Cheltenham, Aintree and Royal Ascot take some beating. But one of the most enjoyable periods of the racing year will soon be upon us.
Five days at Glorious Goodwood, preceded by the three-day King George weekend at Ascot. The cue for a racing holiday if ever there was one.
The charms and delights of Goodwood require little embellishment from me. Suffice to say there are few more pleasant experiences in the sport than an afternoon atop the Sussex Downs when the sun is shining. The view from the top deck of the Sussex Stand is spectacular.
Most importantly, this is a racecourse that is managed professionally, upholding standards of customer service that can only be admired. Those lucky enough, for instance, to bag a ticket for the Richmond Enclosure can guarantee that their day will not be spoiled by overcrowding.
Ascot’s fare is unmissable too, though. I must confess have a soft spot for the King George. It is the midsummer pivot of the Flat season and does not deserve the flak that has been chucked at it in recent years. Its critics, on the other hand, deserve to be lined up against a wall and, no, not shot, but set this simple challenge -- find me a bad King George and find me a bad King George winner.
Nestling alongside Ascot this Saturday are also fine cards from York and Newmarket, while Goodwood is supported the following Saturday by Doncaster and Newmarket again.
The racing is competitive and rich in quality, and usually made even more attractive for form-punters by the constant of good to firm ground.
To help you through the eight days, here is my top ten of what to look out for --
1. TELESCOPE V TAGHROODA
T In The Park had nothing on this. It’s T On The Heath, a duel in the King George to be relished. In one corner sits Sir Michael Stoute’s four-year-old who has finally blossomed into the horse who might, with a bit more luck, have won last season’s Derby. In the opposite corner sits John Gosden’s brilliant three-year-old filly, aiming to become the first winner of the Epsom Oaks to follow up in the King George since Pawneese in 1976. She receives a whopping 15lb age and gender weight-allowance, but Telescope boasts course experience, having blitzed to victory in the Hardwicke Stakes at the royal meeting last month in much the same style as Harbinger did, so memorably, for Stoute and the same connections in 2010 before turning this race into a procession. Fascinatingly, it isn’t just about these two, however. At better prices, the genius of Ireland (Aidan O’Brien) saddles MAGICIAN, while the genius of France (Andre Fabre) saddles FLINTSHIRE. Sit back and enjoy!
2. KINGMAN V TORONADO
We’re getting used to Duels On The Downs as crack milers go head to head in Goodwood’s Group One flagship contest, the Sussex Stakes. Richard Hannon’s Toronado saw off 2,000 Guineas winner New Approach last year, but faces a very different kettle of fish this time round in the shape of Kingman, whose narrow Guineas defeat had trainer John Gosden shaking his head in bewilderment but whose breathtaking subsequent wins in Ireland and at Royal Ascot had him purring with pride. Hannon’s charge looked good at the royal meeting himself, but he will need a career best to prevent the crowning of Frankel, Mark II here.
3. THE STEWARDS’ CUP BUST-UP
Struggling to find a sponsor for their showpiece handicap of the week, Goodwood opted, at the 11th hour, to accept a deal with online gaming casino, 32Red. Sadly, the deal entailed re-naming the race, throwing out of the window its 174 years of history that should surely be viewed by any potential sponsors as an asset, rather than a burden. Of course, Goodwood is grateful for 32Red’s money. But sponsorships should be partnerships that benefit all parties -- company, course and the sport. They should not be used as a tool for sabotage. One of the reasons punters are attracted to racing, and remain supporters of the sport, is because they identify with its races and its big racedays, just as they do with its horses, its jockeys and its trainers and stables. Mess about with the names, do away with the thread that connects the sport to the public and you run the risk of losing customers. I only mention all this again because it’s sure to come up in conversation if you’re going to Goodwood next week. Drop this question in: would the Tour De France ever be re-named Le 32 Red Bike Race?
4. THE BETFRED MILE
As well as the Stewards’ Cup, this is Goodwood’s heavyweight handicap of the week, with more than £80,000 going to the winner. Last year, Wentworth collected the cash and, in doing so, broke a remarkable trend that implores you not to have a bet until you know the draw. Ten of the last 12 winners have been berthed in stalls one to eight. You have been warned.
5. GROUP-RACE TWO-YEAR-OLDS
Enough of my ranting and raving now. Let’s get down to the serious business of finding a few winners. I write, obviously, long before declarations have been finalised, so instead, I have come up with a handful of horses in six different categories who are likely to be out in the next ten days or so and should give you a run for your money. Let’s start with juveniles who look capable of stepping up in class and mixing it in Group company:
BEACON (Richard Hannon)
ENLACE (Mark Johnston)
FENDALE (Bryan Smart)
FOX TROTTER (Brian Meehan)
HAWKESBURY (Charlie Appleby)
HIGHLAND REEL (Aidan O’Brien)
MURAAQABA (Mark Johnston)
6. TWO-YEAR-OLDS FOR NURSERY HANDICAPS
BRONZE MAQUETTE (Gary Moore)
LOUIE DE PALMA (Clive Cox)
NEW PROVIDENCE (Hugo Palmer)
SPRING OFFENSIVE (Richard Fahey)
Maybe also FENDALE and FOX TROTTER, listed in 5.
7. JUVENILES SURE TO WIN MAIDENS
ACCRA BEACH (Roger Charlton)
BASATEEN (Richard Hannon)
HOME OF THE BRAVE (Hugo Palmer)
LETHAL LEGACY (Richard Hannon)
MAHSOOBA (Ed Dunlop)
PRINCE GAGARIN (Ed Dunlop)
SHAHAH (Richard Hannon)
8. SPRINT HANDICAPPERS
GAMESOME (Olly Stevens)
MILLY’S GIFT (Clive Cox)
MUTHMIR (William Haggas)
OUT DO (David O’Meara)
RANDOM SUCCESS (Roger Charlton)
SECRET HINT (Andrew Balding)
TELMEYD (William Haggas)
9. SIR MICHAEL STOUTE HORSES
10. OTHER IMPROVING HANDICAPPERS
BATTERSEA (Roger Varian)
BILLINGSGATE (Charlie Appleby)
HOMAGE (William Haggas)
KIMBERELLA (David Nicholls)
KOSIKA (Mark Johnston)
MOOHAARIB (Marco Botti)
MOUNT LOGAN (Luca Cumani)
ROSEBURG (Luca Cumani)
SEA DEFENCE (Roger Charlton)
WANNABE YOURS (John Gosden)
WATER HOLE (John Gosden)