Winkle pick of crop to triumph in Sussex duel

Colt should finally prove Group One quality in face of challenge from Ghanaati
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The Independent Online

Disquiet over the weather forecast here this afternoon is not confined to the reluctance of the British climate to decorate this most gorgeous of venues with the due lustre of high summer. It goes a lot deeper than that. For the untimely advent of heavy rain could well unravel what otherwise promises to be the race of the week.

In principle, the showdown between Rip Van Winkle and Ghanaati in the BGC Sussex Stakes has the potential to reprise one of the very greatest races ever staged along this spur, high above the folding, fading valleys and forests. In 1992, Marling and Selkirk shared a duel since evoked by any race that pits together a good colt and a better filly. Though the very best fillies tend to rely upon prosaic, masculine virtues, on that occasion Marling seemed to overcome brazen disadvantages against the brawn and bulk of Selkirk.

This time, sadly, the battle of the sexes could be reduced to a coarse test of efficacy in deteriorating ground. Ghanaati's brief but brilliant career has so far embraced just two starts on turf, both on extremely fast ground. Until she proves otherwise, can you assume that she is equally effective in easier conditions? Rip Van Winkle has at least offered some nugatory encouragement, first in a maiden on yielding ground at the Curragh last summer, and then in excelling on watered going in the Derby.

Perhaps we might be lucky. Perhaps some clement Channel breeze will hold the rainclouds at bay. If so, we should be rewarded by a memorable race.

Ghanaati required uncommon talent to win a Classic on her first start outside all-weather maidens, and while her 1,000 Guineas form retains a fairly unexciting look, she quelled any doubt with a coruscating performance in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. In bursting clear off a hectic pace, she left the impression that a formal margin of two lengths did not measure her full superiority.

But her form, as it stands, remains one-dimensional. She clearly warrants a crack at the colts, but Rip Van Winkle reflects the glory of the best around in Sea The Stars. In each of his starts this season, Rip Van Winkle has played a prominent supporting role to the champion, never more so than in that audacious challenge at Sandown last time.

The way he hung in behind Sea The Stars when the chips were down has nourished suspicions about his commitment. Many people feel he has now been indulged enough, repeatedly suggesting that he is a Group One winner in waiting, without actually getting the job done. But the poor creature was perfectly within his rights to betray fatigue in trying to match punches with Sea The Stars, having in the process pulled four and a half lengths clear of no less a colt than Conduit.

In following Sea The Stars hither and thither, Rip Van Winkle has run over three different distances this season but it could prove that this return to a mile will disclose his true metier. He was unmistakably rusty in the 2,000 Guineas, but none travelled better at Sandown and he has always shown conspicuous speed at home.

Not that this is a match. Paco Boy could not quite match sprinters on their own terms last time, but has long looked an ideal type for this race. Such a cramped mover is surely not as ill-suited by easy ground as some imagine, but he will need a career best regardless, conceding so much weight to his juniors. On these terms, even against a filly like Ghanaati, Rip Van Winkle can prove first among equals.