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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Ribchester and Churchill set to serve up a thrilling Bout in the South

Tom Kerr on a cracking card at Goodwood with a dazzling highlight

Ribchester: represents the older generation in the Sussex Stakes
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It may be six years since the tagline the Duel on the Downs was born, but if Goodwood's marketing slogan is beginning to suffer from overfamiliarity the race to which it is applied, the Sussex Stakes, continues to throw up clashes worthy of the ballyhoo.

First we had Frankel v Canford Cliffs, then came Toronado v Dawn Approach and last year The Gurkha took on Galileo Gold. Now get ready for this year's iteration as the outstanding older miler Ribchester takes on dual Guineas hero Churchill.

Call it the Duel on the Downs, the Bout in the South or the Sussex Shootout if you like, but this is one race that needs no hyperbole.

Since that original duel in 2011 the Sussex Stakes has become arguably the premier mile Group 1 in Europe, its prestige bolstered not just by consistently strong line-ups but by a prize-money boost, made possible by sponsors Qatar, that propelled the race to a £1 million contest and made it into one of the world's elite races.

The soaring fortunes of the Sussex Stakes, along with its punchy marketing, are representative of how this stylish meeting, which King Edward VII famously described as a "garden party with racing tacked on", has morphed into a first-rate sporting event more than worthy of its stunning setting amid the rolling South Downs.

The combatants

As in 2011, this year's Sussex features the champion of the three-year-olds against the leading representative of the older generation.

Yet while for Canford Cliffs the task of racing a three-year-old Frankel was, as Dwain Chambers described racing against Usain Bolt, "like hanging on to a gust of wind", on this occasion Ribchester looks to have the upper hand over the younger rival.

The Richard Fahey-trained four-year-old has gone from strength to strength since finishing a narrow third behind The Gurkha and Galileo Gold in this race last year. While both of those rivals have since been retired, their careers ended by surgery and injury respectively, Ribchester has developed into a magnificent miler.

He is a three-time Group 1 winner, a winner on soft and fast ground, tactically versatile and a proven fighter. On his last outing, at a sweltering Royal Ascot, he won the Queen Anne and broke the track record in the process. It will take a mighty effort to prise him from his throne.

Churchill, meanwhile, seemed a horse worthy of his name as he landed the British and Irish Guineas earlier this year, but his campaign hit a setback at Royal Ascot when he flopped in the St James's Palace, running a flat race to finish fourth and mystify his connections, including trainer Aidan O'Brien, unable to explain the underwhelming performance.

This race will do much to determine whether that defeat will prove the beginning of the end for his pretensions to greatness.

Another new horizon for pioneer Ward

Thirty-five minutes before the Sussex Stakes pioneering American trainer Wesley Ward, whose exploits at Royal Ascot have made his name familiar to punters everywhere, has his first runner at Glorious Goodwood as Happy Like A Fool lines up in the Molecomb.

Sent off an odds-on shot in the Queen Mary, Happy Like A Fool found Clive Cox's Heartache far too good. This time Karl Burke's Havana Grey may play the role of spoiler, having won plenty of admirers after rocketing to a Listed win at Sandown four weeks ago.

Before that the card opens with two intriguing handicap puzzles. In the opener, the Goodwood Handicap, Hawkerland represents Marcus Tregoning, who has embraced his mentor Dick Hern's habit of targeting this meeting and boasts an impressive ten winners at the festival. 

Run over a trip of more than two and a half miles the opener is started by flag immediately in front of the stands, before the runners head off on a looping run into the countryside. It is a race that, like the panama hats that dot the stands and lawns, is unmistakably Goodwood.

You may also like these accounts of epic Sussex Stakes battles of the past . . .

1991: Kings Lake v To-Agori-Mou
1992: Marling v Selkirk
2011: Frankel v Canford Cliffs



Call it the Duel on the Downs, the Bout in the South or the Sussex Shootout if you like, but this is one race that needs no hyperbole
E.W. Terms
Sky bet