ONLY nine runners have been declared for this afternoon’s Qatar Sussex Stakes (3.35pm), but what the field lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in terms of quality.
We have been lucky enough to have witnessed some great duels on the Downs in recent seasons and with RIBCHESTER and CHURCHILL among the final nine, the stage is set for another one.
Frankel beat Canford Cliffs back in 2011, while Toronado was too good for Dawn Approach two years later.
This year’s match-up sees multiple Group One winner Ribchester, a fast-finishing third in this race 12 months ago, take on dual Guineas hero Churchill in another intriguing clash of the generations.
The classic generation have won 12 of the last 20 renewals of this prestigious prize and an even closer inspection reveals they have been successful in seven of the last nine runnings.
However, I’m prepared to stick with the older horse Ribchester at 10/11 with Ladbrokes here on the back of three Group One wins in his last five outings.
He has won both his starts this campaign, including an impressive seasonal reappearance in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.
He then followed that with an equally dominant show in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
That latest win came on ground that was fast enough to be of mild concern for connections, so any forecast rain would be a benefit rather than a hindrance.
As for Churchill, he would have been a warm odds-on favourite for this contest if he hadn’t lined-up in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
For whatever reason, the son of Galileo just didn’t fire that day, finishing a well beaten fourth behind Barney Roy.
Whether it was just a result of a busy early season schedule that saw him win both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas, we just don’t know.
Connections stressed that nothing obvious came to light after the race and felt his flop was down to the fact that it was the hottest day of the year and he overheated.
If the weather forecast is to be believed then he won’t have that problem this afternoon, with the race more likely to be run in rain than sunshine.
The three-year-olds get a 7lb weight allowance from their elders here and Enable showed us all just how handy a weight concession can be when streaking clear in the King George on Saturday.
There is no getting away from the fact that Churchill is a special colt, I just think he may meet his match in Ribchester who seems to be getting better with age.
The terms of the race means there shouldn’t be much between the pair, but I’d like a little bit bigger than the 7/4 on offer about Churchill to jump ship.
If there is to be a turn up, then it looks most likely to be French colt ZELZAL who could upset the party.
He won the Group One Prix Jean Prat on his penultimate start as a three-year-old and was beaten by overdone waiting tactics on his reappearance.
Whether he is quite good enough to mix it with the big two here remains to be seen and his stable still don’t seem to be firing on all cylinders.
Looking at the others and regular readers of this column will know that I am a huge fan of Aidan O’Brien’s Lancaster Bomber, who once again will take up a pace-making role for Churchill.
The key to this colt is lightning fast ground and he won’t get that even if the forecast rain stays away.
He’ll lead them into the straight, but will be vulnerable at the business end.
The likes of Here Comes When and Kool Kompany look very much in the deep end here, but it would be no surprise to see Lightning Spear run well.
He was a good second to Ribchester on his reappearance, but things haven’t gone to plan since.
Something was definitely amiss at Royal Ascot when he trailed in a well-beaten ninth and the step up in trip didn’t suit in last month’s Coral Eclipse.
He has won at the course, but has finished behind Ribchester in all five of their meetings and that pattern looks set to continue.
Bill Esdaile's 1-2-3