The cynics who scoffed at billing the showdown between Dawn Approach and Toronado as "The Duel On The Downs" might have been disappointed, as will have been those who continue to act as if sectional times have no worth. But the majority of racing fans will have known they were treated to a rare and exhilarating spectacle in today's QIPCO Sussex Stakes.
Two top-class performers slugged it out before Toronado emerged the better over his arch rival by half a length. The time appears fast, and the form looks good. It was a cracker of a race.
Those who stuck with Toronado after his extraordinary sectionals in the Craven Stakes, despite his reverse in the 2000 Guineas and his possibly unlucky defeat by Dawn Approach at Royal Ascot (where the sectionals suggested he was the better horse), will feel vindicated. The score may be two-one in favour of Dawn Approach, but that "one" is the one that matters, surely?
But it may not be quite that simple.
The headline sectionals from the Sussex Stakes point to one thing above all: the race was run at a notably strong pace, and the principals came back on the slow side in the context of the overall time as a result. The race should have suited a horse delivered with a late run. Toronado was delivered with a late run; Dawn Approach was not.
By way of comparison, the hand-timed leader/winner last two-furlong sectional of the Gordon Stakes (over 12 furlongs earlier on the card) was 24.2s, while the Vintage Stakes (at seven furlongs, for 2-y-os shortly after) resulted in 23.3s: the Sussex Stakes was 24.55s. The estimated par finishing speed % for a mile at Goodwood is around 102%. Every runner in the Sussex Stakes was below that, as the strong early gallop took its toll late on.
When there is as little between two horses as there appears to be between Toronado and Dawn Approach, victory and defeat can come down to small differences in ground, pace, jockeyship, and much more. It has been said many times this week that "no-one rides Goodwood better than Richard Hughes". His ride on Toronado - refusing to panic as Dawn Approach forged into the lead two furlongs out and thus saving enough for that vital last 100 yards - adds further substance to that claim.
It should not be assumed that Toronado will confirm placings with Dawn Approach if/when they meet again, any more than it should have been assumed that would be the case, the other way round, after Royal Ascot. It is again likely to be close, especially if both horses run nearer to par.
That's what the sectionals say, and, especially where Toronado is concerned, the sectionals have proved to be uncannily right so far.
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