And then there was one: but what a one.
With Royal Ascot’s much-heralded Gold Cup winner Subjectivist absent from the Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup because of injury, and the race’s modern-day legend Stradivarius ruled out by the latest contents of the hard-pressed West Sussex rain gauges, all eyes focussed in on our third marathon-running favourite, Trueshan.
Plus his rider Hollie Doyle, partner when the five-year-old revelled – and Stradivarius flopped – in just such saturated conditions in the Long Distance Cup on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot in October.
Plus his trainer Alan King, once regularly sovereign over jumps at the Cheltenham Festival where he has won 15 races, but now reaching dizzier and dizzier heights on the flat.
Ultimately, Trueshan delivered: true, it was not always especially pretty – the 6/5 favourite pulled hard – and the outsider Away He Goes took some fending off, but in the great tradition of the gritty stayer, many of which have lifted this top-level prize, the further they went, the further the distance by which he won.
At the first open-to-the-public Glorious Goodwood in two years, the crowd, which had exhaled a rasping sigh when the loudspeaker crackled the news that ‘Strad’ was scratched, cleared its throat for a series of full-throttled roars for Doyle, and indeed for King as he collected a first success at flat racing’s Group One level.
Doyle said: “It’s excellent because when I got a taste for success on Champions Day last year I got a bit more hungry and determined to get it more often so it’s great.
“I never really feel pressure, but today there was something hanging over me as I didn’t want to let anyone down.”
And it was not just the jockey: on firmer going at Ascot for the Gold Cup, it was Trueshan that missed the race, the day before the Friday rainstorm, and with things clearly ideal here for the Singula Partnership-owned horse, King was sweating a little too.
“I was okay until about one-thirty and suddenly the nerves really did kick in,” said the trainer whose string based at Barbury Castle, Wiltshire is now a probably-narrowing 60:40 in favour of national hunt.
“I threatened to go home because I’ve never saddled this horse to win, and I don’t think I’ve ever been there when he’s won a race, but it’s turned into a very special moment.
“Ascot was a no-brainer – you just cannot run this horse on quick ground – and luckily we’d decided to put him in at Newcastle for what was really an impossible task [when a creditable sixth carrying 9 stones, 13 pounds in the Northumberland Plate] but he needed to run, and the gods have been kind to us this week.”
The Lonsdale Cup at York – perhaps against Stradivarius – on the third of the four days of the Ebor Festival in August is now the plan with the Group One Prix du Cadran on Arc weekend and/or a defence of the Long Distance Cup at Ascot on the cards afterwards.
This all represented leg one of a 123-1 hatrick for Doyle, whose score for the year has sailed past the century mark – she followed up on Lord Riddiford in the five-furlong handicap and Sisters In The Sky in the Maiden staged over three-quarters of a mile – but the Goodwood Cup was the race about which everyone wanted to talk.
She said: “He was keen early on; we were hacking and that’s why I made the decision to go and sit on the girth of the leader which is where he took a breath and relaxed which is what I needed. And then he’s gone and outstayed them all hasn’t he.”
The absence of Stradivarius was disappointing if not entirely unexpected after the track’s umpteenth soaking of the month.
“It was a very difficult call,” said Gosden who walked the course with his joint-trainer-son Thady, “but this is not his game.
“We made the mistake of running him on the wrong ground, twice, on Champions Day [twelfth behind Trueshan] and at Longchamp [seventh in the Arc] – it’s the easiest thing to run and the hardest not to run but we had to do the right thing by the horse.”
A re-match from Ascot in October with Trueshan now looks likely in the Lonsdale Cup.
I wonder if York’s officials can produce conditions that will satisfy both: let’s hope so.