Joe Rendall takes an ante-post look at what promises to be a fascinating renewal of the Sussex Stakes...
"He looked the stronger of the two going into the final strides but was just beaten on the nod..."
Rivalries have underpinned many of the greatest storylines in sport, and racing is no different. On the Flat the prolonged duel between Henrythenavigator and Raven's Pass was in many ways the story of the whole 2008 season, and for jumping fans the tussle for the Cheltenham Gold Cup between stable mates Kauto Star and Denman is forever assured its place in racing folklore. There is something special about two horses going head-to-head that grips the race going public like nothing else; you need only consult the history books to see it has been forever so, with the 'Match of the Century' between Sea Biscuit and War Admiral in 1938 watched by 40,000 people and heard by 40 million.
As the hum of excited punters threatens to break into a fully-fledged hysterical shriek for the re-match between Dawn Approach and Toronado in a week's time, it falls to us to try and find the winner. It may not be the most earth-shattering piece of investigative journalism, but we're obliged to inform you that it is an extremely tight call. The first two home in Ascot's St James's Palace stakes currently sit just 1 lb apart on weight-adjusted Timeform ratings; both camps are bullish about the prospect of an upcoming rematch, and for once you could argue that both are right.
Richard Hughes maintains that the bump Toronado received cost him at least a length at the finish in the St James's Palace Stakes; whether it cost him the race is impossible to say for sure. It was certainly an improved performance from his fourth in the Guineas as he returned to the level of his win in the Craven Stakes, though reports that he was found to be suffering from a breathing problem appear to provide an explanation for his Newmarket performance. He was certainly given the most to do at Ascot last time out, dropped out by Hughes from a wide draw and interfered with by the veering Glory Awaits as he powered round the outside of the pack to contest a thrilling finish. He looked the stronger of the two going into the final strides but was just beaten on the nod, providing another frustrating outcome for messrs Hannon and Hughes at the 2013 Royal Meeting.
If there is any edge to be found, it is that Toronado seems the more straightforward horse of the two. In a recent interview, Hughes said tactics would have little effect as the horse could be ridden prominently or dropped in off the pace. What all will be hoping for come Wednesday is a clear run so that he can show us exactly what he is capable of.
To say Dawn Approach's three-year-old career has been eventful would be something of an understatement. He showed himself to be an undoubted top-class performer when winning the 2000 Guineas, yet after going off odds-on favourite for the Derby he never came close to settling and failed to beat a single horse home. Expected to be given a long layoff to recover, he was a surprise declaration for the St James's Palace Stakes back over a mile and the boldness of connections paid dividends as he got his career back on track. His performance was below that recorded in the Guineas yet it says a lot about Dawn Approach's raw talent that he was able to complete the most prestigious of doubles for three-year-old milers despite having a less-than-ideal preparation.
Whilst he is the horse to beat on Timeform ratings, Dawn Approach cannot afford to pull fiercely in the early stages of the Sussex Stakes racing against the more relaxed Toronado. If Dawn Approach arrives at Goodwood in similar form to his Newmarket romp in May he should win, but he could be the architect of his own downfall.
The only horse who looks capable of giving the big two something to think about is the Aidan O'Brien trained Declaration of War. His creditable second to Al Kazeem in the Eclipse showed him to be just as effective over 10 furlongs as a mile and his win in the Queen Anne was arguably more impressive than it first looked after running into traffic as the race was developing. That said, his level of form is a notch below that of Dawn Approach's best and it would be a surprise if he was able to bridge the gap to the leading miler of the classic generation.
What really makes a great sporting rivalry is close competition and as expected, trying to split Dawn Approach and Toronado is not easy. What is most important is that both get a clear run; should that occur we are in for a far more evenly matched "Duel on the Downs" than when Frankel put Canford Cliffs to the sword two summers ago. On final viewing, Toronado looks poised to take advantage of any chink in Dawn Approach's armour and has appeared to be more settled every time he has raced. He gets the nod over Jim Bolger's flagship miler, whose worrying tendency to pull may get the better of him again and hand Hannon and Hughes their long awaited big race scalp. After all, it cannot be a rivalry if both sides don't win at some point can it?
Back Toronado to win the Sussex Stakes
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