Sussex Stakes: Is Poetic Flare getting even better?
Photo courtesy of Mark Cranham/focusonracing.com
Courtesy of Nicholas Godfrey of Thoroughbred Racing Commentary
Following the defection of world #1 Palace Pier with a blood disorder, Irish star Poetic Flare is set to start hot favourite for Wednesday’s Sussex Stakes, the Qatar-sponsored highlight of the 5-day Glorious Goodwood meeting.
The Jim Bolger-trained 3-year-old is bidding to become the first horse since the mighty Frankel a decade ago to complete the British G1 mile treble of the 2000 Guineas and Royal Ascot’s St James’s Palace Stakes before the Goodwood showpiece, which offers a fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile as part of the ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge.
Main threats to the favourite are headed by leading fillies Alcohol Free and Snow Lantern – one apiece in their growing rivalry – plus Aidan O’Brien’s shock Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Order Of Australia.
One of Europe’s most productive contests when it comes to finding Breeders’ Cup runners, the time-honoured contest is generally regarded as by some distance the most prestigious race among the three G1 contests at the famous festival on the picturesque Sussex Downs.
“It’s a very prestigious mile race,” says O’Brien, who also saddles Queen Anne Stakes runner-up Lope Y Fernandez for a race he has won five times. “It’s the ultimate test really – it’s up and it’s down and it’s left and right. They have to have speed and stamina and they have to be very versatile.
“It can be the ultimate test of a miler, physically and mentally. It’s a very important race in the pedigree of a horse going to stud.”
What is more, the Sussex Stakes is again worth £1 million this week after a Covid reduction to just £275,000 for 2020. The race is also part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
And one more thing: Keep an eye on the ground. Torrential downpours on Sunday meant the going was on the soft side of good.
Sussex Stakes: a bit of context
History: established in 1841, though as an entirely different race from the one we know today as it was a 6-furlong event for 2-year-olds! Chequered history in early days – not run some years, walkovers in others – before becoming a mile race for 3-year-olds in 1878, with older horses admitted in the 1960s. Now Glorious Goodwood’s pre-eminent contest, it has been won by a plethora of top milers, headed by Brigadier Gerard (1971), who strolled home by five lengths, and the only dual winner, Frankel (2011, 2012).
Star turn: Frankel (2012) After beating Canford Cliffs in a race billed as the ‘Duel on the Downs’ in 2011, the 4-year-old Frankel returned to Goodwood 12 months later for a comprehensive victory. Sent off 1/20, the unbeaten superstar treated his three rivals with disdain as he cruised home by six lengths from Godolphin’s Farrh – no slouch himself, as a pair of G1 wins the following season testified. It was to be Frankel’s final run over a mile before he closed out his racing career with two more wins in the Juddmonte International and Qipco Champion Stakes.
Most wins (trainer): Sir Henry Cecil (7) Bolkonski (1975), Wollow (1976), Kris (1979), Distant View (1994), Ali-Royal (1997), Frankel (2011, 2012).
Most wins (jockey): Sir Gordon Richards (8) Marconigram (1928), Corpach (1936), Pascal (1937), Radiotherapy (1946), Combat (1947), Krakatao (1949), Le Sage (1951), Agitator (1952).
Breeders’ Cup Challenge
The winner of the Qatar Sussex Stakes will receive an automatic fees-paid berth in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile at the 2-day championships at Del Mar on November 5-6. A minimum travel allowance of $40,000 will also be provided for all starters based outside North America.
Already qualified (5): Jet Dark (Queen’s Plate), Succeso (Gran Premio Club Hipico Falabella), Smooth Like Strait (Shoemaker Mile), Danon Kingly (Yasuda Kinen), Palace Pier (Queen Anne Stakes)
Breeders’ Cup past performance
Although last year’s brilliant winner Mohaather never ran again owing to injury, the Sussex Stakes continues in its role as a pivotal contest when it comes to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Circus Maximus, three-quarters of a length behind Mohaather at Goodwood, was also runner-up at Keeneland, where he was beaten a neck by the shock winner, his stablemate Order Of Australia. Siskin, third as 9/4 favourite in the Sussex, was ninth in the BC Mile, where Goodwood fourth Kameko started market leader.
What is more, the 2020 renewal was no outlier. Circus Maximus was also second in 2019, when he was fourth at Santa Anita, while Goodwood runner-up Expert Eye became only the second British-trained winner of the BC Mile in 2018. That year’s Sussex Stakes winner, Lightning Spear, was seventh at Churchill Downs; Britain’s only previous winner, Barathea, was also second in the Sussex Stakes, in 1994.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien is seeking his sixth winner of the Goodwood contest – and it is worth noting that four of the previous five ended up at the Breeders’ Cup. Among them, Giant’s Causeway (2000) and Henrythenavigator (2008) were narrowly beaten in the Classic, while Rock Of Gibraltar was a luckless runner-up in the Mile in 2002.
Among other Sussex Stakes winners to have appeared in the Mile in recent years are Toronado and Ribchester, who finished eighth and fifth respectively.
Top contenders for 2021
Poetic Flare (Jim Bolger/Kevin Manning) – tough customer would have completed 2000 Guineas double but for short-head defeat on heavy ground at the Curragh; confirmed status as Europe’s top 3-year-old miler with fine 4½-length victory in St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot; probable odds-on favourite in receipt of 8lb from older horses at weight for age.
Alcohol Free (Andrew Balding/Oisin Murphy) – G1 winner at two and three who gets all the allowances; kept on from off the pace to beat Snow Lantern in heavy ground Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot but ridden more prominently on faster when same rival turned around the form subsequently in G1 Falmouth Stakes; still beaten less than a length in game effort.
Snow Lantern (Richard Hannon/Jamie Spencer) – runs here rather than staying against fillies over further in Thursday’s Nassau Stakes after swooping late with fine burst inside final furlong to overwhelm rivals in high-class Falmouth (Alcohol Free third); Jamie Spencer deputises for regular rider Sean Levey, who is suspended.
Order Of Australia (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore) – surprise 73/1 winner of last year’s BC Mile; showed little on seasonal debut behind Palace Pier at Royal Ascot but picked up winning thread last time cutting back a furlong in G2 Minstrel Stakes at the Curragh; needs to step up again but should be suited by this sharp mile.
Tilsit (Charlie Hills/Kieran Shoemark) – Juddmonte homebred 4-year-old followed up promise of G1 second in France when justifying favouritism in G2 at Ascot; has now won at both at G2 and G3 level and still improving.
What they say
Jim Bolger, trainer of Poetic Flare
“He has been very well since the St James’s Palace Stakes. We’re very happy with his work and he seems to be improving further. I was expecting and hoping for him to win at Ascot, but possibly not as spectacularly as he did. He handles soft ground but he’s better on good ground. He is very well balanced, so I don’t think Goodwood holds any problems for him. He’s only had a break inasmuch as he hasn’t been racing, but he’s a horse who I have to keep moving and so it hasn’t exactly been a holiday.”
Andrew Balding, trainer of Alcohol Free
“I’m thrilled with Alcohol Free and she won’t mind what the ground is. She’s a high-class filly and the turning track seemed to suit her really well when she won at Royal Ascot, so I think Goodwood will suit her really well. At Newmarket in the Falmouth, it wasn’t the plan to make the running, and she rather set it up for the others. Hopefully if there’s some sort of pace to aim at she’s got a fairly electric turn of foot.”
Aidan O’Brien, trainer of Order Of Australia
“Order Of Australia has come out of last weekend’s win at the Curragh very well and the Sussex Stakes is a race which could suit him. He’s a hardy older horse who likes fast ground and a mile is probably his trip – he gets it very well. He can be ridden very forward and is happy making the running, although we’d be delighted to get a lead.”
Richard Hannon, trainer of Snow Lantern
“Snow Lantern looked a very good filly in the Falmouth, and she was probably at her strongest at the line, so I don’t think the longer trip in the Nassau would have been any problem, but we are sticking to a mile for now, as we know she is very good at the trip. The ground was a big factor too, as she showed she could handle the soft when she ran so well in the Coronation Stakes and one or two others might not be so good on it.”
Charlie Hills, trainer of Tilsit
“Tilsit is on the up – he’s still very lightly raced and is unexposed. He should get better with the more racing he gets. His Group 1 defeat in France at the start of the season was frustrating as he was in front just before the line and just after the line. I was really pleased with his subsequent win in the Summer Mile at Ascot. He did it in great style. He won a Group 3 at the meeting last year, so we know he handles the track.”
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