|Qatar Goodwood Festival|
|Dates: Tuesday 30 July to Saturday 3 August Venue: Goodwood racecourse Coverage: Updates and commentaries on BBC Radio 5 Live|
Five days of high-quality horse racing and top socialising are in store at the Glorious Goodwood meeting, which starts on Tuesday.
Here are a few of the highlights to look out for.
Dettori and Gosden to continue their golden summer?
Frankie Dettori and John Gosden make up the most formidable jockey/trainer team in British flat racing, and have enjoyed major success practically weekly during the heart of the 2019 season, notably with superstar mare Enable.
And it’s widely anticipated that their lucrative run will continue at Goodwood, a racecourse with which both have a special association.
The track was the scene for a then 16-year-old Dettori’s first UK winner – on a horse named Lizzy Hare in June 1987, if you’re looking for a good quiz question – and he’s the ‘Glorious’ fixture’s top current jockey.
Gosden, meanwhile, has long been a regular at the course having been raised across the Sussex Downs in the formerly thriving racing community at Lewes, where his father ‘Towser’ Gosden trained.
Here are some of their big races:
- Tuesday: Stradivarius, bred by his owner, the financier Bjorn Neilsen, attempts to emulate Double Trigger, a great of the 1990s, by winning the two-mile Group One Goodwood Cup for a third time; Dee Ex Bee and Cross Counter, runner-up and fourth respectively behind him in the longer Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, take him on again.
- Wednesday: It’s another star name owned by his breeder – Too Darn Hot, who runs in the silks of Andrew Lloyd-Webber – who is the big hope for the Group One Sussex Stakes. After three near-misses to start off his campaign, the three-year-old returned to winning ways at Deauville, France early in July. Royal Ascot winners Circus Maximus and Lord Glitters will provide stern opposition.
- Thursday: Team Gosden sends Mehdaayih to the Group One Nassau Stakes looking to win a first top-level prize after suffering a particularly luckless run in the Oaks at Epsom. She is likely to face Classic winners Hermosa, trained by Aidan O’Brien, and Channel.
Khadijah Mellah: an extraordinary journey
While 18-year-old Khadijah Mellah awaits her A-level results, she’s been preparing to take part in the ninth staging of the Magnolia Cup, a charity race for female riders only.
What makes the story of the Muslim teenager from Peckham in south London so striking is that although she’s been an active participant at the inner-city Ebony Horse Club in nearby Brixton, she had not sat on a racehorse before April 2019.
Having completed her exams, Mellah, who, it’s believed, will be the first person to wear a hijab in a horse race, has been training extensively for the five-furlong and 110 yards (1,110m) flat race being staged on the third day of the fixture to raise funds for the Wellbeing of Women healthcare charity.
She will be on the Charlie Fellowes-trained Haverland against rivals including dual Olympic cycling gold medallist Victoria Pendleton – who rode over jumps at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival – BBC weather presenter Alexis Green and the TV personality Vogue Williams.
A film is being made about Mellah’s story in which she says: “There’s quite a stereotype around Muslim girls and them not being able to follow their sporting passions and dreams.
“I want to be a role model to anyone who wants to do something that they wouldn’t initially believe was in their comfort zone.”
Johnston closes on Goodwood record
All sorts of horses and races have ‘made’ Mark Johnston, now Britain’s most successful ever racehorse trainer, but his association with Goodwood comes high up the list.
Among the early successes that really put his name up in lights were those by Double Trigger, who was brought on the near-600-mile round trip from Johnston’s Middleham, North Yorkshire base to win the Goodwood Cups of 1995, 1997 and 1998 – the first time memorably beating his year-younger brother Double Eclipse in a stirring finish.
Since then, dozens more runners have followed the same route south – although the trainer flies himself these days – and his winning tally during Goodwood’s big week of the year stands at 78, two short of Sir Michael Stoute.
It’s worth noting that Johnston – who has been top trainer during the week in six of the past 11 seasons – is frequently represented by more than one runner in a race, and the credentials of all need to be scrutinised.
Leading the charge, as the stable looks for a sixth victory in the Goodwood Cup, is Dee Ex Bee – he has one length to make up on the favourite Stradivarius compared with their run in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot – while Dark Vision, which ran with credit when fourth at Newmarket’s July Festival, has a number of options during the week and has demonstrated a liking for Goodwood in the past.
Stradivarius not the only hat-trick seeker
The Charlie Hills-trained Battaash will attempt to win the King George Stakes for the third year running when lining up as red-hot favourite for Friday’s feature.
The colt, owned by Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum and due to be ridden again by his number one jockey Jim Crowley, has twice taken part in the five-furlong (1,000m) dash across the downs and twice he’s blitzed decent opposition.
Now five years old and ever more mentally mature, Battaash certainly has his favourite tracks: in three visits to Ascot and two to York, he’s never won, but he excels at Sandown and at Goodwood, where he is unbeaten in two visits to each.
Hills and his team have high hopes that both Battaash and the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Phoenix Of Spain, who races in the Sussex Stakes, can gain glorious compensation after both suffered defeats when fancied at Royal Ascot.
Quality racing and a glorious heritage
A new race being staged in 2019 – the Alice Keppel Conditions Stakes for fillies, on day two – recalls the fact that although Glorious Goodwood has long hosted quality horses, the social side of the event has at times been just as racy – perhaps more so.
No-one knew that better than Edward VII, an almost annual fixture at the meeting when Prince of Wales and then as King, accompanied by his wife Alexandra, but also – and it’s unclear exactly how this all worked – by an array of mistresses who included the aforementioned Mrs Keppel.
She is not the first of the King’s lovers to be remembered at the track: another, the actress Lillie Langtry, has a mile-and-three-quarter race named after her, staged since 2003 on the fifth and final day.
Talking of history, when John Hunt and I clear our throats for Radio 5 Live’s first-day coverage, we will be marking the 72nd anniversary – to the day – of the BBC’s involvement at the course, which started on 30 July, 1947.