After a King George carved up by the two dominant stables of British and Irish Flat racing and won easily by the hot favourite, the Sussex Stakes this week is a much more attractive contest. Seven talented animals, none of which can be ruled out, will represent five trainers in a thrilling test of brilliance, a fitting highlight for Glorious Goodwood, with at least the possibility of a winner for whom victory would matter enormously, rather than being one more trophy among many.
“It would mean an awful lot,” says Marcus Tregoning but even that frank statement underplays what is at stake. He has always wanted to win a Sussex and to do so now, with the hugely promising Mohaather, would close the book on a difficult and often disappointing period since the trainer last won a Group One, with Sir Percy in the Derby 14 years ago.
That kind of drought could hardly have been anticipated for the man who sent out Nayef to win a string of top-class races in the early years of the century, who was installed at the well-appointed Kingwood House in Lambourn and being supplied with plentiful material by Sheikh Hamdan. But such an expensive operation requires a regular flow of success and it just did not happen, setbacks including the early sale of Makfi, who went on to Guineas success for another yard.
Seven years ago, Tregoning took a smaller team of horses to Whitsbury in Hampshire, where Desert Orchid was trained to win the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup. “It was like starting from scratch again,” he told the Racing Post, “which at that time of my life, I wasn’t very happy with.”
But Whitsbury seems to suit the 60-year-old, who has built up his string once more to around 50 horses, including one that any trainer would love to have. The place also seems to suit Mohaather, who has an inner fire to match his ability.
“Whitsbury’s like the Covid-19 racecourse, it’s very relaxed, there’s not too much going on,” Tregoning says. “He gets to see hares and all the rare birds, there’s lots for him to look at but it’s very relaxing.
“We do long exercises, we walk 20 minutes before we even do a canter and then we walk back. So there’s every chance for a highly-strung horse to learn not to be that way. He can be a little bit of a handful but nothing you don’t expect any thoroughbred horse to do.” There have been suggestions that he might occasionally enjoy biting at stable staff. “Well,” says Tregoning tactfully, “you know he’s around.”
Mohaather threatened to become another bad-luck story last year when a stress fracture ruled him out of the Guineas and the whole of the summer. But an unlucky effort in seventh at Royal Ascot last month suggested he had kept all his talent and he proved it with a scintillating success in the Summer Mile this month. Even to those who never lost faith in him, it was a huge moment. “To have him win so comprehensively was delightful, I have to say,” Tregoning says. “We were very, very pleased.”
It was a victory that resonated abroad. From his base in Ireland, Ger Lyons has described Mohaather as “scary” opposition for his Siskin, the Sussex favourite.
Success in Wednesday’s race would have particular meaning for Tregoning, whose mentor, Dick Hern, always loved to win during Glorious week. “If I was being quite honest, I slightly prefer it to Ascot but only because it’s such a wonderful setting and the management at Goodwood are superb. They do a great job for the owners and I really admire them for that. Sometimes when an owner’s horse has come second and it’s a bit disappointing, they sweep them up and take them off and make much of them, which is so important.”
Tregoning hopes not to be in need of consolation but does his best to stay realistic. “Obviously you’re taking on two Classic winners. It’s a good race and some people are saying it’s possibly the race of the season.
“I’m looking forward to all the races later on. If the Sussex Stakes doesn’t work out, you can bet your bottom dollar that he will win a Group One somewhere. So we’ve got the fun of it, the fun of the journey.”