In his latest antepost column on the big flat races of the summer, Will Hoffmann previews the Goodwood Cup Stakes and fancies Dee Ex Bee to turn the tables with Stradivarius...
"I'm not certain he'll beat Stradivarius this time but I am certain that De Sousa will ride a race that brings his strengths to the fore. From that point on, it'll be whoever is able to fight hardest to line. You wouldn't like to bet against a Mark Johnston horse in those circumstances, particularly with 5/1 on offer."
The people's horse
The "people's horse", as he's been christened by Frankie Dettori, I can understand the view that Stradivarius is a hard horse to take on. Even at a shade of odds-on he remains a price that I wouldn't want to lay in the Goodwood Cup. But, two weeks out, nor is he a price we can back him at either. An example of the "correct price" if ever there was one.
My instinct had been to take him on in the Ascot Gold Cup. My reasoning was that, if there was a chink in his armour, it was that he had yet to be tested in a truly run, stamina sapping 20-furlongs. Unfortunately, those conditions never materialised this year and the race was a relative test of speed in conditions. Stradivarius, for all he's not a particularly fast horse, was nonetheless the most adept to deal with a sprint finish.
With that in mind, two miles around Goodwood should suit him even better. Two miles would look to be his ideal trip and the speed-favouring nature of Goodwood will place things further into his wheelhouse. He's going to be tough to beat.
The nice thing about this race is you can write off just about every horse in the field, bar two others. Cross Counter and Dee Ex Bee.
Cross Counter, last year's Melbourne Cup winner, ran a nice race in fourth behind Stradivarius at Ascot. When sectionals are factored in, he has to be upgraded at least second in that race and you could make a cogent case for upgrading him beyond that position. The drop down to two miles will suit well and, like Stradivarius, he looks something resembling the correct price. My one worry with him is his tendency to be ridden for luck and, with another tactical race likely at Goodwood, he could be caught out.
A tale of two rides
We come to Dee Ex Bee. I've been a fan of this horse since his unlikely Derby second in 2018 and he's thrived since stepping up in distance this year. De Sousa has regained the ride and his performances have been as much about the quality of his rides as the quality of his runs. On his first start - two-miles at Sandown - De Sousa made plenty use of him, led and kicked very early on to ensure that it turned into a test of stamina rather than a test of speed. This put his strengths to best effect and he won well.
At Ascot he, in theory, got the ideal run of the race (led and was able to set steady fractions) but those aware of his foibles realise that any race that puts an emphasis on tactical speed, no matter where he's positioned, will not see him perform to his best. De Sousa's ride was efficient in the traditional sense but far from tactically efficient given the traits of the horse. Dee Ex Bee was headed into third at one stage and showed a tremendous attitude to rally into second on the line, but the damage had been down.
It's important to note that Goodwood could place even more of an emphasis on tactical speed but, the great rider that De Sousa is, I expect him to much more tactically astute this time. He'll almost certainly be able to lead on his own terms again, but this time you'd suspect that he'll be setting Dee Ex Bee alight a long way for home in order to make use of his stamina.
I'm not certain he'll beat Stradivarius this time but I am certain that De Sousa will ride a race that brings his strengths to the fore. From that point on, it'll be whoever is able to fight hardest to line. You wouldn't like to bet against a Mark Johnston horse in those circumstances, particularly with 5/1 on offer.