The Sussex Stakes has, from 1960, been the race in which the best three-year-old milers traditionally face off against their elders for the first time. Before then, the historic eight-furlong contest, first staged in 1878, had been restricted to the Classic generation.
There have been some monumental showdowns between the generations, one of the best coming in 1992, when the tiny filly Marling, narrowly beaten in the 1,000 Guineas, took on the previous year’s champion miler Selkirk, winner of the Lockinge Stakes earlier in the season, and beat him a head.
More recently, Canford Cliffs was involved in two successive showdowns. As a three-year-old in 2010 he saw off year-older Rip van Winkle, who had himself disposed of four-year-old Paco Boy the previous season, by a neck. As a four-year-old Canford Cliffs came to Goodwood with the Lockinge and Queen Anne Stakes under his girth, but that year’s so-called Duel On The Downs proved somewhat one-sided as he was beaten five lengths by Frankel.
But equally, the Sussex Stakes can settle some disputes between contemporaries and one of the most memorable rivalries was that between King’s Lake and To Agori Mou in 1981.
To Agori Mou, trained by Guy Harwood and ridden by Greville Starkey, had won the 2,000 Guineas but in the Irish version had been narrowly beaten in a rough finish by Pat Eddery-ridden King’s Lake, from the Vincent O’Brien stable. The result was reversed by the stewards on the day, only to be reinstated by the Turf Club after an appeal.
In the St James’s Palace Stakes, To Agori Mou avenged his Curragh defeat by a head, with Starkey famously giving the v-sign to Eddery after the line. The Sussex Stakes was the decider, with victory this time going to King’s Lake by a head. The well-matched pair did not meet again; King’s Lake won the ten-furlong race that became the Irish Champion Stakes and To Agori Mou won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Five years ago, one of the episodes in the absorbing rivalry between Henrythenavigator and Raven’s Pass was played out at Goodwood. Henrythenavigator, trained by Aidan O’Brien, had set the miling standard with defeats of subsequent Derby hero New Approach in the Newmarket and Curragh Guineas, but in the St James’s Palace Stakes the 2,000 Guineas fourth Raven’s Pass, from the John Gosden stable, got much closer, beaten three-quarters of a length.
In the Sussex Stakes, Henrythenavigator kept the score 3-0, but by only a head. By the end of the season it was 3-2, Raven’s Pass having taken his revenge in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
This year’s Duel On The Downs again involves Anglo-Irish rivalry, between Dawn Approach, trained by Jim Bolger, and Toronado, by Richard Hannon (as were Canford Cliffs and Paco Boy), with the score 2-0 to Dawn Approach.