Downs maintains its timeless beauty 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 rolling cornfields glittered gold to the north, as they will today. Goodwood did not earn its alliterative epithet for nothing.

Provided the elements co-operate, of course. If the cloud base descends below 700 feet to nestle on Trundle Hill, or the rain whips in on a summer south-westerly, ghastly replaces glorious.

Whatever the weather (and rain was forecast overnight), punters and professionals sometimes have unkind words to say about the place, one of those idiosyncratic tracks which some horses love and others loathe. There is no other top-flight course which produces more genuine hard-luck stories than an asylum-seekers' convention.

Given that the Goodwood estate is also home of motor racing, a flying club and a fine golf course, it is apposite that the equine competitors have to display enough athleticism, balance and horsepower to cope with assorted turns, gradients, camber, gradients and borrow, taking the rough with the smooth as they loop the loop. Sometimes, with luck as essential as talent, it can all seem a distinctly un-fairway.

For the purist, the Royal Ascot and York meetings have more strength in depth but for anyone with any racing soul there is nowhere to match five days at Goodwod, as the tens of thousands who make an annual panama-wearing pilgrimage to what King Edward VII described as "a garden party with racing tacked on" will attest. The first of the week's two top-level contests comes tomorrow. The Sussex Stakes was first run in 1841 and is now the season's first clash of the generations on the elite European miling circuit. Three-year-old Henrythenavigator will be long odds on against six rivals to emulate former Ballydoyle inmate Rock Of Gibraltar by adding the prize to his Newmarket and Curragh 2,000 Guineas and St James's Palace Stakes, and in the process make it a 15th Group One of the year for Aidan O'Brien.

The Co Tipperary maestro's seemingly inexorable progress towards a world record 26 (Bobby Frankel won 25 Grade Ones in the States five years ago) is one of the season's compelling narratives. Another will be Sir Michael Stoute's quest to complete his Classic nap hand by winning his first St Leger. It may be a frightening thought at Pimms o'clock on a summer afternoon, but the Doncaster showpiece is only 46 days away and the Gordon Stakes is the first of the recognised post-Derby trials. It has a good record, too; in the last 10 years three winners – Nedawi, Millenary and Sixties Icon – have followed up on Town Moor.

Stoute has the Doncaster favourite, runaway Queen's Vase winner Patkai, in his care and Conduit (2.50), in the same Ballymacoll Stud colours, can strengthen his hand. The colt was arguably unlucky to be beaten by Campanologist, who has upheld the form since in better company, at Royal Ascot. His rider Ryan Moore is challenging Ballydoyle's Johnny Murtagh for the week's jockey title.

This afternoon's most valuable prize offers nearly £90,000 prize money and Group Two prestige and in the past has been used as a stepping-stone to the highest level, notably by Observatory, who eight years ago went on to famously defeat Giant's Causeway in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Five of today's contenders have already tried their luck in Group One contests, with Infallible (3.30) owning the best record: fourth in the 1,000 Guineas and second in both the Coronation and Falmouth Stakes.

The John Gosden-trained filly's distance limits have been adjusted as the season has progressed, from "a stiff seven of a mile" early on to "six or seven furlongs" after her latest effort, when she travelled and quickened with ease until her stamina ran out close home. She holds entries in the Matron Stakes (a mile) and Sprint Cup (six furlongs) on the same day in September. Goodwood's sharp seven looks ideal.

The day's second Group Three contest, the Molecomb Stakes, is the province of baby sprinters. Spin Cycle and Flashmans Papers represent some of the best Royal Ascot form and Global City looks sharply progressive. But preference is for Bonnie Charlie (4.05) from the Richard Hannon yard, whose juveniles are operating at a 20 per cent strike rate. The compact colt lacks the experience of his stablemate Icesolator, twice a course winner, but created an excellent impression on his debut and, perhaps significantly, is the stable jockey's pick.

l Montmartre, 3-1 favourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, is doubtful for the race on 5 October. His trainer, Alain De Royer-Dupré, said: "He came back stiff from the Grand Prix de Paris [14 July] and his chances of running in the Arc are compromised."

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