The Goodwood Cup has, in recent years, been a race whose title is always spoken alongside the name of just one horse – Stradivarius.
The beloved chestnut’s long-time rider, Frankie Dettori, is next in that sentence, and the ever-statesmanlike John Gosden surely follows.
Little had changed as the scene was set for the 2021 renewal of the race, if anything the aforementioned trio were absorbing more of the limelight than ever as they prepared to jointly bid for a record-breaking fifth success.
The record ripe for breaking was of course set by Stradivarius himself, who has dominated both the contest and the division throughout his unusually long career.
But then the rain came, heavy and relentless, and the limelight refocused on another of racing’s out and out stars – Hollie Doyle.
Doyle was booked to ride Trueshan, the mud-loving stayer trained by Alan King, who is more readily associated with the National Hunt circuit having saddled 15 winners at the Cheltenham Festival.
The weather had left the ground not unlike a wet day at Prestbury Park, however, and that inspired punters to back Trueshan in their droves, as he ultimately returned as the 6-5 favourite, with Stradivarius a ground-enforced absentee.
The gelding ran exuberantly in the early stages of the two-mile affair, fighting with the diminutive Doyle and making matters harder that necessary when refusing to settle into the steady pace set by the race leaders.
Reluctant to be boxed in by the rail, Doyle cut forward to cruise in the slipstream of those ahead of her and masterfully eased the bay into the rhythm he had been opposing.
From there she was perfectly poised to throw down her challenge, taking up the lead with two furlongs left to travel and driving Trueshan across the line with his nearest rival three and three-quarters of a length behind him.
The second-placed horse, Ismail Mohammed’s Away He Goes, earned a smattering applause for his valiant run in defeat at written-off odds of 33-1, but Doyle was received by a sizeable Goodwood crowd like a favourite daughter on sports day.
King, who was leaving the glamour of Goodwood on Tuesday evening to search for new National Hunt performers, admitted the pre-race pressure had been intense.
“I’ve been very calm all morning and then suddenly when John took out Stradivarius we got shorter and shorter,” he said.
“The nerves really started to kick in, I haven’t been this nervous in a long time, I can tell you.”
Looking to further big days with his stable star, King said: “He is in the Lonsdale (Cup, at York) and he is in the Irish St Leger (at the Curragh). I will talk to the boys, but we will probably take him out in the morning at the forfeit stage.
“The Cadran (ParisLongchamp, on Arc weekend) will probably be his big target in the autumn.”
Doyle, whose calm, affable disposition never seems to waver, even found herself uncharacteristically anxious ahead of her ride.
“I never really feel pressure and I never get nervous, but today something did come over me as I didn’t want to let everyone down,” she said.
“I was very confident, but I haven’t had many Group One experiences, especially on a 10-11 odds-on shot, so I was feeling it a bit more than normal.”
Doyle claimed a first Group One success on Champions Day at Ascot in 2020, with Glen Shiel the hero in question as he took the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes.
“When I got a taste of the success at Ascot on Glen Shiel, I got a bit more hungry and determined to want it more often,” she said.
A Goodwood Cup triumph seemed to invoke the same appetite for glory once again, as Doyle rolled on to a second success aboard Lord Riddiford in the Back To Goodwood Handicap, and a third when winning the British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Stakes with Sisters In The Sky.
“This is one of the best days I’ve ever had,” she said.
“I got some buzz off that, I don’t get too high or too low but when you get experiences like that, you’ve got to make the most of it haven’t you?
“It’s very special, I’ll still be smiling in the next, I’ll be smiling all week!”
Doyle deserves to smile, King deserves to smile, and the authors of the Goodwood script can smile too, for whilst it seemed the star of their cast was sorely missing, in this instance the understudy proved to be every bit as good.