The biggest obstacle between Big Orange and a record-breaking third successive win in the Qatar Goodwood Cup was removed on Monday when Aidan O’Brien revealed Order Of St George would miss the staying showpiece.
The rematch between the Gold Cup protagonists, who were separated by a short head at the royal meeting after a memorable battle, had been billed as this year’s Duel On The Downs and was expected to be the highlight on the first day of the meeting tomorrow fortnight.
Big Orange got the better of the argument at Ascot and, in the unexpected absence of Order Of St George, is now a general 11-10 to win a race elevated to Group One status for the first time. You can get at least 10-1 on any other runner.
However, those tempted to pile in at that price should note that the race has been switched to the first day of the meeting and, unwittingly, that may work against the fast-ground specialist because Seamus Buckley, the clerk of the course, is aiming to provide going that has plenty of moisture in it.
He said: "I hate starting Festival week off on fast ground as it is a long week so I like to start off on goodish ground."
O’Brien will still be represented by US Army Ranger but it will be a surprise if the frustrating four-year-old, third in the Queen Alexandra Stakes on his latest start and without a win for 15 months, has the ability or resolution to master Michael Bell’s stable flagbearer who, it was also confirmed, will be re-united with Frankie Dettori.
“Order Of St George is having a bit of a midsummer break,” O’Brien said. “He’ll probably have a prep run for the Irish St Leger, then an autumn campaign. That is the plan.”
O’Brien broke the news via telephone to a surprised audience at the Qatar Goodwood Festival press launch, in London, in surreal circumstances - technical problems meaning his interviewer, Oli Bell, had to contort himself like a circus performer to ensure the Ballydoyle trainer’s word could be heard via a mobile phone and microphone.
The trainer, who has chalked up 11 victories at the highest level this year, did offer encouraging bulletins on Churchill and Winter, who are on course to contest the other Group One features at the meeting - the Qatar Sussex Stakes and Qatar Nassau Stakes on the Wednesday and Thursday.
Churchill was last season’s champion two-year-old and began this term with back-to-back victories in the 2,000 Guineas and Irish equivalent before finishing a laboured fourth in the St James’s Palace when sent off the heavily backed odds-on favourite.
“We are very happy with him and the plan is the Sussex,” O’Brien said. “Nothing come to light after Ascot. It was a very hot day in Ireland and avery hot day inEngland, may be it was a combination of the travelling in the warm weather but we are not making excuses. The main thing is that he’s fine and has come out of it well.”
Churchill is a top-priced 9-4 with Coral to bounce back with a bang in the Sussex and lower the colours of Ribchester, the general 11-10 favourite, who trainer Richard Fahey said has had no issues since landing the Queen Anne Stakes.
Winter has gained three successive Group One victories over a mile this term (1,000 Guineas, Irish 1,000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes) and will step up to a mile and a quarter for the first time.
"That is the plan, she has been good since Ascot," O'Brien said. "She is very straightforward and she does everything very naturally. We're happy with her at the moment.
"Looking at her performances at Newmarket and the Curragh, and even Ascot, you would think it [the distance] should be in her compass.
"We are looking forward to seeing her run over a mile and quarter."
Kevin Buckley, Coolmore's British-based representative, added Lancaster Bomber would be very likely to line up alongside Churchill in the Sussex and outlined other plans.
The Pentagon, who burst into the Derby reckoning with a runaway win at the Curragh over the weekend, has been pencilled in for the Vintage Stakes, while US Navy Flag, runner-up in the July Stakes at Newmarket last week, is bound for the Richmond.
In addition, Spanish Steps could contest the Gordon Stakes, with Spirit Of Valor earmarked for the Lennox. Washington DC has the King George on his schedule
“We should have a few runners every day,” Buckley said.
Advance ticket sales have been buoyant with a record crowd on the cards for day one.
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