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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Saturday lacks punch so Goodwood should add something flashier

Lancelot Du Lac and Frankie Dettori win the Stewards' Cup, but the Saturday card needs another attractive contest, says James Burn
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Goodwood is glorious but are there tweaks that could make it even better? Here, the Racing Post's reporting team home in on an area of potential improvement, while also selecting a horse to take out of the meeting . . .

JAMES BURN

My thought to swallow . . .

Plenty of people relish the opening days of Cheltenham and Royal Ascot and it makes sense to start with a bang, but there does not seem much wisdom in finishing with a whimper, as with Goodwood's card on Saturday.

Moving the Nassau Stakes to Thursday boosts that bill, and the Vintage, Lennox and Goodwood Cup – now a Group 1 – mean Tuesday ticks a lot of boxes, but a Saturday with the Stewards' Cup as the feature lacks punch. Imagine if Ascot ended the royal meeting with the Wokingham as the final-day highlight.

It might be the big betting heat of the week, but sprint handicaps are hostage to draw, going and pace bias, so can sometimes be unsatisfactory.

The Stewards' Cup is worth £75,000 more than the Wokingham at £250,000, but that race is backed up by the Diamond Jubilee, Hardwicke and Chesham, which is becoming more and more fashionable.

Supporting the Stewards' Cup is the Gordon Stakes, which was a rather sorry five-runner affair this year, albeit perhaps because of conditions.

That is not normally the case – recent winners include the high-class Conduit, Harbinger, Highland Reel and Ulysses – but there might be a danger its significance as a St Leger trial is diluted with the Goodwood Cup now an option, a route John Gosden took with Stradivarius, a leading contender for the world's oldest Classic after his success on Tuesday.

The likes of Sir Michael Stoute may still treat the Gordon as a stepping stone for promising middle-distance horses, but perhaps it might be worth considering adding something flashier to the Saturday.

My horse to follow . . .

Mushahadaat

Brian Meehan thinks plenty of Mushahadaat, down the field as favourite in Wednesday's fillies' maiden. That is the second time she has started as market leader – she was second on debut at Newbury last month – but the testing surface and wild conditions prevented her from showing her best. Her half-sister Rathaath was a dual winner on firm ground at Bath, and she should be winning soon.


JON LEES

My thought to swallow . . .

With its motor circuit, Qatari backing, plus the odd appearance of Tom Cruise, Goodwood has become synonymous with the fast set.

The ten-year link with Qatar, announced with much fanfare at the end of 2014 as the biggest sponsorship deal in British racing history, resulted in an injection of £2 million into prize-money.

The Group 1 Qatar Sussex Stakes, worth just shy of £300,000 when Kingman won the race three years ago, was elevated to £1 million, becoming one of the most valuable mile races in the world.

Total prize-money for the week is now past £5m, crowds continue to flock to the fixture in record numbers and the public facilities are top notch.

Here Comes When (near side) beats Ribchester in the Sussex Stakes, but the contest has not become the world's best mile race, says Jon Lees

But, as the withdrawal of Churchill from Wednesday's Sussex Stakes because of the ground proved, money is not everyone's principal driving force.

The selective hiking of the prize-money of feature races has not delivered any better races. The Sussex Stakes has not become the world's best mile race. Last year that honour went to the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and in 2015 to the Prix Jacques le Marois, according to the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.

It appeared no accident that on the eve of Glorious Goodwood it was announced by York that it was adding another £60,000 to prize-money at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival.

Now no race at the four-day meeting, backed by a county rather than a country, will be worth less than £70,000. During Glorious Goodwood there are 17 races worth less. There is more work to be done.

My horse to follow . . .

Invincible Army

Down in trip and grade, he went off favourite for the Molecomb but his chance looked over soon after breaking from stall one in the five-furlong dash, well adrift of the main field with lengths to find on Havana Grey, who made full use of the stands' rail. Yet to his considerable credit he not only made up the lost ground but reached a position to challenge the winner a furlong out, only for that effort to take its toll in the final stages. He could be making amends in the Gimcrack.


DAVID BAXTER

My thought to swallow . . .

Having sat and watched the majority of this year's Goodwood festival from the comfort of the sofa, the overriding sense was that while a fantastic spectacle (bar Wednesday), the meeting is slightly bloated.

If you break down the composition of the 35 races for the five days, there are 18 handicaps, 13 Group races and four maidens.

Although, as you would expect, there is a good spread of distances and age restrictions for the handicaps, would losing a couple really make that much difference to the meeting as a whole?

On the Saturday, there is only one Group race, the Gordon Stakes. Compare that to Friday, when there are four Group races. Some strategic race movement could help bolster different days.

To casual viewers, and indeed racegoers, one race can look much like another, the main aim is to find the winner. But only the hardiest (or most masochistic) enjoy ploughing through handicap after handicap, especially as Goodwood's unique nature can throw up some tricky results.

Losing a day so the meeting starts on Wednesday would also heighten the difference between Goodwood's garden party feel and the pomp and ceremony of Royal Ascot. It becomes more of a relaxed getaway, rather than the marathon that Ascot can be.

Perhaps marketing the Saturday slightly differently could also be beneficial. May be a Group 1 on the first three days, then the big betting day on Saturday with some post-racing entertainment.

Music after racing does come with some problems attached, but an artist booked in accordance with the tone of Goodwood could help provide a fitting finale.

Starlight Mystery: remains on an upward curve and David Baxter rates her one to follow

My horse to follow . . .

Starlight Mystery

She was already on my radar after a series of progressive efforts through the season. Although her two wins have been on better ground, she has achieved her highest RPR of 86 (twice) in slower conditions, including when sixth in Thursday's nursery. But for a better passage she would have been a lot closer and she remains on an upward curve.


STEVE DENNIS

My thought to swallow . . .

Traffic problems are commonplace at Goodwood, but while it's easy to forgive jockeys who find themselves in trouble on the unforgiving downland switchback, it's not so easy to forgive what's been going on outside the course.

One of the problems with Goodwood is its situation – at the confluence of three minor roads, it appears unable to deal with the volume of traffic on the busy days of the Glorious meeting. This Bermuda Triangle in which tempers disappear without trace is made worse by shambolic traffic management and car parking that seems perversely quirky.

Surely there's enough room on the Goodwood estate to allow all racegoers to park in leisurely convenience, without being stopped, redirected, messed about, held up – if the perception of Goodwood is to be a 'big, smart racecourse', then that perception needs to come from without not just from within.

Some enjoyed the Goodwood parking arrangements, but Steve Dennis was not one of them, finding them 'unnecessarily vindictive' for journalists

And it's no surprise to find journalists at the bottom of the food chain – "sorry mate, all the spaces in your car park are being saved for jockeys" – but it seems unnecessarily vindictive to corral us more than a mile away and then provide a 'courtesy' bus that is nowhere to be found for the return journey.

Perhaps the elegant woman walking in the gutter on a narrow minor road on Wednesday evening, her husband adrift in the mess of cars having been told by some hi-vis martinet that he couldn't turn around, was somewhere near the truth with the observation that Goodwood spends so long staring adoringly at its benevolent sponsor that it has lost sight of its customers' requirements.

My horse to follow . . .

One Word More

It's a common tale: the seven-year-old challenged going well in the Betfred Mile but met trouble and had to be switched, losing all momentum. Once in clean air he finished purposefully but time ran out and fifth was all he could manage. One Word More hasn't won for more than two years but looks ready to end that barren spell off what will still be a fair mark after reassessment.


LEWIS PORTEOUS

My thought to swallow . . .

Despite some eyewatering prize-money on offer, including more than £2 million for the week's three Group 1 races, it remains a thorn in Goodwood's side that it struggles to entice more international challengers to its flagship meeting.

It is true France was on the scoresheet with Al Jazi in the Group 3 Oak Tree Stakes on Friday, and in the same race Germany was represented by Wild Approach, but there was a distinct lack of overseas challengers across the week, while a presence from outside Europe was non-existent.

Comparing any festival to Royal Ascot is unfair, but that is not to say Goodwood cannot learn from the success Ascot has had in bringing challengers from America, Australia and the Far East to the royal meeting in recent seasons.

French-trained Al Jazi won the Oak Tree Stakes under Frankie Detori, but Goodwood 'needs to drum louder for longer' to attract overseas runners, according to Lewis Porteous

Indeed, Ascot's recruitment drive for next year has no doubt already started, and Goodwood's top brass need to beat their commercial drum louder and for longer across the globe.

The track's managing director Adam Waterworth stated after last year’s meeting that he was committed to attracting a stronger international presence, and it was unlucky that Wednesday's drowning on the downs forced Wesley Ward to withdraw juvenile Happy Like a Fool, denying the meeting an American runner.

It is good to know he is eager to attract the top horses from around the world, although it did not happen this year.

It is true Ascot's international success did not occur overnight and that perseverance is key, but if it is to be recognised in the same league as the likes of the Breeders' Cup, Melbourne Cup and Royal Ascot – which should be its ambition – Goodwood needs to attract the best the world has to offer. Over to you.

My horse to follow . . .

Hold Sway

Was a beaten favourite in the 1m2f handicap on Thursday, having appeared in trouble from some way out. However, he still finished with some purpose and, back on decent ground, his current handicap mark is not beyond him.


TONY McFADDEN

My thought to swallow . . .

It never rains but it pours. Not only have you had your big day out dampened by more than a fortnight's rain in an afternoon, but in order to have your full money's worth of all seven thoroughbred races you have had to brave conditions for half an hour longer than on any other day because an Arabian race has been slotted in as the penultimate contest. That was the situation facing the wet and weary Goodwood racegoers on Wednesday.

Newbury's hugely successful annual Dubai International Arabian raceday – which has proved a big hit with families in particular –shows there is an appetite for the increasingly popular Arabian racing, and Wednesday's contest provided one of the most exciting finishes of the week.

However, it should surely be positioned last on the card – an added extra to those wanting to extend their day, having principally paid to watch top-level thoroughbreds. It should not be forced upon racegoers, leaving them with the predicament of whether to wait an hour from the penultimate thoroughbred contest to watch the last.

The rain exacerbated the issue, but people rarely like hanging around whatever the weather.

A minor quibble in the grand scheme of a thrilling week's racing, but a change that should be made if Goodwood is committed to putting the customer first across all areas.

My horse to follow . . .

Mildenberger

No match for impressive winner Expert Eye in the Vintage Stakes but caught the eye staying on well into third. By Teofilo out of a mare who won over two miles, Mildenberger's pedigree and running style suggest he is a sure-fire improver when granted a stiffer test of stamina, and this imposing type looks an exciting middle-distance prospect for next season.


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A Bermuda Triangle in which tempers disappear without trace is made worse by shambolic traffic management and perversely quirky car parking
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