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Poetic Flare takes on 10 rivals in Qatar Sussex Stakes

26 Jul 2021

A clash with Falmouth Stakes winner Snow Lantern is on the cards on Wednesday

Poetic Flare wins the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot

Poetic Flare will face ten opponents on Wednesday when he bids to become the first horse since the mighty Frankel ten years ago to complete the hugely prestigious one-mile Group 1 treble of the QIPCO 2000 Guineas, the St James’s Palace Stakes and the Qatar Sussex Stakes.

It is a treble which has also been achieved since the turn of the century by both Rock Of Gibraltar (2002) and Henrythenavigator (2008), but it’s a tall order for even the very best and proved beyond milers of the calibre of Kingman, who was narrowly beaten in the first leg at Newmarket, and Poetic Flare’s own sire Dawn Approach, who was thwarted in the final leg in 2013 by Toronado in the Sussex Stakes, whom he had beaten at both Newmarket and Royal Ascot.

It will take some achieving once again, even in the absence of Palace Pier with a blood disorder. 

While Frankel was probably at his least dominant in the St James’s Palace Stakes, Poetic Flare could hardly have impressed more, bursting four and a quarter lengths clear of a classy field headed by Lucky Vega. That was his fifth start in little more than two months, and he will have been off for just over six weeks by the time he races on Wednesday. However, while he clearly thrived on that unprecedented schedule, his subsequent absence is not a worry to trainer Jim Bolger.

Bolger said: “He’s only had a break in as much as he hasn’t been racing, but he’s a horse who I have to keep moving and so it hasn’t exactly been a holiday. He’s very well and I couldn’t be happier with him.”

Poetic Flare won twice on soft ground at two, and it was bordering on heavy when he was so narrowly beaten by stable-mate Mac Swiney in the Irish 2000 Guineas at The Curragh in May, but ground on the soft side was the undoing of Dawn Approach at Goodwood and Bolger would ideally like to see conditions dry out again by Wednesday.

He said: “Dawn Approach was a really good horse on good ground or faster, and the day he was beaten by Toronado in the Sussex Stakes it was officially good to soft. It was moving on top, so he never really got a hold of it. He didn’t like it.

“It was fast ground when Poetic Flare won at Ascot, and it might well be that he’s better on that better ground, but he seems to handle all going and he’s pretty good on soft too. My preference would be for good ground, but I’m not much given to worrying anyway. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. I’m very happy with my horse and I don’t worry too much about anybody else’s.”

Only five fillies have won the Qatar Sussex Stakes in the 50 runnings since Humble Duty in 1970, but fillies tend to be heavily outnumbered and many of the best of them run later in the week in the Group 1 Qatar Nassau Stakes over the extra quarter of a mile.

Royal Ascot’s Coronation Stakes first two, Alcohol Free and Snow Lantern, are bidding to follow in the footsteps of On The House (1982), Sonic Lady (1986), Marling (1992), Sayyedati (1995) and Soviet Song (2004). They met again in Newmarket’s Falmouth Stakes, where Snow Lantern came out on top in a dramatic finish, and both merit a deal of respect here.

Alcohol Free’s trainer Andrew Balding, who won a soft-ground Sussex Stakes with 20-1 chance Here Comes When in 2017, said: “I’m thrilled with Alcohol Free and she won’t mind what the ground is. She’s a high-class filly and I’m really looking forward to it.

“The turning track seemed to suit her really well when she won at Royal Ascot, so I think Goodwood will suit her really well. At Newmarket in the Falmouth it wasn’t the plan to make the running, and she rather set it up for the others. Hopefully if there’s some sort of pace to aim at she’s got a fairly electric turn of foot. I’m really excited about her.”

Richard Hannon also had Snow Lantern entered in Thursday’s Qatar Nassau Stakes and admits it wasn’t a straightforward choice, especially with regular rider Sean Levey still suspended for the Sussex following the six-day ban he picked up in the Falmouth. He has enlisted Jamie Spencer to replace Levey and believes his style ought to suit the filly very well.

Hannon, who also saddles the Pat Dobbs-ridden Chindit, said: “Snow Lantern looked a very good filly in the Falmouth, and she was probably at her strongest at the line, so I don’t think the longer trip in the Nassau would have been any problem, but we are sticking to a mile for now, as we know she is very good at the trip. 

“The ground was a big factor too, as she showed she could handle the soft when she ran so well in the Coronation Stakes and one or two others might not be so good on it. It’s a hot race, but it would be a very nice one to win if we could.”

He added: “We’ll ride Chindit much handier. I’ve felt that in both of his races this year he’d been left with a little work to do, but he could have finished second in the St James’s Palace with a bit more luck. We’ll be keeping closer tabs on the front runners, and if he’s going to get beat again I want to to be because he couldn’t run fast enough rather than anything else. He’s going to get the mile, no problem.”

Aidan O’Brien is a five-time winner of the Qatar Sussex Stakes, most memorably perhaps with Giant’s Causeway in 2000, and he describes the race as “the ultimate test for a miler, both physically and mentally” and “one of the most important races in the calendar every year.”

He underlines how keen he is to win it again by saddling three strong candidates in Lope Y Fernandez, second last month to Palace Pier in Royal Ascot’s Queen Anne Stakes, Order Of Australia, the winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, and three-year-old Battleground, who was a good winner of the Group 2 Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes at last year’s Qatar Goodwood Festival.

O’Brien said: “We are looking forward to Lope Y Fernando and we think he’s come forward again since Ascot. We are very happy with him. He’s very straightforward and is progressing well. We had a choice between here and the Lennox (Tuesday’s seven-furlong Group 2), and he is a horse with pace, but we chose the Sussex. 

“Order Of Australia has come out of last weekend’s win at The Curragh very well and the Sussex Stakes is a race which could suit him. He’s a hardy older horse who likes fast ground and a mile is probably his trip – he gets it very well. He can be ridden very forward and is happy making the running, although we’d be delighted to get a lead. 

“Battleground ran a very big race at Ascot (third to Poetic Flare) and when he disappointed a bit at Deauville he was drawn on a wing and he’s a horse who likes cover. We think Goodwood will suit him and that he’ll leave that run behind and come right back to his Ascot form and better.”

Recent Summer Mile winner Tilsit represents Charlie Hills, who said: “Tilsit is on the up. He’s still very lightly raced and is unexposed. He should get better with the more racing he gets.

“His Group 1 defeat in France at the start of the season (beaten a head by Sunday’s easy German Group 1 winner Skaletti) was frustrating as he was in front just before the line and just after it. I was really pleased with his subsequent win in the Summer Mile at Ascot, and he won a Group 3 at the meeting last year, so we know he handles the track.”

Andre Fabre, who won the Sussex way back in 1987 with the top-class miler Soviet Star, sends five-year-old Duhail, who carried the Al Shaqab Racing silks to Group 2 success in the Prix Du Muguet at Saint-Cloud in May but has been beaten twice in Group 3s since.

The field is completed by seven-year-old Century Dream, an impressive winner of last year’s  Group 2 Celebration Mile on his only appearance at Goodwood, and five-year-old Space Traveller, who has been very lightly raced since winning a Group 3 and a Group 2 in 2019.