By Andy Stephens
Buick will be seeking a fourth Group One success aboard Ribchester in the showpiece race of the five-day Qatar Goodwood Festival, which has drawn a final field of nine. The combination combined to win the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May and followed up in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, but now comes the challenge presented by the classic generation.
So far this summer the three-year-olds have been getting much the better of the argument against their elders in domestic races at the highest level, courtesy of Lady Aurelia (King’s Stand), Roly Poly (Falmouth), Harry Angel (July Cup) and Enable (King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes). The only big race to have eluded them in recent weeks has been the Eclipse, in which Ulysses pipped Barney Roy by a nose.
“Ribchester has yet to take on the three-year-olds this year and we go there with plenty of respect for Churchill,” Buick said. “His defeat in the St James’s Palace seemed a big shock to his team, and you only have to go back to Newmarket to see what he is capable of.
Buick salues the crowd after winning on Ribchester at Royal Ascot(Racingfotos.com)
“A dual 2000 Guineas winner? You don’t take them lightly and I certainly don’t underestimate him. He gets the weight and he’s a big horse, a strong horse. The weight concession is massively in their favour [three-year-olds in general] and from this time of the year onwards they are maturing all the time.”
Buick first rode Ribchester when the Richard Fahey-trained son of Iffraaj finished third in the 2000 Guineas last year and has partnered him on six further occasions, including for his two Group 1 wins this term. Those races, like the Sussex Stakes, form part of the QIPCO Champions Series.
“He’s improved in every department since I first rode him, both mentally and physically,” he said. “He used to be a bit immature, very energetic, and it was hard to channel it in the right direction all the time. Now he’s really matured and he has turned into top-class horse.
“Richard and his team have done a fantastic job with him. A lot of it is down to them that he is so adaptable in a race. He seemed to enjoy it from the front at Newbury but, equally, he can come from behind. He has got the highest cruising speed of any horse I’ve ridden and he can quicken off it as well, which is a great asset for a miler.”
A feature of Ribchester’s triumphs at Newbury and Ascot is that he has hung in the closing stages, but Buick is unperturbed.
The 29 year-old said: “He went right at Newbury on very soft ground after being in front a long way, then at Ascot he went slightly left, but he’s always been slightly playful. He’s not a horse who stops and looks, he keeps going.”
In last year’s Qatar Sussex Stakes, Ribchester finished with a flourish after having to wait for a run and was beaten a neck and a short head in one of the best finishes of the season. At the time, Buick was suspended and had to watch from the sidelines.
“He was a bit unlucky 12 months ago, but he was not the finished article then,” he said. “Even so, it was still a very good performance - he nearly ran down The Gurkha and Galileo Gold.”
Ribchester, owned by Godolphin, seems likely to be retired at the end of the year. Buick intends to savour the races he has left on him but will not be resting on his laurels.
He said: “He’s a standout ride of the week for me and obviously he’s in the standout race. You go there with a job to do, you always have to look forward. He’s got the year left and a few more races left in him. It’s a case of getting the best result possible, getting the job done.”
Churchill had been carrying all before him before his defeat in the St James's Palace Stakes (Racingfotos.com)
Before his surprise reverse at Royal Ascot, when he started at 1-2, Churchill had won seven races in succession - four of them at the highest level. Aidan O’Brien, his trainer, remains puzzled by his subdued effort at the Royal Meeting, but has suggested that an extremely hot day in Ireland and England, with travelling in between, might have been a factor.
Churchill bids to become the ninth QIPCO 2000 Guineas winner to go on and win the Sussex Stakes in the same season since 1945. The past three to do so have been Rock Of Gibraltar (2002), and Henrythenavigator (2008) - both trained by O’Brien - and the mighty Frankel (2011).
O’Brien is also represented by Lancaster Bomber, who finished a length second to Barney Roy in the Queen Anne Stakes, having previously finished behind Churchill the five previous occasions they had met.
Zelzal, winner of the Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly last year, flies the flag for France. “He’s solid a Group 1 winner and Jean Claude-Rouget [his trainer] doesn’t send them over unless he thinks he can get something out of it,” Buick said.
Lightning Spear, Zonderland, Kool Kompany, Toscanini and Here Comes When complete the line-up.
Ribchester is a top-priced 11-10 with Paddy Power, with Churchill a general 7-4. Zelzal is 9-1, with the rest 16-1 or bigger.