Racing: Hannon's Asset proves its worth

Ground the only doubt as Hughes thrusts Marju colt into Guineas reckoning
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The Independent Online

It was the rhythm of hooves on sand, not turf, but it marked the first Classic beats of the new season none the less. The three-year-old colt Asset booked his ticket to the 2,000 Guineas with a sparkling display in the Easter Stakes and his rider, Richard Hughes, said: "If he quickened like that on grass you'd be very happy indeed."

Asset, the Richard Hannon-trained 6-4 favourite, proved in a class apart in the six-strong field for the mile contest. As Hughes sat handy on the rail Luberon led the way, and it was clear from the jockey's confident glances left and right as the runners made the turn into the straight that he could go when he pleased. The moment came as the leaders fanned out at the junction of the outer and inner loops, and all Hughes had to do was aim Asset through the gap that had opened.

The son of Marju needed no second invitation to go through. He bounded clear, accelerated away and won by a comfortable three lengths from Royal Power, who stayed on to take second spot from the other Guineas candidate in the trial, Dubai Typhoon. "Once he got to the front he wasn't doing a stroke," added Hughes, "I didn't really want to be in front that soon, but he was going so well I had to let him stride on.

"We were concerned before-hand that he would need the run, but we hoped his class would get him through. It certainly did, and he'll come on for the run."

The mile contest was run for the first time on an artificial surface but, as Hughes implied, so what? "Horses do a lot of their ground work at home on this surface," he said. "They're used to it and they can adapt."

There is an underfoot caveat for Asset, though, that of needing fast ground on turf, not soft. Last season the Highclere Thoroughbreds colour-bearer was undone twice by soggy conditions. "The plan is to go for the Guineas," said Hannon, "but only if the ground is right for him. He got stuck in soft ground last year; didn't like it at all."

Hannon has won three 2,000 Guineas in the past, with Mon Fils, Don't Forget Me and Tirol. Asset, 66-1 for next month's Rowley Mile showpiece, is now as short as 20-1. "I think we've got another livewire for the race," added the trainer.

By contrast the fillies' equivalent, the Masaka Stakes, had little bearing on the 1,000 Guineas, with both entries for the Newmarket race, five weeks today, among the also-rans. The 12-1 winner, Don't Dili Dali, has already been placed in a Classic of sorts; she took third place in the UAE Oaks in Dubai last month and confirmed her facility on a dirt surface as she powered down the straight to catch trailblazing Song Of Silence and score by two lengths under John Egan. She gave her trainer, Stan Moore, his first winner at Listed level.

The pair engaged in the Guineas, Cross Channel and Rajeem, started 9-2 joint-favourites. Cross Channel did best in fifth place, but Rajeem was arguably unlucky, never recovering her balance and tempo after being slowly away and then hampered when trying to make a move.

For Pat Eddery, the name Visionist will go down alongside Alvaro in the record books. The latter, at Epsom in April 1969, was the 11-times champion jockey's first success in the saddle; the former his first in his second career, as a trainer. The four-year-old, running for Eddery for the first time since his transfer from Jamie Osborne during the close season, burst clear a furlong out under Darryll Holland in the seven-furlong handicap to score by two-and-a-half lengths.

Visionist was Eddery's sixth runner. "It's never easy when you take up a new profession," he said, "so I am delighted to get the first winner in. This horse has always had potential and they did a good job with him last year. He's a nice horse, always has been, but he's not easy to train as he has trouble with his joints. But he seemed to like this surface and won this nicely."

There is a National, and then there are Nationals. There is that one at Aintree, plus an ever-growing list: at Ayr (Scottish), Chepstow (Welsh), Fairyhouse (Irish), Uttoxeter (Midlands and Summer), Limerick (Munster), Downpatrick (Ulster), Listowel (Kerry), North Yorkshire (Catterick), Devon (Exeter) and, yesterday at Fontwell, the Southern National, in which the 6-1 shot Hazeljack gave the conditional rider Willie McCarthy and small-time trainer Arthur Whiting their moment of glory.

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