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Glorious Goodwood: Horse racing's garden party

By Robin Oakley, CNN
  • The five-day festival at the English racecourse is known as "Glorious Goodwood"
  • Trainer Jamie Osborne calls it "the most beautiful place in the world to come racing"
  • Dating back to 1802, King Edward VII called it "a garden party with racing tacked on"
  • The yearly event in the Sussex Downs runs from July 26-30

(CNN) -- Only one sporting event in Britain has achieved the PR coup of having "Glorious" attached permanently to its name. The five-day festival of horse racing on the Sussex Downs at the end of July is known to all inside and outside the sport as "Glorious Goodwood."

They have been racing on Britain's prettiest course, part of 12,500 acres in the area owned by the Duke of Richmond's family, since 1802. It has earned its name from a subtle mix of beauty, history and top-class competitive sport.

It was at Goodwood that a former Prince of Wales popularized both the Panama hat and the light linen suit. The stylishness always apparent amid the farmland setting, with scarlet poppies dancing in the corn, makes Goodwood part of the England that expatriates all over the world still dream about.

King Edward VII called it "a garden party with racing tacked on." Punters bring picnic hampers to the car parks and listen to strolling bands while they sip tall glasses of Pimm's -- a gin-based cocktail drink -- and watch the sun glinting on the lovingly-polished coats of high-class thoroughbreds loping athletically around the parade ring.

"It's the epitome of England in summer," says the racecourse's chairman, the Earl of March. "It's not trying to be pretentious. It's about meeting friends and quality racing. It's glamour coming to the country -- very English."

It's about meeting friends and quality racing. It's glamour coming to the country -- very English
--The Earl of March

According to trainer Jamie Osborne, it is "simply the most beautiful place in the world to come racing."

Glorious Goodwood is, if you like, Ascot without the ostentation. People go to see the racing, not to be seen themselves, and this year they have already had a special treat with the two best horses in the world over a mile -- the four-year-old Canford Cliffs, and the as-yet unbeaten three-year-old Frankel -- clashing in Wednesday's Sussex Stakes.

Frankel, trained in Newmarket by the recently-knighted Sir Henry Cecil, another darling of the British racing public, was a comfortable winner for jockey Tom Queally.

Canford Cliffs, based in Wiltshire with last year's Goodwood champion trainer Richard Hannon and ridden by his son-in-law Richard Hughes, was second a full five lengths back.

Racehorses can clock speeds of 45 miles per hour and more and go from 0-42 mph in just a few strides.

You won't see horses running faster than they do in the Goodwood Stewards' Cup -- when, after they have been running for an eighth of a mile (200 meters) behind the brow of a hill, the six-furlong sprint handicappers breast the rise and thunder down towards the grandstands.

Fortunes can be won and lost in little more than 70 seconds, part of a betting turnover that rises above $82 million in the course of the week.

Favorite for Saturday's Stewards' Cup is the Yorkshire-trained Hoof It, who is being aimed at the U.S. Breeders' Cup in November.

Goodwood, with its undulations, cambers and the occasional sharp bend like Oak Tree Corner, is a fiendish test for jockeys.

Some horses cannot be induced to produce their best on such a track, although clerk of the course Seamus Buckley is a byword among trainers for producing lush green turf which won't jar up the horses.

"I like to keep a bit of juice in the ground," said Buckley, mindful that horses these days, mostly trained on artificial surfaces, find it hard to cope with firm ground.

Simply the most beautiful place in the world to come racing
--Jamie Osborne

As part of a well-worked estate which seeks a $164 million turnover from activities including car racing and flying lessons, vintage festivals and fashion shows, golf courses and an organic farm, the horse racing has to pay its way.

But at Goodwood the animals have always come first. Contestants at the meeting are housed in magnificent brick and flintstone stables built in 1793 by the Third Duke of Richmond, then the British Army's provisions chief and the founder of the First Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery.

As they are driven to the course, they pass the palatial kennels where central heating was laid on for the prized hunting hounds many decades before it was available for the merely human grandees in Goodwood House.

On the racecourse, along with hotly-contested handicaps and prestige races like the milers' contest of the Sussex Stakes or the Nassau Stakes for fillies over 10 furlongs, punters also enjoy the Goodwood Cup, a contest for "staying" horses who need two miles or more to be seen at their best.

Regular Goodwood race-goers will never forget past contests for the cup, including horses such as Double Trigger, Further Flight and Persian Punch.

The multiple winner Double Trigger was trained by Mark Johnston, who has been featured in CNN's Winning Post series and who is a seven-time leading trainer at Glorious Goodwood despite having stables in Yorkshire, 315 miles from the Sussex track.

He will have more than 20 runners over the five days, with more than 500 horses taking part in the various events.

The intensity of those contests and the sheer numbers involved will leave clerk Buckley with a mammoth task when the racing is over.

Twenty-runner fields of horses each weighing up to half a tonne will tear up plenty of turf.

Thirty tons of topsoil will be brought in after the meeting to counter their depredations as the build-up begins towards the next year's "Glorious Goodwood."