By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
On Tuesday afternoon (or morning, if you live in the United States!), Goodwood racecourse in England will begin its prestigious, five-day meet known as "Glorious Goodwood." There will be lots of spectacular racing over the course of the five days, but it's the second day of the meet (July 30th) that may prove to be the highlight, for it is on the second day of the meet that the group I QIPCO Sussex Stakes will be held.
The one-mile race for three-year-olds and up has drawn a field of five, but the race is being billed as a two-horse match between Kingman and Toronado. Both are milers in the truest sense, and immensely talented at their favorite distance. Kingman has won five of his six career starts, including decisive victories in the St. James’s Palace Stakes (Eng-I) and the Irish 2,000 Guineas (Ire-I). His lone defeat came at the hands of Night of Thunder in the English 2,000 Guineas (Eng-I), but Kingman avenged that defeat in the St. James’s Palace, crushing Night of Thunder by 2 ¼ lengths. Having proven himself dominant over fellow three-year-old milers, Kingman is now stepping up to face older horses for the first time.
Toronado is one of those older horses. A four-year-old from the barn of Richard Hannon, Toronado spent the early part of last season chasing the top miler Dawn Approach in the English 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes, but turned the tables on that rival in last year’s Sussex Stakes, edging him by a half-length with the talented Declaration of War another 2 ½ lengths behind. A step up to ten furlongs in the Juddmonte International resulted in a dismal defeat, but after a lengthy layoff, Toronado returned on June 17th to win the prestigious Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot by three-quarters of a length over Verrazano. It wasn’t his best effort by any means, but considering that it took Toronado a bit of time to reach top form as a three-year-old, I expect him to be considerably sharper for the Sussex.
So great is the respect for Kingman and Toronado that the other three entrants—all very talented horses!—are being offered at odds between 16-1 and 40-1 by the various British bookmakers. The most logical candidate to try and upset the top pair is War Command, an Aidan O’Brien-trained colt that won the group I Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket last October. However, War Command has been soundly beaten in all three of his starts this year, finishing behind Kingman in two of them. He would have to take a major step forward on Wednesday to contend against the two favorites, although a third-place finish is well within his reach.
Aidan O’Brien has another entry in the Sussex, the group III stakes winner Darwin. There’s no denying that the son of Big Brown is a talented colt, but this is a major step up in class for him, and given that his biggest successes have come in sprint races, it seems likely that Darwin will be used as a pacemaker for War Command.
Rounding out the field is Outstrip, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) at Santa Anita last fall. He opened this season with a last-place finish in the English 2,000 Guineas, but rebounded nicely with a third-place finish behind Kingman in the St. James’s Palace Stakes. He’s definitely progressing in the right direction and should be able to give War Command a battle for third place, but anything higher would be a surprise.
So all this leads us back to the primary question—will Kingman or Toronado win the Sussex Stakes? Choosing between them is as much a matter of personal preference as anything else, as both are good enough to dominate this race in the absence of the other. Toronado’s experience and advantage in maturity are major factors in his favor, but it must be noted that he will be carrying 134 pounds in the Sussex, six more than he has ever previously carried. In contrast, Kingman will be carrying just 126 pounds, an assignment he has handled with aplomb on many occasions in the past. It is a rare day when I let weight assignments be the determining factor in my handicapping, but in this instance, I believe the eight-pound spread between Toronado and Kingman will be sufficient to give the edge to the younger colt.
Who do you like in the Sussex Stakes?