By Andy Stephens
Big Orange is clearly going to be a tough nut to crack in his quest for a historic third successive Qatar Goodwood Cup on Tuesday but there are enough doubts hanging over him to take him on at a best price of 10-11.
The six-year-old is in his element on fast ground but conditions could well be on the tacky side for the opening day of the meeting because there were was considerable rain at the track on Saturday and it has since been drying.
He also had to dig really deep to edge out Order Of St George in a pulsating Gold Cup and, while he he has had time to catch his breath, it remains to be seen whether that battle has left a mark.
As a habitual front-runner, he will also be there to hassled or shot at throughout. Four times in his career he has gained back-to-back wins but he has yet to reel off three successive victories, which is what he is aiming for here.
At the prices, the bet has to be Sheikhzayedroad at a general 14-1. David Simcock’s stable stalwart faded to be sixth in the Gold Cup but that rare below-par effort can be attributed to the rattling quick ground.
He had previously finished ahead of Big Orange when they met on an easier surface in the Dubai Gold Cup over 2m at Meydan in March and the bookmakers seem to have forgotten that he also landed the Doncaster Cup and Long Distance Cup in the autumn.
In the past two Goodwood Cups he has been one of the supporting cast behind Big Orange - staying on to finish sixth in 2015 and third in 2016. Last year, he was beaten only a length and a half.
The going stick 12 months ago gave a reading of 8.4 but this morning it was registering 6.5, which suggests there will be a lot more moisture in it this time. That defininitely swings the pendulum more in favour of Sheikhzayedroad and the gulf in prices between him and Big Orange is way too big.
The first three races on the card are all intriguing but, from a punting perspective, trappy.
Dutch Connection won the Lennox Stakes in fine style at Goodwood last year
That said, I will still not be able to resist having an each-way flutter on Dutch Connection at a general 12-1 in the Qatar Lennox Stakes (3.00).
This Group Two race represents his Cup final for the season because he loves the track - he has finished 121 at this meeting in the past three years - and 7f is his optimum trip. In addition, he looks like getting the end-to-end gallop that brings out the best in him.
The manner in which he brushed aside Home Of The Brave 12 months ago was most impressive but negatives - and there has to be a couple given his double-figure price - is that he would prefer faster ground and that he was not at his best last time in Ireland.
However, he does have some solid form on softish ground and you can forgive him his latest effort because they went a muddling gallop and as a consequence he was too keen. It is a deeper race than last year, with Limato and Librisa Breeze in the line-up, but that is reflected by his price.
Vibrant Chords is the one to be on in the New & Lingwood Handicap (4.45). He looks just the type of sprinter that Henry Candy will take to another level at some stage as his past two runs, both at Goodwood, suggest there is plenty more to come from him.
On the first occasion he won with something to spare over course and distance, with Dark Shot behind, and he might well have followed up next time over an extra furlong had he not had to wait for a run at a crucial stage.
Vibrant Chords will not be inconvenienced by dropping back to the minimum trip and is clearly at home on the track.
In the finale, Tribute Act should make a bold bid to complete her hat-trick but the half-sister to Ribbons faces some other unexposed individuals, which is enough to put me off supporting her at 5-2.
How to bet £20 on the first day of the Qatar Goodwood Festival:
3.00 Goodwood: Dutch Connection £3 each-way at a general 12-1
3.35 Goodwood: Sheikhzayedroad £4 each-way at a general 14-1
Plus a £1 each-way treble
£1.40 each-way Patent and 20p each-way treble
3.00 Dutch Connection (12-1)
3.35: Sheikhzayedroad (14-1)
4.45: Vibrant Chords (6-1)