The contrast with the thundering, dangerous maelstrom of racing round Goodwood is not confined to its setting. Yes, this twisting, undulating track is always a white-knuckle ride for horsemen — and for punters.
Sure enough, consecutive big races on the opening day turned on the finesse of masters who have long been especially at home with this unique environment.
Henry Cecil sent out his 65th winner at this meeting as Lord Shanakill continued to bloom in the seasoned hands of his new trainer; while Zebedee's impudent success bore the personal copyright of his rider, Richard Hughes.
Lord Shanakill, in his first season with Cecil, had been dropped in class to win at Chester earlier in the month and the dividends in his confidence were transparent in the Lennox Stakes. French raider Dalghar seemed to have them cooked halfway up the straight, but Lord Shanakill and Tom Queally just ran him down inside the last, while holding a wild finish from the rear by Cat Junior.
The winner had an accomplished record for Karl Burke,
prior to his suspension, but seemed to have reached a plateau until now.
This has always been one of Cecil's favourite meetings and nothing should be read into his absence. Indeed, he had leaped out of bed at 4.15 am, having brought forward his gallops schedule in order to come down and stay later in the week. (He saddles Midday in the Blue Square Nassau Stakes on Saturday.)
Richard Hannon is another trainer rolling back the years, albeit he professed that watching Hughes is liable to abbreviate his life expectancy. “If he keeps riding like that I'm going to have a heart attack,” he declared, after Zebedee was produced with studied insouciance in the final strides of the Molecomb Stakes.
Hughes had made his inten
tions plain before the race, attributing this colt's sole defeat — in the Norfolk Stakes — to incautious tactics. Hughes pounced on Stone Of Folca to win by just a neck, but never felt the faintest alarm.
“I was actually closer than I planned because they didn't go mad,” he said.
“He's got a super little dash, it's explosive, but only lasts about 50 metres and you have to save it to the end.”
Hannon reckons that he can last a sixth furlong and duly proposed the Gimcrack Stakes at York, where John Best will take on older horses with Stone Of Folca in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes.
A rematch at the same meeting is likely for both horses involved in a desperate finish to the Gordon Stakes, but the winner is unlikely to take their rivalry a step further in the Ladbrokes St Leger. Jeremy Noseda confessed “huge doubts” about Rebel Soldier lasting the longer trip in the Classic, and wonders if he might even be better dropped back to ten furlongs.
The last two Gordon winners, Conduit and Harbinger, both went on to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes the following summer. And Hughes, wearing the Harbinger colours on Martyr, completed a double with another elaborately cool ride in the last.
Really, when he's like this, you can't tell where the race stops, and the exquisite scenery begins.