Joe Rendall looks towards Saturday's feature contest, the Group 1 Nassau Stakes.
"Accusations that this isn’t the strongest Nassau are probably justified, though it does make for a more competitive affair..."
Knowing when to call it a day at the top level must be a very difficult decision for professional athlete and, regardless of what they might say, the knowledge that everyone else has already formed an opinion cannot make it any easier. Two cases who contrast in nationality, discipline - and most obviously species - make for an interesting examination of this point, especially in relation to Saturday's Nassau Stakes at Goodwood.
The first is Bernhard Langer, winner of the Senior Open Championship by a jaw-dropping 13 shots at the weekend and now quoted in some corners a genuine contender for a Ryder Cup place. The Champions Tour he currently plays on has been falling foul of the Trade Descriptions Act for a while now, resembling more of a Sunday society outing, Langer and Colin Montgomerie aside, but even so Langer's ruthless display of superiority at Royal Porthcawl was an impressive one. In a tournament where mental strength is everything, to have someone of Langer's experience and famous Teutonic disposition would be a huge asset: is it possible he's getting better with age?
The second example concerns the favourite for Saturday's race, Roger Charlton's Thistle Bird. There was reportedly a discussion as to whether or not to retire her at the end of her five-year-old season, but much like Langer she has shown no signs of slowing down despite her advancing years.
Following a successful defence of her crown in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes on Oaks day Thistle Bird notched up a first Group 1 success (on her twentieth start) in the Pretty Polly Stakes last time, staying on strongly to beat Venus de Milo by two-and-three quarter lengths. If you add into the equation she was narrowly touched off in this race last year, then she rates as a worthy favourite to continue her fine run of form and gain a second top-flight success. The issue is that at 13/8 she doesn't look good enough value in a contest which has produced countless hard luck stories in the past, and as a result we will look elsewhere.
The most attractive ante-post proposition at the time of writing is Ed Dunlop's Amazing Maria, right at the start of her career in relative terms after just five starts and worth another chance to prove she's capable of performing at the highest level. In contrast to earlier examples the case for Amazing Maria is all about untapped potential, as following a Group 3 win at Goodwood last August she looked capable of taking high rank amongst the fillies of her generation. Her win in the Group 3 Prestige stakes produced a Timefigure which was on a par with any of the top juvenile performers of her sex in 2013 and it's hoped that a return to the unique undulations of the Sussex Downs sparks a return to form.
Amazing Maria's three-year-old career has been an interrupted one thus far and a setback forced her to swerve the 1000 Guineas. She made her belated seasonal reappearance in the Oaks last time but didn't handle the track, nor stay the trip, and if you factor in that Ed Dunlop's string were under something of a cloud at the time, it's best to draw a line through the whole affair. The return to 10 furlongs should be well within her compass at a track which favours the speedier types, and providing she stays out of trouble she looks a decent price at around 12/1 to meet the high expectations which connections have always had of her.
Accusations that this isn't the strongest Nassau are probably justified, though it does make for a more competitive affair and there are others worth of consideration. Venus de Milo currently sits second in the betting and her effort behind Thistle Bird at the Curragh last time was the third time she's filled the runner's-up spot in Group 1 company. The worry is whether the drop back in trip will see her to better effect, and although her sire Duke of Marmalade proved himself equally as effective at 10 and 12 furlongs it's hard to envisage her reversing the Pretty Polly form when the emphasis is so firmly on speed.
Narniyn rates as an interesting French raider for Alain de Royer Dupre and as Dalkala showed in last year's Middleton Stakes, Aga Khan fillies that make the trip over the Channel are rarely just here for a change of scenery. She rates as an genuine contender in her own right too, having won three of her five starts as a three-year-old and finishing a decent fourth in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time. The worry is whether she might be a little tapped for toe against the speedier types and whether she'll find the Sussex Downs too much of a departure from conditions to which she's become accustomed. In truth 6/1 doesn't make much appeal, although she's worth a market check come the day.
Given that John Gosden is having another vintage season and he's won the last two renewals of this race his pair Sultanina and Eastern Belle deserve a mention, if only a brief one. The former remains unexposed after just three career starts but looked to need a decent stamina test when second in the Lancashire Oaks last time and falls into the 'lacking in speed' category along with the Irish and French raiders. The latter won a listed event at Newbury in good style last time but it would be a huge step up on all known form to get on the premises here and in truth a hat-trick of wins for Clarehaven Stables doesn't look on the cards.
Perhaps it's only fitting that having started this article extolling the virtues of experience in athletes we end it supporting the exuberance of youth. Thistle Bird rates as a worthy favourite but in Amazing Maria we have a value alternative who could prove out to be every bit as good - she just needs time.
1pt win Amazing Maria in the Nassau Stakes