07/31/2017 3:00PM

Churchill has weight advantage in Sussex


On a level playing field, Churchill would have scant chance to beat Ribchester on Wednesday at Goodwood Racecourse in the Group 1, $739,000 Sussex Stakes.

Ribchester, a fairly fully grown 4-year-old, is a horse at the height of his powers, the best miler in Europe right now. Churchill is a 3-year-old, lacking Ribchester’s maturity, who in his most recent start could only finish fourth against rivals his own age.

But by design, the playing field is not level.

This is the time of year when 3-year-olds in Europe leave the playpen of age-restricted stakes to take on elders in open races, and to keep the fight fair, British racing imposes taxing penalties on the older set. The 3-year-old filly Enable, for instance, got 14 pounds (both an age and sex allowance) from the older horse Ulysses in winning the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes last week at Ascot, and in the Sussex, Churchill’s 127-pound impost, which includes Ryan Moore, is seven pounds lighter than Ribchester’s.

The weight break helps explain why 3-year-olds have won the Sussex, a straight-course mile, seven times in the last nine years. Last summer, it was 3-year-old The Gurkha, trained by Aidan O’Brien, who took home the trophy, and in Churchill, O’Brien sends out a colt more highly regarded than was The Gurkha.

Churchill started his 3-year-old season winning the English 2000 Guineas and Irish 2000 Guineas. Four straight Group 1 races, including two during his juvenile campaign, made him an odds-on favorite in the St. James’s Palace, but Churchill was off his game that day, finishing fourth, beaten more than four lengths by the victorious Barney Roy.

Churchill will at least need to return to his Guineas form to beat Ribchester. Ribchester was just starting to really find himself when he finished a fast-closing third in the 2016 Sussex, and he continued improving through the rest of last season. This year, he has demonstrated high class and tactical versatility in winning the Group 1 Lockinge in his first start after a third-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Dubai Turf, and in his most recent triumph, a decisive win over 15 foes in the Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot. William Buick rides for trainer Richard Fahey and Godolphin.

Among the seven others entered, the French shipper Zelzal holds the most interest as he makes the second start of his 4-year-old season for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget.

Post time for the Sussex, a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, is scheduled for 11:35 a.m. Eastern. The ground will be good at best