Praise all round, as ‘very special’ Paddington stays perfect for the season
In driving rain on the South Downs, the casual television viewer could have been forgiven for thinking the footage had been taken from a November National Hunt meeting and not the linen suit and Panama convention that is usually the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
Though the weather denied racegoers the summer garden party they may have hoped for, the quality of the racing and the promise of seeing a true superstar in action was compensation enough for the sodden shoes and obliterated umbrellas.
The horse in question was Aidan O’Brien’s Paddington, a three-year-old son of Siyouni whose swiftly accelerating run of form brought him to the Qatar Sussex Stakes less than a month after his superb Coral-Eclipse victory.
Only four horses opted to take him on and even the relentless rain and deteriorating ground could not dissuade punters from sending him off as the 4-9 favourite under Ryan Moore.
Those that did back him experienced just the briefest moment of worry when an outsider, Jerome Reynier’s Facteur Cheval, loomed up in the final furlong, splashing happily through the rain-soaked terrain.
Paddington was not for passing, however, and his class snatched him away from any danger as he pulled clear to cross the line a comfortable length and a half ahead of his French rival.
The heaviest rain of the day fell when he returned to the paddock, but the weather did not prevent a warm reception as the horse strode back in looking as damp and imposing as a winning hurdler on a wet day at Cheltenham.
In his coat colour he bears little resemblance to Giant’s Causeway. But his Goodwood victory saw Paddington match his extraordinary treble of the St James’s Palace, Coral-Eclipse and Sussex Stakes.
His next step he is likely to mirror the ‘Iron Horse’, too, as the Juddmonte International at York beckons, a race Giant’s Causeway won by a head in 2000.
O’Brien – who was all smiles when posing for pictures with the ‘real’ Paddington Bear after the race – said: “We love these big days and I’m delighted that the lads are happy to run on them. York is a massive festival as well. We’ll definitely look at it and consider it very seriously.
“We’ll have to see how he comes out (of the race). But he’s very special, we think. We weren’t expecting the ground to be as tough as it was today, but knowing the horse he could take it with a smile on his face.”
Australia for the Cox Plate has also been mentioned, alongside the Breeders’ Cup, the latter meeting being the scene of an unforgettably agonising defeat for Giant’s Causeway in the final run of his career, going down by a neck to Tiznow in the Classic at Churchill Downs.
The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is even a tantalising possibility, which would mean stepping up to a mile and a half for a race that can be run in gruelling autumn conditions, as it was last year when Alpinista prevailed on very deep ground.
“The Breeders’ Cup is an option and Tom (Magnier, of Coolmore) mentioned something about Australia,” said O’Brien.
“We made an Arc entry because there doesn’t seem to be any end to his stamina. He could go anywhere or do anything. He’s had a busy season. You run in any one top-level race and you know it, but he’s doing them one after another.
“I thought he wanted good ground or better because he’s quick, but he has handled the soft ground and he’s won on heavy before – but when a horse can quicken like that you’d think he’d want good ground.”
Moore, who is not often overly effusive in his praise, hinted that Paddington could be one of the most talented horses he has partnered in a career that has seen him ride many champions.
“It’s a hard thing to say, but he gives you the feel that he might be as good a horse as I’ve ridden,” he said.
“He’s exceptional. And he’s handled everything that we’ve put in front of him, whether it’s a mile, 10 (furlongs), good ground, soft.
“He’s a straightforward horse who thrives on his racing. Someone asked me yesterday if he’d go on this ground and I said he’d go on snow.”
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