Last seen holding on grimly to dethrone Order of St George in the Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot, Big Orange now sets his sights on an historic three-peat in Tuesday’s Goodwood Cup (G1).
The staying fixture, newly elevated to Group 1 status this term, is one of Britain’s oldest prizes, dating back to 1812 – during the Napoleonic Wars and the dawn of the Regency period. The Goodwood Cup honor roll features such unbeaten legends as Hungary’s Kincsem (1878) and St Simon (1884), and in more recent times, all-time great stayers Le Moss (1979-80), Double Trigger (1995, 1997-98) and Yeats (2006, 2008).
Double Trigger ranks as the only three-time winner of the Goodwood Cup, but Big Orange is odds-on to join him in the record book. Should the Michael Bell charge prevail in the two-mile test, he would also become the only horse to win three straight runnings.
Big Orange is coming into this bid for history by a different route. The past two years, the son of Duke of Marmalade wired the 1 1/2-mile Princess of Wales’s (G2) at Newmarket’s July Festival on the way to the “Glorious” meeting at Goodwood. Now he’s exiting a harder race in the 2 1/2-mile Gold Cup. Although more grueling, the June 22 Gold Cup at least gives him more of a break between races.
The second through fourth-place finishers from last year’s Goodwood Cup – Pallasator, Sheikhzayedroad, and Wicklow Brave – are back to challenge again. Runner-up Pallasator was questionable to line up, with trainer Sir Mark Prescott not sure if he’s at his best after one subpar start in 2017, but the mercurial character is in the final declarations. Pallasator would be taking his third crack at this race, having finished fourth to Big Orange in 2015 too. Sheikhzayedroad has likewise chased him home for the last two years, improving from a sixth in 2015 to third last season.
Third in the March 25 Dubai Gold Cup (G2) on World Cup night, Sheikhzayedroad was sixth to Big Orange at Royal Ascot in his first outing back home. Others hoping to reverse Gold Cup form with Big Orange are She Is No Lady (fourth at 50-1), Sweet Selection (seventh) and Prince of Arran (eighth).
Higher Power was a distant second to Big Orange two starts back in the Henry II (G3). The upwardly mobile five-year-old just annexed the Northumberland Plate over Newcastle’s Tapeta, and further progress would bring him closer to Big Orange.
Since Big Orange at his best has the measure of his familiar foes, his most intriguing challenges could come from elsewhere.
Godolphin’s Qewy, who adds cheekpieces for the first time since his hurdling days, has some longshot appeal at 20-1. The Charlie Appleby trainee improved markedly when returning to the Flat last campaign, just missing as the 136-pound co-highweight in a Royal Ascot handicap and again at Glorious Goodwood before a productive venture to Australia. Twice a stakes winner Down Under, notably in the Geelong Cup (G3), the Street Cry gelding was fourth in the Melbourne Cup (G1). Qewy resumed with a fourth to Oriental Fox in Royal Ascot’s Queen Alexandra conditions race, and the cutback to two miles should help.
Also coming off the Queen Alexandra is Aidan O’Brien’s talented but frustrating US Army Ranger, now experimenting with a hood in hopes of making him more straightforward. Last year’s Epsom Derby (G1) runner-up (as the favorite) has since gone both up and down in trip, without finding the winner’s circle. Pitching him into the two mile, 5 1/2-furlong Queen Alexandra almost smacked of desperation, but his belated third suggested he might be worth trying over a more conventional staying trip.
The market is leaning toward three-year-old Stradivarius as the second choice to Big Orange. Aiming for the St Leger (G1) in the wake of his score in the Queen’s Vase (G2) at Royal Ascot, trainer John Gosden prefers this spot rather than carrying extra weight in a Leger prep in his own age group. Here he gets a 13-pound weight concession. You’ve got to go back years, though, to find Lucky Moon (1990) as the most recent sophomore to beat grizzled veterans in the Goodwood Cup. Fellow three-year-old Desert Skyline, a troubled sixth to Stradivarius in the Queen’s Vase, has gone on to finish second in the Bahrain Trophy (G3) at Newmarket.
With the withdrawals of Simple Verse and Dal Harraild, who would have been prime contenders, the Goodwood Cup field is rounded out by 2014 Prix du Cadran (G1) winner High Jinx, making his third start back from a two-year absence.
Big Orange isn’t the only star to grace the opening day of the five-day summer festival traditionally known as Glorious Goodwood. One race prior to the Goodwood Cup, Limato takes the stage in the Lennox (G2).
Most recently second to Harry Angel when seeking a July Cup (G1) repeat, Limato returns to this seven-furlong trip for the first time since last October’s conquest of the Prix de la Foret (G1). This also marks his first dip into Group 2 company in almost two years.
Yet the Lennox isn’t necessarily a cakewalk for the favorite seeking to snap a four-race losing streak. Librisa Breeze, an unlucky fourth behind The Tin Man, Tasleet, and Limato in the Diamond Jubilee (G1), is eligible to be happier back up to seven furlongs. That goes double for 2016 Challenge (G2) hero Aclaim, only eighth in the Diamond Jubilee but a specialist at this distance.
Godolphin is mob-handed with the top two from last year’s edition, Dutch Connection and Home of the Brave, reinforced by Jungle Cat and Frankel sophomore Dream Castle. O’Brien relies on another three-year-old, Spirit of Valor, who beat So Beloved, Stormy Antarctic, and Dutch Connection last time out in the Curragh’s Minstrel (G2).
The first stakes on the Tuesday program is the seven-furlong Vintage (G2) for juveniles.
Although Sir Michael Stoute hasn’t won this race since 2000 (with No Excuse Needed), the trainer best known for developing prospects over the long haul has an atypically sharp sort in Expert Eye. The Juddmonte homebred scored at first asking at Newbury, apparently living up to his pedigree. He’s by Acclamation, and his dam is a half-sister to European champion two-year-old filly and dual classic-winning miler Special Duty.
O’Brien, winner of two of the past three Vintages, sends out Seahenge. As a debut winner from this yard and a son of Scat Daddy, the $750,000 Keeneland September yearling could be above average. Unbeaten Mildenberger has won both of his starts at this trip for Mark Johnston, while Godolphin’s Zaman adds blinkers off his fourth in the Superlative (G2), Hugo Palmer’s Curiosity exits a pair of scores, Windsor Castle third James Garfield bolted up at Doncaster, and French invader Cold Stare is two-for-two after taking the Prix Roland de Chambure. Sallab doesn’t catch the eye on paper, but his human connections – owner Al Shaqab Racing of festival sponsor Qatar and trainer Richard Hannon Jr. – make him worth a look.