The contrast with the thundering, dangerous maelstrom of racing round Goodwood is not confined to its setting. Yes, this twisting, undulating track is always a white-knuckle ride for horsemen – and, vicariously, for punters. But the best of them know to borrow the serenity of the famous panorama beyond: the gentle hills, the calm woodlands, the rolling cornfields.
Sure enough, consecutive big races on the opening day turned on the finesse of masters who have long been especially at home with this unique environment. Henry Cecil sent out his 65th winner at this meeting as Lord Shanakill continued to bloom in the seasoned hands of his new trainer; while Zebedee's impudent success bore the copyright of his rider, Richard Hughes.
Lord Shanakill, in his first season with Cecil, had been dropped in class to win at Chester earlier in the month and the dividends in his confidence were transparent in the Lennox Stakes – sponsored, like all the Group races yesterday, by Betfair. The heavily backed French raider, Dalghar, seemed to have them cooked halfway up the straight, but Lord Shanakill and Tom Queally just ran him down inside the last, while holding off a wild finish from the rear by Cat Junior.
The winner had an accomplished record for Karl Burke, prior to his suspension, but seemed to have reached a plateau until now. He is becoming reminiscent of Twice Over, whose own rejuvenation last year incorporated a small race here and culminated in third place in the Breeders' Cup Classic itself. "Chester did his confidence the world of good," Queally said. "He is definitely entitled to another crack at the top level. The owners have always believed in the horse – and so have I."
This has always been one of Cecil's favourite meetings and nothing should be read into his absence. He had leapt out of bed at 4.15am, having brought forward his gallops schedule in order to come down and stay later in the week. (He saddles Midday in the Blue Square Nassau Stakes on Saturday.)
Richard Hannon is another trainer rolling back the years, albeit he professed that watching Hughes is liable to abbreviate his life expectancy. "If he keeps riding like that I'm going to have a heart attack," he declared, after Zebedee was produced with studied insouciance in the final strides of the Molecomb Stakes.
Hughes had made his intentions plain before the race, attributing this colt's sole defeat in the Norfolk Stakes to incautious tactics. But few other jockeys would be so comfortable detaching themselves from rivals hurtling over five downhill furlongs here. Hughes pounced on Stone Of Folca to win by just a neck, but never felt the faintest alarm. "I was actually closer than I planned because they didn't go mad," he said. "He's got a super little dash, it's explosive but only lasts about 50 metres and you have to save it to the end. We've always said that he was our fastest two-year-old. He's small, but we'll make hay while the sun shines."
Hannon reckons he can last a sixth furlong and proposed the Gimcrack Stakes at York, where John Best will take on older horses with Stone Of Folca in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes.
A rematch at the same meeting is likely for both horses involved in a desperate finish to the Gordon Stakes, but the winner is unlikely to take their rivalry a step further in the St Leger. Jeremy Noseda confessed "huge doubts" about Rebel Soldier lasting the longer trip in the Classic, and wonders if he might even be better dropped back to 10 furlongs. For now he will persevere over 12, in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, but the way Dandino closed a four-length deficit to a head implied that he is better qualified for the Leger. Arctic Cosmos, third after struggling with the track, is also set for the Voltigeur.
The last two Gordon winners, Conduit and Harbinger, both went on to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes the following summer. And Hughes, wearing the Harbinger colours on Martyr, completed a double with another elaborately cool ride in the last. Really, when he's like this, you can't tell where the race stops, and the exquisite scenery begins.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Soorah (7.30 Sandown) Showed promise in maidens, and produced immediate dividends stepped into handicap company at Chepstow last time to win with far more in hand than the handicapper has allowed with a 5lb rise.
Layline (5.45 Goodwood) Cheekpieces applied after he failed to break down a seasoned rival at Lingfield last time, but he did pull clear of the rest after travelling well and the key could be this drop in trip. Lightly raced, and entitled to improve past more exposed rivals here.
One to watch
Mass Rally (J H M Gosden) Looked sure to win when going clear at the furlong pole at Ascot on Saturday, but had attacked earlier than other principals in a race run at an excessive gallop, and was just run down into fourth. Has a speedy pedigree and might be worth restoring to 7f.
Where the money's going
The sponsors make Dandino 8-1 for the St Leger following his powerful finish in the Gordon Stakes. The winner, Rebel Soldier, is unlikely to go to Doncaster and can be backed at 14-1 while Arctic Cosmos, third after struggling with the track, is 16-1.Reuse content