Five Takeaways From The 2021 Qatar Goodwood Festival

From starting stalls to the farewell of a legend, Gavin Beech reflects on this year's Goodwood Festival.

Five Takeaways From The 2021 Qatar Goodwood Festival
Five Takeaways From The 2021 Qatar Goodwood Festival

1. One Day Too Many

The Goodwood Festival is great, but let’s be honest, five days is one too many. Saturday is a bookies benefit day. Four of the five races shown live on ITV were handicaps – tough ones at that.

The concluding fillies handicap on the opening day attracted just nine runners and, of the six that ran, only one was rated above 87 despite the race being open to fillies rated up to and including 95.

An increase in races only ever leads to one thing, a dilution of quality and throughout the week there were races every day at Goodwood that just weren’t of sufficient quality to justify a place at the meeting.


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2. We Said Goodbye To A Legend

One of the great speedsters of our age, Battaash, danced his last dance last week.

Battaash didn't really have his conditions in the King George Qatar Stakes and was drawn down the middle of the track but connections clearly felt that the old spark just wasn't there anymore and decided to draw stumps with their four-time Group 1 winner.

Battaash blazing a trail was one of the great spectacles in Flat racing but, oddly, he never really managed to win over the masses and always seemed to be one of those horses that punters wanted to take on at a short price.

York was tailor-made for Battaash so it's no surprise that when you look back through his career highlights, his personal best in terms of numbers came on the Knavesmire in 2019 where he absolutely blitzed a Group 1 field in the Nunthorpe Stakes.

Soft ground was undoing on more than one occasion but granted a fast five furlongs on a sound surface, Battaash was almost unbeatable.

3. Overrated Betting Strategy

The Stewards' Cup consolation race provided a timely reminder, for anyone that needed it, that handicap marks are anything but the be all and end all when it comes to winner finding.

Scouring races looking for horses that are back to their last winning marks, or better, has to be one of the most overrated betting strategies on the planet.

For so many of these sprint handicaps, being in the right place or having the speed to be able to get into the right place is, and always has been, infinitely more important.

And Mr Wagyu was the perfect demonstration of such. Off a career-high mark, it was all about having the early boot to make the most of his favourable high draw. Once in the groove, even horses ahead of their marks couldn't get near him.

4. Wonderful Tonight Needs To Stick At A Mile-And-A-Half

David Menuisier’s stable star got her ground in the Lillie Langtry Stakes and duly proved too good for inferior rivals. However, the big takeaway from her performance was surely that she doesn't need to be running over staying trips any more.

Firstly, she's more than good enough to be targeted at the best mile-and-a-half races, but she doesn't get to utilise her devastating turn of foot over the longer trip and the soft ground that she operates on so well acts as a double-edged sword because it really tests her stamina.

In short, her attributes are best served by top-class mile-and-a-half races and that's why the Arc is the ideal race for her. She'll likely get her ground and she has to be a big runner in France.


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5. Starting Stalls

It was noticeable how quickly horses were taken out of the stalls once Zarzyni broke through the front of his gate as the field were being loaded ahead of Saturday's Stewards' Cup.

Understandably, nobody wants horses standing in the starting stalls for long periods of time but it did make me wonder why this only seems to apply when a horse breaks out of the stalls and not when it comes to horses being left standing in the starting stalls while unruly runners are given far too many chances.

If it is deemed unacceptable to allow horses to stand in the stalls for several minutes, then the best way of making this fair for all is to apply a time limit for loading to every runner.

If a horse won’t consent to go forward within, say a minute, then that’s them out. It’s a much more authoritarian approach but it’s an issue of fairness, as well as basic timekeeping, which appears to have gone completely out of the window at many tracks.

Of course, this means that the number of non-runners will increase but we are continuing to punish well-behaved horses by allowing them to stand in the stalls for several minutes while the stalls handlers persist with unruly horses.

The onus has to fall on the trainer to ensure that their representative is properly prepared for their racecourse experience, and that means making sure that they behave suitably during the loading up process.