How the trainers of Ribchester and his rivals rate their Sussex chances
In Goodwood's winner's enclosure following last season's Qatar Sussex Stakes, Richard Fahey both reflected on a near miss and predicted big things to come with his star miler, Ribchester.
"He could be a champion next year," said Godolphin's man in Yorkshire.
Based on what we have seen in the interim, Fahey could well be proved right. Victory on his return to Goodwood's most valuable showpiece would certainly help.
Successes at Group 1 level in the Prix Jacques le Marois, Lockinge Stakes and Queen Anne Stakes have confirmed Fahey's belief that Ribchester would progress from his running-on half-length third in his first Sussex experience.
On that occasion Ballydoyle took the spoils with The Gurkha. To avenge last year's loss, William Buick's mount must defeat another Aidan O'Brien-trained star, Churchill, but Fahey – who runs Toscanini as a pacemaker – is making all the right noises.
"Ribchester was a bit unlucky last year," said Fahey. "He got himself into a position that didn’t suit, with both the winner and the second getting first run, while he was also a little keen.
"As he has matured, he has started to relax more. He relaxed in front in the Lockinge and relaxed in behind in the Queen Anne.
"I'm growing more in confidence with him every time I see him work or race. I just want him to turn up and perform – the one thing with Ribchester is he never lets us down."
Assessing the Churchill challenge, Buick said: "A dual 2,000 Guineas winner? You don’t take them lightly and I certainly don’t underestimate him. He gets the weight and he’s a big horse, a strong horse."
So, however, is Ribchester.
"He's always exciting to ride," added Buick. "You're always looking forward to the next opportunity to get aboard him. He's very good."
Pros Versatile performer in the best form of his career
Cons Tendency to wander under pressure and conceding weight to a dual Guineas winner
Churchill on the comeback trail
Churchill is on a redemption mission in the Sussex Stakes after having his reputation dented at Royal Ascot, where he finished a disappointing fourth behind Barney Roy in the St James's Palace Stakes.
The dual Classic winner, who will be attempting to give Aidan O'Brien a sixth win in the Goodwood Group 1, never got into contention at Ascot and will need to leave that very much below-par effort behind if he is to join Giant's Causeway, Rock Of Gibraltar, Henrythenavigator, Rip Van Winkle and The Gurkha on his trainer's list of Sussex winners.
Why Churchill performed so poorly in the St James's Palace remains something of a mystery to O'Brien, who said: "We didn't find a reason for his disappointing run at Ascot but that's behind us now and he's been in good form since.
"We're happy with him and we're looking forward to running him again. The better the ground, the more it will suit him."
Joining Churchill, on whom Ryan Moore will be seeking a second win in the race following his victory on The Gurkha a year ago, is Lancaster Bomber, who finished in front of his stablemate for the first time when second in the St James's Palace Stakes.
O'Brien said of Donnacha O'Brien's mount: "Lancaster Bomber is in good form and we've been happy with him since Royal Ascot. It's the same story with him as with Churchill – the better the ground, the better his chance will be."
Churchill Pros Dual Classic winner who receives 7lb from main market rival
Churchill Cons Niggling doubts after his St James's Palace flop and needs to bounce back taking on the older brigade
Zelzal faces Goodwood date with destiny
Zelzal bids to win the Qatar Sussex Stakes for the sponsors, the Al Shaqab-owned four-year-old lining up in a prize that, not surprisingly, has long been his prime objective.
The French raider is already only a single vowel away from Sussex Stakes success, but while 1989 champion Zilzal went to Goodwood as the leading contender, Zelzal is only third best in the betting, having been beaten into second in Group 3 company on his seasonal return.
However, even the most ardent fan of Gregory Benoist would probably agree the jockey gave last year's Prix Jean Prat winner too much to do on that occasion. With Frankie Dettori replacing Sheikh Joaan's injured retained French jockey, Zelzal will be picked out by many punters.
"We chose this race for him some time ago and he's done well," said trainer Jean-Claude Rouget, who noted: "He finished off his race very well at Chantilly."
Al Shaqab racing manager Harry Herbert added: "It won't be easy to rattle the big two, and he's certainly going to have to go a bit to beat Ribchester and Churchill, but you never know.
"He's been trained for the race, It's always been the plan. His initial race of the season was just to get him going again. He's a lot stronger this season and Jean-Claude has always held him in the highest regard.
"I'm not saying he's going to win but he'll run a good race."
Pros Targeted at the race by a trainer who does not venture abroad without good reason
Cons Bare form of last two runs doesn't shout Sussex winner
Simcock hoping for a Lightning revival
Lightning Spear went on to win the Celebration Stakes over Goodwood's turning mile after finishing sixth in last year's Sussex Stakes, but the Qatar Racing-owned stalwart has finished behind Ribchester in all their five meetings and also performed poorly in both the Queen Anne and Coral-Eclipse.
Trainer David Simcock said: "He was very disappointing at Ascot and Sandown but all the signs at home are good, so there's no reason not to run him. If he turns up in form he'll run well."
Zonderland held 'in highest regard'
Zonderland chased home Lightning Spear in last summer's Celebration Mile but that visit to Goodwood represents the most recent racecourse appearance for a four-year-old whose biggest win to date came in Salisbury's Group 3 Sovereign Stakes.
"It's a big step back but I'm delighted we've enough confidence to come back first time in a race like this one," said trainer Clive Cox.
"We've always held him in the highest regard and after a little hold up in the spring we're very happy with how he's training. I just hope the forecast rain holds off until after racing."
Just some of the money would be Kool
You do not have to win the Sussex Stakes to earn a decent chunk of cash. Even the fifth horse home earns connections more than £25,000 and Richard Hannon is realistic Kool Kompany is unlikely to spring a massive shock.
"The Queen Anne was a big step up for him and he didn’t look to run too badly," said Hannon.
"He's in great order and apart from the first two in the market there's a chance of getting some prize-money. He's a decent horse on his day and hopefully can sneak into the first four."
Also unlikely to lift the largest slice of the prize-money cake is the Andrew Balding-trained Here Comes When, a Listed third at Windsor last time, but he was fourth to Solow in this contest two years ago.