Ribchester and Churchill clash in Sussex Stakes
Ribchester is out to strike a blow for the older brigade when he takes on dual 2000 Guineas winner Churchill in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood this afternoon.
Richard Fahey's stable star has laid claim to being the best older miler in training this season with comprehensive wins in the Lockinge at Newbury and the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot.
However, after Enable laughed at her elders in the King George, the 7lb Churchill gets for his age allowance might help him bridge the gap, too.
Richester's regular rider William Buick has total respect for Aidan O'Brien's Churchill, despite his lacklustre display when only fourth in the St James's Palace Stakes.
"Ribchester has yet to take on the three-year-olds this year and we go there with plenty of respect for Churchill," said Buick.
"His defeat in the St James's Palace seemed a big shock to his team, and you only have to go back to Newmarket to see what he is capable of.
"A dual 2000 Guineas winner? You don't take them lightly and I certainly don't underestimate him. He gets the weight and he's a big horse, a strong horse. The weight concession is massively in their favour and from this time of the year onwards they are maturing all the time."
But while singing the praises of his chief rival, Buick is hoping to add another leg of the Qipco British Champions Series on his old ally.
"He's improved in every department since I first rode him, both mentally and physically," he said.
"He used to be a bit immature, very energetic, and it was hard to channel it in the right direction all the time. Now he's really matured and he has turned into top-class horse.
"He has got the highest cruising speed of any horse I've ridden and he can quicken off it as well, which is a great asset for a miler."
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Having gone close in the race last year, Fahey has no worries about his charge handling the undulating track.
"Everything has gone according to plan since Royal Ascot, there haven't been any hiccups at all and we have no excuse," Fahey told www.sportinglife.com.
"He was very good in the Queen Anne and I hope he'll be just as good. He was touched off in the race last season and that means I'm confident he'll handle the track perfectly well. We're in a privileged position regarding the ground too – there are no worries on that front.
"This is a big test for him though and I have an awful lot of respect for Churchill. He had excuses for his defeat in the St James's Palace Stakes, it was one of the hottest days of the year, the ground was quick and I'm sure he'll bounce back here."
O'Brien had no apparent excuse for the Ascot run, but has been happy with Churchill since.
"He seems to be fine. Nothing came to light and it could have been the heat. That's racing, they don't always perform," he said.
"His work has been good. Everything at home has always been good with him. We have been happy since Ascot and we are looking forward to running him again.
"We take it each race as it comes and all these races are competitive at this level. He is very well balanced and is a big, powerful, strong horse so the track should be fine."
Champion French trainer Jean-Claude Rouget is always worth noting when he has a runner in Britain and his near 30% strike-rate in recent years suggests he only travels when he thinks he can win.
He relies on Zelzal, winner of the Prix Jean Prat last season but restricted to just one run this term due to the virus in Rouget's yard, finishing with a rattle when second in a Group Three.
Harry Herbert, racing manager for owners Al Shaqab Racing, said: "It was a pleasing return to action. Jean-Claude wanted him ridden like that but he was simply given too much to do.
"It helped get him back in the right frame of mind, though, and this race has been his aim all season.
"We're not deluded, we know Ribchester and Churchill set the bar very high. Even though Zelzal was impressive in the Jean Prat, he'd still need to improve on that form.
"Nevertheless, Jean-Claude has always held him in high regard and he's a master at picking the right race for the horse."
Richard Hannon runs Kool Kompany but he has been winless since Doncaster on the opening day of the season and has struggled upped in grade.
"The Queen Anne was a big step up for him and he didn't look to run too badly. Chester last time saw it all happening a bit quick for him," Hannon told his website.
"He is in great order and apart from the first two in the market there is a chance of getting some prize money. He is a decent horse on his day and hopefully he can sneak into the first four."
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