Alex Hammond reflects on the Qatar Goodwood Festival and looks ahead to the Shergar Cup

Alex reflects on the recent action
Alex reflects on the recent action

Alex Hammond reflects on the Qatar Goodwood Festival and looks ahead to the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup and other weekend action.

Another dramatic Qatar Goodwood Festival – what were your highlights?

Pinatubo was breathtaking in winning the Qatar Vintage Stakes, but despite his impressive performance, I'm not rushing to back him for the QIPCO 2000 Guineas next season just yet (7/2 favourite with Sky Bet). He's looks like a real two-year-old, that's not to say he won't train on and be a star at three, but there are bound to be horses we haven't laid eyes on yet that will come and give his owners Godolphin something to think about over the winter months.

Pinatubo wins the Vintage Stakes
Pinatubo wins the Vintage Stakes

I'll be the first to admit I have tried to find horses to beat Stradivarius this season and it was an error. I had got hung up on the fact that after his win in the Yorkshire Cup on his seasonal reappearance he was calling (neighing) on his way back into the winner's enclosure. I took that as a sign that he didn't have his mind on the job as a five-year-old entire.

Stradivarius again has the measure of Dee Ex Bee
Stradivarius again has the measure of Dee Ex Bee

Well, he's maybe getting wiser as he's getting older and just wins by as far as he needs to, but he certainly has his mind on the job and is a staying superstar. He isn't slow either and there was mention after his third successive Qatar Goodwood Cup victory on Tuesday that a race like the Arc might be under consideration in the future (not this year). Now there's a tempting proposition.

I can barely mention Beat Le Bon without cringing because I really fancied him for the Britannia at Royal Ascot but when the rain came there he was a non-runner. He's now won twice since, without my support, and his victory in the Unibet Golden Mile smarts a bit because I was at the Ashes Test in Edgbaston on the Saturday of Glorious Goodwood and didn't back him.

It would be remiss of me not to add Khaadem into the mix after his smooth success in the Unibet Stewards Cup for trainer Charlie Hills. He is clearly a Group-winner in the making and this three-year-old has the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock as a possible target now. He cost serious money as a yearling, but the 750,000 guineas wasn't money down the drain and this colt has an exciting future. He's 6/1 with Sky Bet for the Group One feature next month.

Deirdre's win could have huge implications for racing in Britain and they are all good. For a horse trained in Japan to come over and win the Qatar Nassau Stakes, one of the most prestigious Group Ones of the season, is huge and will hopefully encourage more horses from that part of the world to pit their wits against the European trained horses in Britain.

Oisin Murphy celebrates on Deirdre
Oisin Murphy celebrates on Deirdre

Whilst that may have been ground breaking, the most significant winner of the week came in a race that would otherwise have been overlooked by anyone other than the most avid racing fan (or a friend or family member of one of the riders).

The Magnolia Cup has never been taken very seriously, despite its great work in helping to raise huge sums of money for charity. This year was different. Khadijah Mellah is a name we should all remember and be thankful for.

You shouldn't need me to tell you by now that the 18-year-old became the first jockey to ride in a race wearing a hijab and not only did she take part just months after first sitting on a racehorse, but she won it!

Hopefully the victory will signify a turning point in our sport, she is a phenomenal role model and that is what youngsters need. I hope the Ebony Horse Club (where she was first introduced to horses) get the support they need to encourage more kids to think that horse racing is an industry they may want to get involved with and work in. This industry can seem impenetrable to those not born with a connection to it and a visible story like this shows the door is ajar if you are willing to give it a shove.

Khadijah Mellah
Khadijah Mellah

News over the last week that Calyx and Too Darn Hot have been retired. How disappointed are you that their racing careers are over?

I was contemplating putting Too Darn Hot into my highlights of the week, but whilst it was satisfying to see him win the Qatar Sussex Stakes, the manner of his victory wasn't the same as his devastating display over seven furlongs at Deauville in the Prix Jean Prat on his previous outing.

That doesn't mean that it isn't sad that his racing career is over, but for me, he never really lived up to expectations after his incredible champion juvenile campaign. Again, not through a lack of quality performances, but he'd set the bar very high and carried huge expectation into his Classic campaign. The small setback he suffered in the spring that meant he wasn't able to run in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and seemed to set the tone for what was to come.

He didn't stay as well as hoped in the Dante at York and it was disappointing to seem him only finish third in the St James's Palace Stakes to Circus Maximus and King Of Comedy. Whilst he put that defeat to bed at Goodwood with his Royal Ascot conqueror in second, it didn't look a breath-taking performance.

I've mentioned before that it's disappointing there isn't a Group One over seven furlongs in Britain as that would have been right up his street. That's irrelevant now and I think he will be a popular addition to the impressive stallion roster at Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud in Newmarket. As a son of Dubawi (who himself is based at Dalham Hall Stud for a fee of £250,000 a pop) he will attract some top quality mares and we can now look forward to seeing his progeny on the track in a few years.

Too Darn Hot masters Circus Maximus
Too Darn Hot masters Circus Maximus

Unlike Too Darn Hot, Calyx definitely failed to realise his potential as a three-year-old. It seems an odd comment to make about a horse that won three of his four career starts, but despite all his natural talent, he never even ran in a Group One.

Granted he was sensational when beating Advertise in the Coventry as a juvenile and we all know how that form has worked out, but you can't grade a career on what could have been "if" he'd been 100% fit.

The fact remains he won a novice stakes, the Coventry, the Group Three Pavilion Stakes and was runner-up to subsequent Commonwealth Cup third Hello Youmzain in a Group Two at Haydock.

It's disappointing that he never had the opportunity to prove he was capable of winning at the highest level as a three year-old and beyond. Despite that, he will quite rightly be popular at stud, but it's a shame we didn't get to enjoy him for very long. Spare a thought for John Gosden and his team who have had to wave goodbye to two of their top class horses within a short time frame.

Calyx streaks clear in the Commonwealth Cup Trial at Ascot
Calyx streaks clear in the Commonwealth Cup Trial at Ascot

It’s the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup on Saturday – what are you most looking forward to at Ascot?

I'm really looking forward to being at Ascot on Saturday for Sky Sports Racing. I made that comment when I was on-air at Windsor on Monday evening and was tweeted by someone who was quick to pooh-pooh my comments as folly, saying they didn't like the meeting. In its early days there were many people who knocked the event and many of us hadn't quite grasped the concept of a team competition in racing.

However, it has grown in stature every year over the past two decades (yes, it’s been going that long) and is now one of the most popular days on the calendar with the public. Success in life always relies on embracing change and Ascot have done that and been handsomely rewarded as a result. So what am I most looking forward to?

I can’t wait to see some of the best jockeys in the world working together as a team and soaking up the electric atmosphere that comes with the whole experience (think Ryder Cup but for horse racing). Ascot will be buzzing and it will be fun to see these world class riders getting to grips with an unfamiliar track. Nowhere puts on a show quite like Ascot racecourse and on Sky Sports Racing we’ll have plenty to entertain you; you won’t miss a moment of it with us on the day and I hope you all enjoy and appreciate the concept by 4.30pm on Saturday.

PS. Look out for anything Frankie Dettori is riding at Haydock as he doesn’t give up the opportunity to ride at Ascot easily. Our old friend Wissahickon has plenty to prove in the Rose of Lancaster Stakes, but he could go well and is a 3/1 shot with Sky Bet.

Wissahickon pulls clear in the Cambridgeshire
Wissahickon - good bet at Haydock under Frankie Dettori


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