Oisin Murphy is hoping Lightning Spear’s effectiveness at Goodwood can help the seven-year-old gain a deserved first Group 1 triumph in the £1m-plus Qatar Sussex Stakes on Wednesday.
The Qatar Racing-owned horse, who features among a final field of eight, must be one of the few horses in the modern era to have been placed in six Group 1 races - all of them falling under the QIPCO British Champions Series umbrella - without quite managing to win one. On three occasions he has been beaten under a length.
This season he has shown himself to be as good as ever, being beaten a short head by Rhododendron in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes before going down by half a length and a neck in last month’s Queen Anne Stakes, won by Accidental Agent, at Royal Ascot.
“This horse needs to win a Group 1 because he’s the most beautiful physical specimen with a good temperament and the pedigree,” Murphy said. “If we can get a Group 1 in the UK he would deserve his place at stud and, realistically, he would be an exciting stallion prospect.
“He’s been freshened up since Ascot and is in super order. As he gets older he’s not losing any ability. He’s won two Celebration Miles at Goodwood and he was placed in the Sussex last year when the ground was bottomless. I’d say the track probably suits him better than Ascot because there’s a turn.”
Reflecting back on his latest near-miss, at the Royal Meeting, when he traded long odds-on in running after hitting the front a furlong from home, Murphy said: “When you don’t win you look back and see what you could have done differently and, if I’m being a bit self-critical, I hit the front a little early.
“I led at the furlong pole, whereas the winner hit the front only about 100 yards or so from the line. I need to bear that in mind going forward. I thought the time was right to go because I didn’t feel we had gone overly hard, but we got racing in plenty of time.”
Standing in Lightning Spear’s way are two exciting three-year-olds who did manage to win at Royal Ascot - Without Parole and Expert Eye. The former, an unbeaten son of Frankel, won the St James’s Palace Stakes, while the latter trounced his opponents in the Jersey Stakes.
Without Parole has been ridden by Frankie Dettori in each of his three races but is side-lined - opening the door for Andrea Atzeni to partner the colt in a race for the first time. The pair had a getting-to-know-you spin over seven furlongs on the all-weather at Newmarket last week and Atzeni was impressed.
“He’s a gorgeous looking horse and, for a son of Frankel, very laid back, very cool and uncomplicated,” he said. “He’s a great ride to get.
“I spoke to Frankie about him and you can literally put him anywhere in a race. He doesn’t pull, stays the trip very well, is unbeaten and having had only four runs can only get better. They went a strong gallop at Ascot and it was a proper Group 1. He travelled good and was very tough.”
Atzeni rode Ostilio against Without Parole at Yarmouth in a novice event at Yarmouth in April. “He went past us and won by six lengths. What I liked about him was the way he got on with the job,” he said. “I finished [eight lengths] clear of the third and, of course, Ostilio has since won the Britannia.”
Atzeni is also familiar with the merits of Expert Eye, supplemented at a cost of £70,000. The son of Acclamation, owned and bred by Prince Khalid Abdullah, was a dazzling winner of the Qatar Vintage Stakes at Goodwood 12 months ago and was back to his best when routing his rivals in the Jersey Stakes.
“He was very impressive when I won on him last year [in the Vintage Stakes] and when I got off him that day I thought ‘this could be something special’,” Atzeni said. “For some reason he underperformed when I rode him in the Dewhurst and QIPCO 2000 Guineas. Perhaps he just doesn’t like Newmarket. He won going away over a stiff seven furlongs at Ascot and I would not think a mile at Goodwood would be a problem for him. He’s smart horse and you cannot underestimate him.”
Aidan O’Brien is seeking a sixth Sussex Stakes triumph, the most recent of his winners being The Gurkha in 2016. This time he relies on Gustav Klimt, third in the Qatar Prix Jean Prat at Deauville on his latest start, having previously been beaten half a length runner-up to Without Parole at Ascot.
Beat The Bank was an impressive winner of the Bonhams Thoroughbred Stakes at the Qatar Goodwood Festival last year and got back to winning ways with a neck defeat of Lord Glitters, the Queen Anne Stakes runner-up, in the Fred Cowley MBE Memorial Summer Mile at Ascot this month. David O’Meara, the trainer of Lord Glitters, is also represented by So Beloved.
Solow, in 2015, was the last French-trained winner and Orbaan, trained by Andre Fabre, will attempt to emulate him. The Invincible Spirit colt did well to get up late on in a Listed race at Saint-Cloud on his latest start and will again be partnered by Silvestre De Sousa, the Stobart Champion Jockey.