A wise and weary old racegoer once said that the difference between praying in a church and praying on a racecourse is that at the track you actually mean it. The modern and Moët-merry new racegoer says that the difference between Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood – and the only difference – is that less is more at Goodwood; less formal, more relaxed.
This is true. But this is number 42 on the priority list of differences between Ascot and Goodwood, affecting only the minority who have the time, title or trust fund to attend both, and, moreover, the minority within the minority who glide around the premier enclosures and appreciate race-day vetting over betting.
The punter-perspective differences between Ascot and Goodwood are profuse and profound, and to highlight them, doing the groundwork for the battleground, here’s a crash course in Goodwood.
Number 1: It’s a crash course. The PPPP, the Pompous & Pretentious Pundits Panel, of which I’m a paid-up member, like to use the words ‘unique’ and ‘idiosyncratic’ to describe Goodwood, because it’s Goodwood, and it’s Glorious, while saving the phrases ‘dog track’, ‘hellhole’ and other types of hole for the less glamorous locations of Brighton and Tramore.
It’s a crash course because the course is modeled on a ski slalom and the horses regularly crash into each other, the twists and turns, dips and descents making it an unlevel playing field, more so when the players are half a ton each, and around Goodwood it’s a case of the bigger the field the bigger the certainty of trouble.
The stage is set, like wobbly jelly sets, but what turns the five-day play from a comedy to a drama and draws the A-list cast are the two most powerful forces in the world: tradition and tender – legal tender, and lots of it. The history dates back to 1840, when the Stewards’ Cup was first run, and the hard cash arrived in truck loads in 2015, courtesy of the Qatar sponsorship, another container lorry on its way this year to push the meeting prize money to nearly £5m.
The two Group 1s, the Sussex and the Nassau, are worth £1.6m combined, and more on them soon, but the real highlight of the week for many is the Magnolia Cup, the charity race on Ladies’ Day, which is kind of like Ab Fab meets It’s A Knockout, invariably delaying the Richmond Stakes while various loose horses are rounded up.
But let’s get back on point, to the differences between Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood, and if course configuration is second in the list then the top is the knowledge; the knowledge of what happened at Ascot and the lessons to learn for Goodwood, for punters and trainers and jockeys alike.
In the St James’s Palace Stakes at Ascot, Frankie Dettori was Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive or Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, the supposed support actor who ended up stealing the show. He mightn’t say it publicly, but for Ryan Moore it was one of those races he’d wish he could ride again. Well, guess what, he can, because the big three there are the same big three here in the Sussex sequel: Galileo Gold, The Gurkha and Awtaad.
Galileo Gold holds a pair of Aces, playing the lead role at Ascot and leading the role-play in the World of Track-Craft, already a winner at Goodwood, at this meeting last year. But The Gurkha is yet to show his full hand, and Timeform believe he was the best horse in the St James’s Palace, with the sectional times as Exhibit ‘A’.
It’s a simpler equation than in the Eclipse, where the multiplication [10f x soft ground x Sandown hill] proved too demanding, which was lesson number two, following on from the basic maths of Royal Ascot [Guineas winner + 5l head start = second best].
But Goodwood on Wednesday is The Gurkha’s graduation day W11/8f, and I’m backing him to get a first.
Minding is way past that stage, breezing her way to a Master’s Degree in the Nassau Stakes, where the track may test her – but none of her rivals will. She’s upwards of 4 lb clear of the rest on Timeform ratings.
She’s not really a betting proposition, but here’s three for the week that certainly are:
DUTCH CONNECTION: Lennox Stakes, Tuesday. Runner-up last year, but all the more ready and able for it this time around. If ever a race was tailor-made for a horse, this is it. Won 9/4f
MARSHA: King George Stakes, Friday. If ever another race was tailor-made for another horse, this is it. The faster the better for Marsha, and the 56-second gauntlet that is Goodwood’s 5f course is about as fast as it gets.
TOOFI: Stewards’ Cup, Saturday. Trained by Robert Cowell, which in itself is enough to jump aboard, but also boasts strong Goodwood form (second in this in 2015) and hasn’t so much caught the eye as pulled it out of its socket in two runs this season, all building towards this.