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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Six things we learned on the Sussex Downs

Goodwood: Here Comes When (left) downs odds-on favourite Ribchester in an epic battle for the Sussex Stakes
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Find the horse for the specific test

Here Comes When was the perfect reminder that races are not always won by the best horse, but by the horse best suited to the test.

Now the best horse will have a natural advantage that may not be fully eroded by conditions that are sub-optimal, but when things are as extreme as they were in the Sussex Stakes – both in terms of Goodwood's unique undulations and the torrential conditions – then races are decided by the horse least inconvenienced by the test.

Extremes of course suit specialists just as much as extremes of ground and Here Comes When was the least inconvenienced in the field by the undulations and heavy ground. Conditions brought the rest down to his level and he took full advantage of the golden opportunity.

Winter wondrous

As much as being well suited to the specific test is important, when you have as much in hand over your rivals as Winter it is less important. Like last year's Nassau winner Minding she is simply a class above the other fillies this season with the exception perhaps of Enable.

A clash between the two would be mouthwatering, but now Winter has proven her proficiency for a mile and a quarter it is unlikely we will see Enable drop back and as good as Winter is it is likely connections will feel Enable has too much in her favour at a mile and a half - however the Arc is the Arc and if it is going to happen anywhere it will be at Chantilly. If it does the rest may be racing for third, but in all likelihood she will drop back to a mile.

Abdullah has another good one

Khalid Abdullah's small (by the standards of Middle East rulers and bloodstock magnates) and select (by any standard you like) breeding operation has another potential superstar on its hands in the form of Expert Eye, who galloped all over - and then pulled right away from - his rivals to add his name to the glittering honour roll of the Vintage Stakes.

Sir Michael Stoute does not push his two-year-olds, so Expert Eye has got to where he is already on natural talent alone. If following the natural Stoute progression from two to three he could be a superstar. Maybe he already is, Andrea Atzeni said he had never sat on a two-year-old as good and that is saying something for the jockey who has won each of the last four renewals of the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy.

Nunthorpe no cakewalk

Lady Aurelia will not have the cakewalk in the Nunthorpe many expected after her authoritative King's Stand display. Three days before her Royal Ascot romp, in the Listed Scurry Stakes at Sandown, Battaash was winning his first race since landing his maiden on debut. At the time Lady Aurelia blasted up the Ascot straight he did not seem a threat.

Battaash impressed in the Group 2 King George on Friday

But since then Battaash has added the Group 3 Charge, also at Sandown, and Goodwood's Group 2 King George. He has taken each step up comfortably in his speedy stride, and now one more into Group 1 class beckons with the Nunthorpe.

On a straight line through Profitable, who chased both horses home on his two most recent starts, there is less than a length in it with Lady Aurelia beating him three lengths and Battaash pulling two and a quarter clear.

Weighty issue

Is it time to rethink weight allowances in Group 1s? Weight for age and the fillies allowance has made a mockery of several in recent weeks. Enable carried a stone less than Ulysses in the King George. Stradivarius denied Big Orange a third Goodwood Cup carrying 13lb less.

Stradivarius benefited from the age weight allowance when winning the Goodwood Cup

Here's the rub. Group 1s are the absolute pinnacle. To win them you should have to be the best, not the best at the weights. Three-year-olds and fillies, the two pools of horses who receive weight in open Group 1s, can run in Group 1s restricted to their peers. If they want to compete in open company they should do so as equals.

A precocious - and highly talented - three-year-old filly is almost unbeatable under the current system and it does not serve the sport. Yes it means three-year-olds can be wheeled off to stud as multiple Group 1 winners every year, but if we really want to find the best they should have to do it off levels. Then we would have a true champion.

If it has the added benefit of forcing more to stay in training at four, all the better.

To win a Group 1 you should have to be the best, not the best at the weights
E.W. Terms
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