Racing: Tariq to conquer Downs roller-coaster

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The Independent Online

What is certainly Britain's, and arguably the world's, most glorious setting for a race meeting is now into its third century as a venue. And just as in 1802, when Pantagruel galloped six miles in three heats to win the first race on the third Duke of Richmond's estate atop the Sussex Downs, the English Channel shimmers silver to the south and ripe cornfields glitter gold to the north. Goodwood did not earn its alliterative epithet for nothing.

For the tens of thousands who make the panama-wearing pilgrimage to the five-day garden party on the hill, even failing to back a winner owns a certain charm for in the greater scheme of things, in an environment this glorious it perhaps matters less who wins or loses than where the game is played.

Which may be just as well, for there is no other top-flight course that produces so many genuine hard-luck stories in running. Idiosyncratic is possibly a kind word to describe the oddly-shaped track, which combines twists, turns, banking, changes of direction and gradients up and down to form something of an equine rollercoaster. It is not only at the flying club on the Goodwood estate that the loop is looped.

For the horses, athleticism and balance are at a premium. For the jockeys, there is another essential ingredient. "Luck," said Richard Hughes. "If you've five rides and three of them get a good run through, you're doing well. But you take the good with the bad. It can be a tricky course to ride but whatever happens, you've got to stick to any plan you make. If you're going down the inner, go down the inner, don't change your mind half-way."

If ever there was a horses-for-courses course, this is the one; some seem to actively enjoy the experience, others loathe it. "You want a tough, hardy sort of horse," added Hughes. "And it can suit the old shitbags, the quirky devils, the old handicappers. It keeps them thinking and interested. But for younger ones, it can be a jump in the deep end. Racing is hard enough for an inexperienced horse without them gawking at everything. They've really got to know their jobs and stay in the zone."

Being on the right horse makes the task easier. "If you're on one that can travel," said the reigning champion Ryan Moore, "it's no more of a challenge than anywhere else. If they're travelling, they can stay balanced and you can ride your race."

Frankie Dettori has a particularly soft spot for Goodwood; he rode his first winner in Britain, Lizzy Hare, there 20 years ago last month. "It's a course that either loves you or hates you, and it can be different each time," he said. "Some years, you go home on Saturday having been unable to do anything wrong. Others, you spend more time in the stewards' room than on a horse."

Dettori has been leading rider at the showcase meeting three times, but this time assorted bans have reduced him to just one day's attendance; tomorrow he partners Ramonti in the Sussex Stakes, the first all-aged pitstop on the elite European miling circuit. The God-olphin five-year-old, inches winner of the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, was among eight declared yesterday for the Group One contest, the week's richest with its purse of £300,000. His rivals include the Ballydoyle three-year-old Excellent Art, who took the St James's Palace Stakes, and the exciting South African four-year-old Asiatic Boy.

This afternoon's most valuable prize, the £150,000 Betfair Cup, has been in the past used as a stepping- stone to the top level, notably by Observatory, who seven years ago went on to famously defeat Giant's Causeway in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Before his win at Goodwood, Observatory had won the Jersey Stakes at the Royal meeting and there is every confidence in the yard of Peter Chapple-Hyam that Tariq (3.25) can tread the same progressive path. The Kyllachy colt has won both his starts since running down the field in the French 2,000 Guineas on his seasonal debut and the style of his victory at Ascot was particularly taking.

It may be a frightening thought on a bright summer afternoon, but the St Leger is only 46 days away. The Gordon Stakes, over a mile and a half, is the first of the recognised post-Derby trials for the longest and oldest Classic and one which has a good record as a pointer, with three winners - Sixties Icon, Millenary and Nedawi -of both races in the past 10 years.

One of today's contenders, the Derby third Aqaleem, is vying for St Leger favouritism with Irish Derby winner Soldier Of Fortune, whose Ballydoyle stablemate Yellowstone tests the homeside firepower this afternoon. But both may have to defer to Raincoat (2.50), who was closer to Authorized when second in the Dante Stakes than was Aqaleem at Epsom and has made great strides at home since being outpaced in the French Derby.

Speedy Queen Mary Stakes runner-up Starlit Sands (4.00), who proved she could cope with downhill undulations at Catterick, can resume winning ways in the Molecomb Stakes and, with the ground drying, Dansili Dancer (2.15) may be worth an interest on a track where he has won twice.