It takes someone with a peculiar kind of vision to build a racecourse – but even so, back in 1802, most people must have thought that the third Duke of Richmond had completely lost his marbles.
Goodwood may be one of the most beautiful racecourses in the country, but the track plots a precarious path along a high ridge of the South Downs and boasts some unusual cambers. Unlike Cartmel, there is no circuit for the horses to go round and around. In the longest races the horses start near the Grandstands, gallop away, disappear around a short loop and then head back down towards the stands again – in a similar format to Salisbury and Hamilton Park.
Shorter races are started far away from the stands at various points around the loop. In 1988, during the 1m 2f Festival Stakes, the runners set off in the wrong direction – taking the shortest way around the loop instead of the longest. The race was made void (depriving dual Eclipse Stakes winner Mtoto of the first prize money), although the starter’s error had a happy outcome – with the accidental discovery of a new starting position for 1m 1f races.
It’s possible that, on some days, no one would have noticed the horses galloping in the wrong direction, as the racecourse is vulnerable to sea frets – a thick fog which rolls in on the tide. During the first half of the 19th Century, it is claimed that John Barham Day (a prominent racehorse trainer) won a major sprint by sending one of his opponents in the wrong direction. The racecourse wasn’t fully enclosed at the time and Day met a stable-lad, who happened to be leading the favourite for the race, lost in the fog. Day, who trained at the nearby village of Findon, knew exactly which direction the horse should have been heading - but he still sent the unfortunate lad back down the hill and away from the track.
It’s one of those lovely stories, akin to the tales of crooked-goings-on behind the trees on the home bend at Cartmel – before a sixth camera was installed to capture the action there. But don’t expect any such skulduggery ahead of the Stewards Cup on Saturday; Goodwood enjoys a reputation heavily laced with old-English charm, but it is now a thoroughly modern racecourse boasting world-class facilities for both horses and racegoers.
The Stewards Cup is usually won by a sprinter on the upgrade – a useful performer with the potential to become a Group race winner. Step forward Dancing Star, who runs in the same colours as the popular 1992 winner Lochsong – known to her many fans as the ‘pocket rocket’. A filly, just like Lochsong, and trained by Andrew Balding, whose father trained Lochsong, Dancing Star is out to repeat a little piece of history for her connections.
Having already won four of her seven races, including one at Goodwood in June, Dancing Star is our tip for the weekend. Let’s just hope she runs in the right direction.