Big Orange so close - but Goodwood Cup treble dream is dashed
They wanted to see history made - and they very nearly did.
But the Goodwood crowd who flocked to the Downs to see if Big Orange could become the first horse in 205 years of the Goodwood Cup to win it three times in a row went home disappointed.
Michael Bell's six-year-old race-goers' favourite gave it his all - his very best shot. He led for much of the way, most of the way, with Frankie Dettori dreaming of one of his famous flying dismounts.
But horse-racing scripts are not always followed - rarely followed, some would say - and Stradivarius and Andrea Atzeni, the Italian jockey on a high from having won the previous two races, had too much for Big O.
The crowd had been ready to take the roof off Goodwood. Instead they had to be content with polite applause for the John Gosden-trained winner. A fine and worthy winner by a length and three-quarters - just not the winner of this newly-upgraded Â£500,000 race that Goodwood and its thousands wanted to see.
Big Orange remains a Goodwood legend, having won the Goodwood Cup in each of its first two runnings as a Qatar-sponsored contest, in 2015 and 2016. And who knows? We may yet see him come back and bid to do as the wonderful Double Trigger did and win the two-mile slog three years out of four next year.
But for now, he goes back home to Newmarket for a well-earned rest having failed, albeit narrowly, to rewrite the Goodwood history books.
Stradivarius, a three-year-old who will surely have more days like this to come, had a 13lb weight allowance from the older horses and ran a superb race for owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen.
Trainer Gosden said: "Frankie controlled the race on Big Orange, he came up the middle, he didn't want to be attacked hard down the rail. It was clever of him, but our fella stays well.
"Andrea was very confident beforehand, I asked him if that was because he got in a muddle in the first and got the next two right?! He said no! But it is full marks to Peter Shoemark, our racing office manager, he was the one who suggested the entry to me, I said are you mad? But I thought about it and thought hang on, actually he has to give weight with the Group Two penalty from the Queen's Vase win, and running in anything else such as the Voltigier or a handicap he's have the penalty. So, I thought you're right to come here and this is Peter's victory not mine.
"I did say good luck to everyone going in, Big Orange has got a huge heart and has run with credit again, but he was running into a three-year-old now and not the older horses, who is getting 13lb from him. Yes, last year, it would have been 16lb so it has changed, but full marks to the horse and owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen, who has put an awful lot into this game to get nice moments such as this, which don't come along very often."
Neilsen said: "I was hoping he would run well rather than expecting him to - I didn't know how he would get on against older horses. He ran well in the G2 at Royal Ascot and we didn't want to run against the three-year-olds, having picked up a 5lb penalty, so John thought this was the place to come."