It was to have been, if not a glorious return, at least an encouraging one. On the Stewards’ Cup day which concluded Goodwood’s flagship meeting last Saturday, spectators — 5,000 of them — were to have been admitted to a British racecourse for the first time since lockdown. Course director Adam Waterworth and the Goodwood team had spent £100,000 preparing to keep the pilot scheme crowd not just happy but secure. Carefully socially distanced and out in the open air, the 5,000 would have been far safer than those crowding south coast beaches that same day or drinking at inner- city pubs the night before.
But a last-minute change of heart by a Covid-engulfed government consistent only in its inconsistency saw the pilot scheme summarily scrapped overnight. You really do have to feel for the Goodwood team, whose initiative was typified by the rapid decision to turn the 900 punnets of strawberries purchased for the would-be racegoers into jam and distributed to local food banks. Racing is continuing behind closed doors and media rights continue but courses like Goodwood obtain 80 per cent of their revenue from paying customers and if things go on much longer like this we will start to see the closure of some much-loved racetracks.
The irony is that this year’s Glorious Goodwood provided some of the best racing I have ever seen there. Diehards of the winter game used to complain that compared with the winter sport, when horses racing up to 10, 11 or 12 years old become crowd-familiar characters, most Flat racing stars’ careers are over in a flash before we have come to know them as individuals. Not so here. This year we watched enthralled as the six-year-old Stradivarius, already a three-times winner of Ascot’s Gold Cup, had to be extricated by Frankie Dettori from the far rail pocket that has been the undoing of many great jockeys and horses, and then scorch through all the gears to catch Nayef Road before the line and win a fourth Goodwood Cup.
Trainer John Gosden then confirmed that the gutsy stayer may well now take on his King George heroine Enable in Paris as she seeks a third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe this autumn, giving Frankie an enviable but agonising choice of mounts (I bet he goes for Enable). On top of that we had the Charlie Hills-trained Battaash, surely the fastest horse in the world at present, scorching a new course record for five furlongs as he won the King George Qatar Stakes for the fourth time at the age of six. In the Stewards’ Cup itself, we saw a truly memorable victory by Summerghand, trained by David O’Meara and ridden cleverly by Danny -Tudhope. Carrying top weight of 9st 10lb in a 27-horse charge, one of the most consistent handicappers in training at last secured the Heritage handicap prize he has for so long merited.
Some used to argue that, glorious as it is, the more informal Goodwood cannot provide quite the equine class of Royal Ascot, but I doubt that there will be a race in Europe before the Arc of quite the same quality as this year’s Sussex Stakes. Effectively the milers’ championship, the field included, in Kameko and the unbeaten Siskin, the winners of two Classics — the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas. Then there was Wichita, a neck behind Kameko in the English Guineas, and Vatican City, second to Siskin in the Curragh version. A third contestant from Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle school for champions was Circus Maximus, winner of three Group 1s including this year’s Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot. My hope, having topped this column’s list of Twelve to Follow with him, was Mohaather, an unlucky loser at Ascot, I thought, when caught behind a wall of horses. It looked for a while as though history was to be repeated as Mohaather’s inside route was blocked. Jockey Jim Crowley had to risk pulling him back and taking him the long way round past the pack, but even in such a stellar field Mohaather then had the acceleration to pass them all, while it was champion jockey Oisin Murphy’s turn on Kameko to stay trapped in the rail pocket.
Mohaather is a truly exciting speed horse who has brought a welcome change of luck to trainer Marcus Tregoning, whose last Group One was the Derby he won with Sir Percy in 2006. Whichever rag you read, news of victory by a Tregoning horse is invariably prefaced by ‘his popular trainer’ and I was pondering just what it is that makes us reach instinctively for that phrase.
Approachability and unvarying good manners are part of it. So is respect for a man who had to start again almost from scratch on moving from Lambourn to Whitsbury without so many quality Hamdan horses. Perhaps above all it comes from the way Marcus is serious about the things that matter but never makes the mistake, as some in racing do, of taking himself too seriously. Anyway, Mohaather’s triumph couldn’t have happened to a better yard.