Churchill confirmed for Ribchester clash in Sussex


The Duel on the Downs is on after Aidan O'Brien confirmed his dual Guineas hero Churchill will take on Lockinge and Queen Anne winner Ribchester in a Goodwood clash that has everything.

The Sussex Stakes has produced a succession of stunning clashes between the generations since Frankel beat Canford Cliffs in 2011.

The 2017 running of the Qatar-sponsored £1 million contest had threatened to lack that kind of magic after Churchill's disappointing performance at Royal Ascot, but O'Brien is convinced there were mitigating factors for his defeat in the St James's Palace Stakes and is ready to let him take on the Richard Fahey-trained three-time Group 1 winner.

Throw in the added spice that it represents Coolmore versus a resurgent Godolphin, and it all combines to make for a race that will have racing fans arguing over the likeliest winner from now until the off at 3.35 on August 2.

The bookmakers are currently coming down on the side of Ribchester, who is a best-priced 11-10 after a pair of Group 1 wins this season. But with Godolphin's other possible, Barney Roy, ruled out by Richard Hannon, and the Newmarket and Curragh champion Churchill finally committed to the race by his trainer, the Coolmore representative has been slashed into no bigger that 15-8 (from 5-2) for the clash.


Churchill to take on Ribchester in Sussex Stakes, photo Liesl King


"Churchill's good," said O'Brien, who also confirmed three-time Group 1 winner Winter would run in the Nassau Stakes the following day.

"He's come out of Ascot well and the plan is to go for the Sussex. I'm very happy with him and he's been very well since Ascot. Nothing's come to light, it was a very hot day in Ireland and in England and maybe it was a combination of the travel and the warm weather, but I don't want to make excuses. He seems in very good form."

That defeat to Barney Roy was Churchill's first since his debut, so he goes to Goodwood with something to prove for a clash with the best horse he has faced in Ribchester.

Fahey, who describes Ribchester as the best he's ever trained, is delighted with his charge.

He said about Ribchester, who was third in the Sussex Stakes last year as a three-year-old: "We've been very lucky this season, everything's gone according to plan, no issues. He enjoys his work and we're happy.

"Early on he was immature mentally and he over-raced a bit, but he enjoys it so much now. He's rated the highest I've ever trained, so it's official and I can say he's the best I've trained.

"The horse he beat at Ascot [Mutakayyef] was having his first run for a while and has won impressively since, and then you've got Churchill. Maybe he was a bit disappointing last time, I'm sure Aidan was disappointed, but he's a big threat and he gets the three-year-old allowance. 

"As a small trainer in the north these are the sort of races you want to be involved in. He's doing everything we want; every time I see him he just looks better and better."