Durability and consistency were rewarded on Wednesday when the veteran Lightning Spear finally (finally!) secured a signature victory in the Sussex Stakes (Eng-I) at Goodwood racecourse in Great Britain.
On fifteen previous occasions—yes, fifteen!—Lightning Spear had competed against Group 1 company without scoring a single victory. Oh, there were plenty of near-misses, including a frustrating loss by a short head in the Lockinge Stakes (Eng-I) earlier this year, but when the stakes were high, Lightning Spear always seemed to come up short despite his best efforts.
But all that changed on August 1st when the seven-year-old veteran posted an upset victory in the Sussex, securing a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs while defeating a quality group of well-regarded three-year-olds.
The race was not without drama. When the gates opened, none of the eight starters showed any interest in taking the lead, and the result was a slow early pace that compromised several runners who refused to settle kindly. The pace was so slow that the clear favorite Without Parole, a Group 1-winning three-year-old with a perfect 4-for-4 record, found himself on the lead in a stark departure from his usual pace-tracking style. Suffice to say, he seemed uncomfortable in his role as pacesetter.
In the meantime, Lightning Spear was settling nicely in mid-pack after a bit of trouble at the start, biding his time and waiting until the homestretch to strike. This would have been ideal had Lightning Spear been able to secure racing room when the real running began, but as the field turned for home, Lightning Spear found himself boxed in with a wall of horses in front of him—there was nowhere to run.
Patiently, jockey, Oisin Murphy waited for an opening to appear. Up ahead, Without Parole—apparently running out of steam after failing to relax early on—began to weaken, allowing the pace-tracking Beat the Bank and the recent Jersey Stakes (Eng-III) winner Expert Eye to take command.
Even at this junction, with less than a furlong remaining, Lightning Spear was still trapped and searching for a way out. Murphy looked to the left, then to the right, and finally back to the left as a narrow opening appeared between Expert Eye and Beat the Bank. Spotting the gap, Lightning Spear dived through with a tremendous burst of acceleration, surging clear in the final sixteenth of a mile to win by 1 ½ lengths as Expert Eye battled his way to second place over the late-running Lord Glitters.
Trained by David Simcock and owned by Qatar Racing Limited, Lightning Spear equaled his career-best 122 Racing Post Rating with his gallant run to the finish line. Only time will tell if he travels to the U.S. to compete in the Breeders’ Cup, but with the acceleration he showed in the Sussex, he would be an intriguing contender if he does.