Amour can be sweet for Candy
But Southern Hemisphere raiders will pose a threat to home hopes at Royal Ascot
In the 10 days dividing Epsom and Royal Ascot, with their stifling collars and breathless expectations, you could wish for no more relaxed sanctuary than here. Under the dreamy gaze of the distant cathedral, the usual suspects were again among the winners, ensuring that the journey home for men like Richard Hannon or Henry Candy was sweet as well as short. With next week in mind, however, they had met the day's most momentous duties long before setting out.
Candy's lofty cranium would always be liable to show above a parapet, but he must feel uncomfortably exposed against the latest posse of Southern Hemisphere sprinters hurtling this way. On Tuesday's opening card, Candy leads the home defence in the King's Stand Stakes with Amour Propre, a three-year-old who managed to blitz mature, experienced rivals on his reappearance at the Guineas meeting.
Having prospered with Amour Propre's half-brother, Corrybrough, Candy managed to get his hands on the chestnut for just 1,500 guineas as a yearling. "I'd be the first to admit that he didn't look the most amazing of individuals at that stage," Candy said. "But he's caught up, even if he still doesn't look a typical sprinter, quite slight in build. He was very, very green to start with, and made an awful fuss about everything – until he had a run. After that he was fine."
Amour Propre promptly broke course records on his next two starts, before a successful Ascot reconnaissance in the Cornwallis Stakes. Then came that blurring display of front-running, first time out, in the Palace House Stakes. "I was surprised that he managed to win quite so easily, against those horses and at those weights," Candy admitted. "But he has certainly been working in exciting fashion. He did his last piece this morning, and Dane [O'Neill, his rider] said that he was happy, that the horse was starting to relax. I have been trying to teach him to settle in behind, so that he knows there is more than one way to get the job done. Otherwise, apart from anything else, you would totally demoralise any horse you worked him with. I just hope I haven't overdone it."
Such self-deprecation comes naturally to Candy, but he will not be short of genuine alarms at Ascot. Like so many others, he has been hearing intimidating things about the Australian sensation, Scenic Blast, but he will be relieved that Luca Cumani intends to keep his Greek import, Ialysos, for the Golden Jubilee Stakes over an extra furlong on the Saturday. "No matter what the surface, any beast that can run five furlongs in 54 seconds has got to be pretty unusual," Candy observed.
Hughie Morrison is another trainer with a fondness for this place, and was particularly gratified when Cill Rialaig won the Margadale Fillies' Handicap - named in honour of his grandfather. Morrison has first hand experience of J J The Jet Plane, the South African raider who beat two of his own horses on his British debut at Windsor nine days ago, and his praise for that performance was not wholly unqualified. "He did it very well, and he's obviously pretty good," Morrison said. "But I don't think either of mine let themselves down on the [firm] ground – they were just too fresh and well the next day."
An hour later Morrison was back in the winner's enclosure with Yonder, who won despite getting loose beforehand and hiding in the racecourse stables. His tenancy had been briefly interrupted in the meantime by Hannon, with Secret Hero. Needless to say, Hannon is especially confident of making an impression next week with his juveniles. Always a formidable group, they are led this year by Canford Cliffs, impressive on his debut at Newbury last month and the big rival to the Ballydoyle colt, Steinbeck, in the Coventry Stakes.
"They all worked this morning, and if they're all right in the morning, we're all set," Hannon said. "Put it this way: I think we'll have a good chance in every two-year-old race."
Nap: Vanishing Grey (2.40 Haydock)
NB: White Shift (3.40 Haydock)
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