3rd August 2023

Test the mettle. That’s the point of top racing and of all championship sport. On a Goodwood afternoon that battered the weatherproofs, Paddington defied wind and rain to take the Sussex Stakes and draw comparisons with his stable’s famous “Iron Horse”, Giant’s Causeway.

Back in 2000 Giant’s Causeway was also having his 6th race of the season and like Paddington was coming from having won the St James’ Palace at Ascot and the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and Paddington still has to work to match Aidan O’Brien’s millennium star. For Giant’s Causeway then won the Juddmonte International and the Irish Champion before being an unlucky second in both the English Champion and the Breeders Cup Classic. Quite some targets to tilt at.

Strictly on the book, yesterday’s one and a half-length defeat of the fully exposed French 4-year-old Facteur Cheval didn’t amount to anything more than confirm Paddington’s well-being. But that’s the point. Six races into a three year old’s season and after his hardest test  a month ago at Sandown and faced with driving rain, soggy going and four rivals intent on catching him out, confirming things was never going to be easy.

It was a challenge Ryan Moore took from the front but once into the straight Frankie Dettori launched the filly Inspiral alongside intent on being first to reach the coveted stands side rail. For a furlong the two jockeys were driving in unison, but having broken his rival at the quarter mile pole Moore then had to fend off the challenges of Charyn and Facteur Cheval. A furlong out the French colt was level but in the very epitome of thoroughbred determination Paddington put the Facteur Cheval firmly in his place.

A rain soaked Ryan Moore was touching in his tribute. “It’s a hard thing to say but he gives you the feel that he’s as good a horse as I’ve rode,” the jockey said. “ He’s handled everything that we’ve put in front of him. He’s a straightforward horse who thrives on his racing and really wants to do it for you.”

His horse’s demeanour both before and after had reflected these words. Here was an athlete happy in the prime of health and happy with his lot. At the beginning of the season it was the Derby winner Auguste Rodin who was to be the stable star, but flops at Newmarket and Ascot showed a hole somewhere. Paddington seems better proofed than ever, putting on another 4 kilos since Sandown and increase in weight which is rare through the rigours of the top 3-year-,olds’ programme but something also shown by Giant’s Causeway.

The excitement now is where his mettle will be tested next and how far will he will be asked to travel. In my time, all 60 years of it now, around the race tracks the two toughest achievers have been Frankel and Sea The Stars. Frankel’s ten Group 1 victories saw him crowned, uniquely, as top of the pile three seasons running and Sea The Stars was equally exceptional in winning a Group 1 every month from May to October and from one mile to a mile and a half. How might Paddinton match it?

The obvious takeable targets are the Juddmonte and Irish Champion as Giant’s Causeway did. The Breeders Cup Classic over a mile and a quarter in November could be a perfect swan song. But there is something in between that could make him the most extraordinary of them all – the Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October.

His pedigree and racing style give him every chance of staying a mile and a half. Yesterday proves he won’t flounder if Longchamp comes up muddy. Forget “Iron Horse”, that would make Paddington one made of even tougher steel.

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