Sunday 25 March 2018

Big Orange poised to complete glorious Goodwood hat-trick

Big Orange and Frankie Dettori
Big Orange and Frankie Dettori

Marcus Armytage

For practical reasons the Qatar Goodwood Festival - five days of racing on the Sussex Downs - begins today, but to the vast majority of us it will always be Glorious Goodwood.

Of course, what Edward VII called "a garden party with racing tacked on" relies upon, given its position on a hill not far from the south coast of England, is not so much the quality of the racing - the cash injection by Qatar all but guarantees the best horses will pitch up - but the weather, and that looks set to be fair for the week.

Michael Bell is certainly hoping that, after three days without rain, the ground will be no worse than good for Big Orange, which is chasing his place in history today when he could become the first horse to win the Goodwood Cup three times on the bounce.

Big Orange's chances of winning the race, which has been upgraded to Britain's only Group One over two miles and is worth £500,000 (€560,000), were increased yesterday not only by a drying wind but the news that Dal Harraild and Simple Verse - the second and third favourites - have both been ruled out by injury.

It might also help his cause that Frankie Dettori, who is back in the plate, has swapped fish and water for steak and chips since his King George victory on Enable.

Wicklow Brave, who must lay claim to being the best dual-purpose horse in training, will carry the flag for Willie Mullins.

Mullins' charge won the Irish St Leger last season and also landed a Grade One over hurdles at the Punchestown Festival in April.

"He was fourth in the race last year but you'd have to say he's a better horse now, despite being eight," said owner Nick Peacock.

"He's a wonderful horse to own - over hurdles and Flat, he's brilliant.

"But we can only go there hopeful rather than confident against Big Orange, never mind the rest. Big Orange looks a mountain to climb.


"We have had quite a lot of rain down south, though, which might suit us more than Big Orange.

"There's so much money on offer in this race, with a horse like ours you'd be mad not to run."

Tomorrow's highlight is the Qatar Sussex Stakes. I am always wary of describing a nine-runner race as a match, but this does look like being an epic between the impressive Ribchester and dual Guineas winner Churchill, who is reportedly back to his best after an Ascot disappointment.

Thursday is Goodwood's ladies day, with racing preceded by the Magnolia Cup for high-flying women riders - some of whom have not been born in the saddle.

It is usually entertaining but the key action will be in the Qatar Nassau Stakes over 10 furlongs.

Aidan O'Brien's filly Winter will be attempting to land her fourth consecutive Group One - provided she gets the trip. This will be her toughest test yet.

On Friday, I am looking forward to seeing Battaash in the King George Stakes. He has looked impressive on both starts this year.

Saturday boasts the Stewards' Cup, in which I fancy Upstaging to give Paul Cole a welcome big winner and the Gordon Stakes, Goodwood's St Leger trial, in which the rapidly improving Mount Moriah has plenty of appeal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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