Frankel offered £1m carrot
Connections of the two most lauded racehorses on the planet, Frankel and Black Caviar, have been given a carrot of £1 million to square up in a showdown that would command attention far beyond the sport's regular audience, even during the Olympics.
With an aggregate of 28 wins from 28 starts between them, Frankel and Black Caviar have hitherto seemed unlikely to meet, even though the latter is being sent from Australia this summer to run at Royal Ascot.
But Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, who has invested heavily in the British Turf, has now raised the stakes to a level both camps may find hard to resist.
As sponsors of the Qipco Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on August 1, the Qatari sheikh and his brothers have promised to underwrite the prizemoney up to £1m from £300,000 should both Frankel and Black Caviar line up.
The bigger challenge, unmistakably, is to the Australian mare. Frankel included the Sussex Stakes among a series of superb wins on home soil last season;
Black Caviar, in contrast, would be running over a new trip, at a mile, as well as in a different hemisphere.
So far 18 of her 19 starts have been at sprint trips and while Goodwood is a sharp mile, and would make less demands of her stamina than any option at the distance before the Breeders' Cup, the Sussex Stakes would represent a heroically sporting risk on the part of her owners.
Nicky Henderson, meanwhile, is lining up a formidable squad at Aintree next week, even with Long Run and Bobs Worth both set to be put away for the season.
Sprinter Sacre, Finian's Rainbow, Simonsig, Oscar Whisky and Darlan are all set to defend Henderson's narrow lead at the top of the trainers' championship, with Burton Port now likely to tackle the Betfred Bowl rather than the John Smith's Grand National itself — in which Shakalakaboomboom is the stable's intended runner.
Richard Hills is set to remain a crucial part of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum's racing operation and the newly-retired jockey was at Lingfield to see his successor Paul Hanagan win on promising colt Muarrab.
Hills called time on a 33-year career, more than half of which was spent riding in the colours of the Sheikh, after Saturday's Dubai World Cup meeting but he will continue to offer assistance from both in the saddle and out.
“Angus Gold (racing manager) is in Australia at the moment so I'm going to be going racing and riding work,” confirmed Hills.
“Paul has been getting round a bit himself. I was riding on Saturday and I'm getting used to it (a new role), but I am very lucky Sheikh Hamdan offered me a job and I'm looking forward to the next chapter.”