First blood went to Galileo Gold in the opening Classic of the year when Ribchester, trained at Malton by Richard Fahey and ridden by William Buick, out-ran his 33-1 odds to finish a more than creditable third.
The second clash – which came after both horses had won their respective races at Royal Ascot – came in Goodwood’s Sussex Stakes when Galileo Gold and Ribchester chased home Aidan O’Brien’s The Gurkha.
Yet, significantly, it was Ribchester who was victorious in the Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville in August, with the Hugo Palmer-trained Galileo Gold just over three lengths back in eighth.
And, while Fahey expects his Godolphin-owned horse to beat Galileo Gold in today’s Qipco Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot over a straight mile, he fears the challenge of six-time Group One winner Minding, who is being dropped back in trip by the aforementioned O’Brien following her wins in longer races like the Epsom Oaks.
“Days like this are what the job is about. I would prefer to have the favourite than a 33-1 shot but he is probably the one they have to beat,” said Fahey.
“He is one of the few horses for whom the trainer doesn’t have any ground excuses. I’m very happy with him. Everything has gone according to plan. It’s nice to have an opportunity to train a horse like that.
“It’s in the back of your mind that he could be over the top or whatever, he’s been on the go a while but he hasn’t had an awful lot of racing, he had a break after the Guineas.
“I feel he was the best horse in France, maybe Galileo Gold ran a little flat, but I feel we’ve improved again. I’m a big fan of Minding though, so we’ll see. I’m happy with my lad, the beauty of him is he goes on any ground.”
Minding was last seen when posting a fine third in the Irish Champion Stakes behind Almanzor and Found, the subsequent Arc heroine, and she will be dropping back to a mile for the first time since a surprise reverse in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
“She’s been an unbelievable filly this year and had the choice of three races,” said O’Brien.
However, Galileo Gold’s connections retain the faith in their horse. Trainer Hugo Palmer said: “We’ve met Ribchester three times, we’re leading two-one, and I’d like to think on the two occasions that Galileo Gold has gone there on the top of his game he’s come out on top. He didn’t run his race in France.
“It would mean everything for his season to win. He would certainly be the champion miler and conceivably the horse of the year as well. It would be a very special achievement for him.”
Today’s meeting boasts £4.26m of prize money, including the Qipco Champions Sprint where Leyburn trainer Karl Burke’s Quiet Reflection takes on horses of the calibre of dual Nunthorpe winner Mecca’s Angel who will be ridden by Boroughbridge jockey Paul Mulrennan.
However, all eyes will be on the O’Brien-trained Found who takes her place in the 10-furlong Qipco Champion Stakes less than a fortnight after winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly.
O’Brien said: “The Arc was always her (principal) target. All the other races were on the way to the Arc. She takes her races so well. We all knew a long time ago that there’s something different about her. She’s incredible, really, the most genuine horse I’ve ever seen.
“She empties the tank every time. The problem is not to let her empty too quick – she goes right to the bottom of herself. It’s very unusual.”
If Found is to emerge triumphant, she will need to reverse previous form with French challenger Almanzor whose sire, Wootton Bassett, provided the aforementioned Fahey with his first Group One winner as a trainer.
The Wootton Bassett colt swooped late to deny the Ballydoyle filly in last month’s Irish Champion Stakes and trainer Jean-Claude Rouget sounded confident ahead of this particular rematch. Yorkshire hopes rest with Kevin Ryan’s The Grey Gatsby, though the ground appears to have gone against the five-year-old former French Derby winner who is winnerless in more than two years.