Roger Varian says Zabeel Prince should not be underestimated when he reverts to a mile in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on Wednesday.
The lightly raced six-year-old made it six wins from ten races when landing the Group 1 Prix D’Ispahan at ParisLongchamp in May, having previously landed a strong renewal of the Group Three Earl Of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket.
However, he has since failed to make an impact upped to a mile-and-a-quarter in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and then the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown. Like the Qatar Sussex Stakes, which carries prize money of £1,059,250, those races form part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
Varian believes circumstances contrived against him on each occasion and is hopeful his first runner in the Group 1 feature since Belardo, in 2015, will be able to upstage her seven rivals – five of whom have also won at least once at the highest level.
“I don’t think it’s gone his way over ten furlongs,” Varian said. “Unfortunately I’ve run over that trip at two of the stiffest tracks in the country in Ascot and Sandown. I still feel he might get an easy ten, but we are bringing him back for the time being.
“He has to put two poor results behind him but for me there were reasons for those defeats. At Ascot the ground was bottomless, and in the Eclipse nothing was going better two out but he got stopped in his run, so Andrea [Atzeni] had to check him, which lost him his momentum. When he needed room he just didn’t get it and then, partly because of that, he didn’t get home.
“You don’t find easy Group 1s and the Sussex is certainly no exception but I think he’s still in great form. His Earl Of Sefton form reads very well, as well as his Prix d’Ispahan, and he beat them well that day. He deserves his chance and I think he’s capable of running a big race.”
The betting is headed by last season’s champion two-year-old, Too Darn Hot, who carried all before him as a two-year-old and got back to winning ways with an emphatic win in the Prix Jean Prat at Deauville this month.
Before his triumph in France, Too Darn Hot had finished a close third to Circus Maximus, who had been supplemented, in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, when Phoenix Of Spain faded to finish sixth.
Circus Maximus has again been supplemented, this time at a cost of £70,000, and will be joined in the line-up by stablemate I Can Fly, who was runner-up to Roaring Lion in the QIPCO-sponsored Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on QIPCO British Champions day at Ascot last October.
Charlie Hills, the trainer of Phoenix Of Spain, believes the grey ran below-par at the Royal Meeting and is banking on him to reproduce the form of his victory in the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh in May, when he beat Too Darn Hot by three lengths.
Adding to the depth are Lord Glitters and Accidental Agent, the past two winners of the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. The former, another member of the silver brigade, was not winning a Group 1 prize out of turn and he also ran well in last year’s Qatar Sussex Stakes when third behind Lightning Spear. Accidental Agent surrendered his Queen Anne crown in dramatic fashion – he refused to budge from the stalls – but has since finished a close fourth in the Fred Cowley MBE Memorial Summer Mile Stakes.
The field is completed by the Andrew Balding-trained Happy Power, who steps up in class after winning half of his eight races. He is an outsider in the betting but then so was Here Comes When before landing the 2017 running.
Balding said: “He could do with a lot of rain, a similar amount to when Here Comes When won. That seems unlikely but he’s a decent horse and seems in good form.”