Will this year go down in history as Big Orange’s Glorious Goodwood? Steve Bone asks trainer Michael Bell about the chances of a hat-trick that would raise the roof.
He’s out to make Goodwood Cup history – he’s out to be the star and the story of the week.
If Big Orange wins the Qatar Goodwood Cup on the festival’s opening day tomorrow (Tuesday), he will become the first horse in more than 200 years of the famous race to win it three times on the trot.
Double Trigger won it three years in four in the 1990s for Mark Johnston and is regarded as a legend for having done so. He has a restaurant named in his honour at Goodwood – so they might have to build a new eaterie if Big Orange does the business this year. And paint it orange.
The horse is part of a recent upsurge in interest in the Goodwood Cup in recent years that has seen it upgraded to top-level Group 1 status and switched to the opening day, Tuesday, to ensure the week starts with a bang. And his Newmarket-based trainer Michael Bell admits he is dreaming of what would be a ‘phenomenal’ third win for his six-year-old stamina king.
Big Orange, whose sire is Duke of Marmalade, comes to Goodwood off the back of a spine-tingling Ascot Gold Cup win in which he held off Aidan O’Brien’s Order of St George – a rival he won't face again on the Downs after Coolmore elected to run US Army Ranger instead.
Bell told us: “He’s come out of his Ascot race extremely well. The Ascot Gold Cup was always likely to be a head to head between him and Order of St George and from a public and racing point of view, it was a great spectacle.
“At Goodwood, to get a hat-trick of victories in the race would be phenomenal, especially with it being upgraded to Group 1 and given extra prize money.
“I remember his first Goodwood Cup in 2015, when he beat Quest For More by a neck and Trip To Paris was a very close third. It was an epic race.
“Last year you couldn’t see much of the race from the stands but again he ran an epic race and won (over Pallasator) with a little more to spare. He really knuckled down.
“This year there’ll be some dark horses too. It will be a real heavyweight battle.”
Bell gave an insight into Big Orange’s character, saying he was a delight to train for owners, the Gredleys, who are very closely involved in plotting a campaign that has so far seen him notch nine wins, eight of them in pattern races.
Bell said: “Big Orange is very easy. He’s a character - a gentle giant, with no malice. His only flaw is that he walks his box a bit, something we’re working to put right. Because of that we’ll bring him down to Goodwood on the day.
“He’s only six now and a lot of good stayers are just coming into their own at six or seven, so we don’t know what more there is to come from him. He could become the stuff of legend
“You have to look after stayers and not campaign them endlessly.
“The Gredleys bred him and come and watch him working regularly. They’re very involved, which is fantastic.
“He’s been with me since he was a two-year-old and I’d also trained his mother, Miss Brown To You. She wasn’t a star but she was a good horse.
“Big Orange’s talent came to light in the spring of his three-year-old season. He started to sprout wings.”
The horse has become a firm favourite among race-goers but is Bell’s first to have tasted Goodwood Cup success. “I’ve not had a high-class stayer before but did train Dusky Warbler, who was second to Persian Punch in the Doncaster Cup (in 2003).”
Bell has enjoyed plenty of Glorious Goodwood success over the years, with Molecombe, Richmond and Oak Tree Stakes and Betfred Mile wins on his CV. This year the Gredleys have asked him to line up a few potential Goodwood winners for them.
Glorious is always something of a Bell family affair too.
Michael’s brother Rupert will be on racecourse presenting duties, as will his nephew Oli, part of the ITV Racing team. And if Big Orange wins that Goodwood Cup, as so many are willing him to do, expect Oli to repeat the slightly-manic dash he produced to chase down the hero of the hour at Royal Ascot.