29 July 2017

Glorious Goodwood – Michael Bell’s Big Orange out to make history in the Qatar Goodwood Cup

FEW Flat horses find a place in the hearts of racing fans like Big Orange.

The usual here today, gone tomorrow, off to stud for a life of loving the day after, means little more than a summer’s glimpse are seen of the sport’s greatest stars.

But stayers are different. Double Trigger, Persian Punch, Royal Rebel and Brown Panther all worked their way into the affections with the help of Goodwood Cup victories.


This week Big Orange will attempt to top the lot by becoming the first horse to win the stunning Sussex track’s premier staying contest for the third year in a row.

Double Trigger racked up a trio of wins in the two-mile contest – a Group 1 for the first time this season – but those victories were spread over four years in the ‘90s.

Big Orange
Big Orange sticks his neck out to win the Ascot Gold Cup

Big Orange arrives at Qatar-sponsored Glorious Goodwood in the form of his life. His epic battle with Order Of St George when landing the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot was one of the highlights of the season so far.

On Tuesday at Goodwood he will attempt to rubber stamp his position as king of the Cups. And trainer Michael Bell believes the star of his Newmarket stable is in tip-top trim.

Big Orange emerges from the gloom triumphant in last year’s Goodwood Cup

He said: “He’s ready to go. He’s fit, it’s the middle of the season – he just needs to tick over.

“He’ll do his usual routine now. You can’t get a horse fit in a week but you can soon mess him up in a week.

Big Orange has wormed his way into racegoers hearts

“He’s an easy horse to keep fit as he does not need a lot of work – he’s very clean winded and has a great lung capacity.

“Good stayers need to have speed. Look at Order Of St George – he was placed in an Arc.

Order Of St George (left) went on to finish third in an Arc

“The high-class stayers have the speed to be competitive over 1m4f – they’re not just plodders.

“That’s what makes them better than the other stayers who are too slow to do anything else. He’s defending his crown and long may he reign.

“Obviously Double Trigger was an extremely popular horse and it would be nice to join him as a three-time winner of the Goodwood Cup.”

Double Trigger
Double Trigger (left) on his way to winning the 1997 Goodwood Cup

Big Orange – owned by mega-rich property tycoon Bill Gredley – has reached the grand old age of six. That’s heading towards veteran status in most Flat divisions but Bell Believes – after just 24 races – he’s approaching his prime.

And the plan is for him to be around for a few years yet. He won’t be going to stud – the required equipment is just a distant memory to Big Orange.

Bell said: “Most times training Flat horses is like a revolving door – they come and go.

“When you get a gelding you have a chance of hanging on to them but they need to be owned by a rich man who doesn’t get tempted by offers.

Big Orange
Big Orange has become a special horse for his owners
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“It’s unusual for them to stay around. Under different circumstances he would be sold to Australia but Bill and his son Tim are very attached to him – they’ll never sell him.

“He’s only six. There’s no reason why he won’t be as good for the next couple of years. He’s only just come to himself, only just filled his frame. He should be able to hold his form at that level.

Michael Bell
Michael Bell reckons Big Orange can go on for at least another couple of years
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“Those good stayers like Persian Punch, Double Trigger and Further Flight were going on until 10. Stayers go on forever. They are the nearest thing to National Hunt horses.”

Bell knows a bit about jumpers. He was assistant to Mercy Rimell in the 1980s before switching to take up a similar role in Paul Cole’s then-powerful Flat yard.

He took the plunge to start up on his own in 1989 and his first winner – incredibly – was in the Group 3 Fred Darling Stakes with Pass The Peace.

Michael Bell talks all things Big Orange ahead of the Qatar Goodwood Cup

The star filly – owned by Bell’s father Brian – had landed the Group 1 Cheveley Park when trained by Cole the previous year and she gave her rookie trainer the perfect start to his career.

Pass The Peace couldn’t quite give Bell a dream Classic success when runner-up in the French 1,000 Guineas having previously finished fifth in the Newmarket version.

Motivator gave Bell his first Classic win

He had to wait 16 years for his first British Classic but when it arrived it was in the greatest of them all. Motivator’s five-length Derby destruction in 2005 was followed four years later by Sariska’s Oaks victory.

Those glorious Epsom triumphs are obviously hard to top. But Bell acknowledges he’s never had a horse as loved by race fans as Big Orange.

Sariska (left) then won the Oaks for Bell

He said: “He’s the first one we’ve had who’s been so popular with the public. There’s packets of Polos in the post for him. It’s great.

“He’s such a charming horse with enormous ears and eyes – everything about him is engaging.

“That’s been a first for us and it’s a very pleasant experience.”

Big Orange
Big Orange's Ascot victory was too much for some of the family!

Witnessing Big Orange’s Royal Ascot heroics was too much for some members of the Bell family.

His battling short-head triumph in the greatest prize of Flat racing’s premier meeting caused nephew Oli – one of ITV’s racing presenters to charge on to the track in celebration.

But that was nothing compared to Bell’s older brother – and Oli’s dad – Rupert. He was commentating on the Gold Cup for Talksport and screamed his support for Big Orange in the closing stages.

When they passed the post he gleefully declared ‘you beauty’ and ‘un-be-lievable’.

Rupert laughed: “I slightly lost the plot when he won – it was surreal.

Big Orange
James Doyle celebrates his big win on Big Orange

“I missed Motivator’s Derby win as I was covering the Irish Seniors Open and I missed Sariska’s Oaks win because I was covering a show jumping event in Switzerland. I’ve never been there for my brother’s really big wins.

“To be at the heart of it on national radio was fantastic.

Big Orange
Big Orange refused to let Order Of St George go past him!
Getty Images

“When I said in the commentary ‘Ryan Moore’s going to get there on Order Of St George’ I think anyone watching would have thought exactly the same.

“Then, with half a furlong to go, I turned into race fan mode. It just unravelled. Oli ran on to the track and I lost it up the top – almost crying on air.

Big Orange
Big Orange is all set for the Goodwood Cup

“I walked into the stewards’ lift to go down to the winners’ enclosure and there was The Princess Royal with her husband and friends. I told them I’d just lost it on national radio to which Andrew Parker Bowles said ‘that’s not very Peter O’Sullivan of you’.”

Rupert will be in the commentary box again this week and Oli will be part of the ITV team covering Glorious Goodwood. This time they will know what to expect from their well-named hero.

Michael Bell talks all things Big Orange ahead of the Qatar Goodwood Cup

There’s no prizes for guessing how Big Orange got his name. He towers over most horses at 17 hands and has always been a big ‘un.

His dad is five-time Group 1 winner Duke Of Marmalade to add the Orange.

This week he’ll be looking to give Bell another sweet success – and put the bookies in the sticky stuff once again.

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