NOT SINCE the distance of this afternoon’s Qatar Goodwood Cup (3.35pm) dropped back to two miles some 27 years ago has a bigger field assembled for the feature now run on the opening day of the meeting.
A field of 14 will go to post for a race that is being run as a Group One this afternoon for the first time since the inaugural running back in 1808.
Second guessing the weather at the moment isn’t easy, but the racecourse isn’t expecting any more rain after the 12mm that hit the track over the weekend.
At the time of writing, the going is described as good to soft, although that is likelier to ride nearer good come the race if forecasters are to be believed.
The main reason for the obsession over the likelihood of any further rain is the effect that would have on the chances of favourite BIG ORANGE.
The six-year-old, who won the Ascot Gold Cup on his latest start, is bidding to land the race for a record-equaling third time.
If he is successful, his name will be etched in the history books alongside Double Trigger, who won it three times in the late 1990s.
However, Big Orange is unquestionably a better horse on faster ground and that’s a cause for concern.
His career form stats on ground described as good to firm read 411111, while on good ground they just aren’t quite as impressive reading a somewhat mixed 17152030.
If the rain does reappear, it could well wash away his chances as his form on ground worse than good reads 461544.
At 4/5 with Ladbrokes he has to be opposed as I feel the race has been priced up as if it was being run on faster going.
That certainly won’t be the case and, even though I think he has improved this season, he simply has to be opposed with conditions against him.
Instead, there could be a little bit of value in taking a chance on James Fanshawe’s HIGHER POWER to take the huge leap from handicap company at a whopping 14/1 with Ladbrokes.
The five-year-old was gelded just over two years ago, he has gradually improved hitting the frame on all of his nine starts since.
He was a well beaten second behind Big Orange at Sandown in the Group Three Henry II Stakes two starts back, but has since won the Northumberland Plate last month carrying a big weight to do so.
Even though that performance is some way below what is required to win a race of this stature, it marks him out as a horse on the upgrade.
Without his favoured fast ground, Big Orange won’t find it quite as easy to gallop away from Higher Power as he did at Sandown and for that reason Fanshawe’s gelding has to be the call at the prices.
Regular readers of this column will remember I recommended QEWY in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot where he failed to see out the trip and finished fourth.
The drop back to two miles will be much more to his liking here and he could well hit the frame at 22/1 with Coral.
Looking at the others, it’s hard to dismiss Sheikhzayedroad if you can forgive him his disappointing show at Ascot last time.
Aidan O’Brien’s US Army Ranger finished second in last year’s Investec Derby and proved he stays this far in the Queen Alexandra Stakes.
However, he doesn’t find winning easy and isn’t a straightforward ride.
Mark Johnston can never be discounted at this meeting and Oriental Fox is well drawn to battle Big Orange for the lead from the off.
Finally, the two three-year-olds Desert Skyline and Stradivarius look to have it all to do on paper but get a healthy weight allowance.
John Gosden supplemented the latter for this race after his impressive win in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and a decent run here will see his St Leger odds plummet.
Desert Skyline was behind Stradivarius at Ascot, but improved to be second to Raheen House at Newmarket earlier this month.
David Elsworth is putting a pair of cheekpieces on him for the first time which may eke out a little more improvement.
Bill Esdaile's 1-2-3
- Higher Power
- Big Orange