Chris McGrath: High noon for Midday at bewitching hour of the traditional season
Saturday 31 July 2010
Though some will try to convince you otherwise, the fact is that the racing calendar – as opposed to its raving, bloated sibling, the fixture list – needs a redesign in much the same way that the famous panorama from the stands at Goodwood would benefit from a petrol refinery.
The folk at Racing For Change must find it terribly vexing, this calendar, evolved largely in obedience to the patrician peregrinations of the 19th century. The big meeting at Goodwood this week, for instance, was timed as a prelude to Cowes. Once the gentry proceed to the persecution of grouse, moreover, they can reconvene near the moors at York next month.
According to everything they teach at marketing school – for instance, how to disclose the terminal atrophy of your intelligence and dignity by use of such quasi-Stalinist phrases as "delivering solutions" or "going forward" – this random, organic development should leave the calendar as an incoherent muddle. Sure enough, that is exactly what RFC tell us it is.
Once again, however, the season is unfolding with a bewitching rhythm. Last weekend we even had a return to the good old days of the King George, with a maturing champion dishing it out to a couple of Derby winners. The Classic generation promptly hit back through Canford Cliffs, gliding past Rip Van Winkle at Goodwood on Wednesday. And, as always, each new answer raises a fresh question. Will Canford Cliffs, for instance, stand between Goldikova and an unprecedented third win at the Breeders' Cup in November?
Presumably not, because we are always being told that the Flat lacks a proper climax. In the meantime, we can again congratulate our ancestors on their civilised migration from midsummer heat towards the salt breezes of Goodwood, or Deauville – or, in the case of their American cousins, to Del Mar. So it is that some outstanding fillies are divided, this weekend, by the bare width of the Channel.
Tomorrow Goldikova continues her journey back to the Breeders' Cup by seeking a 10th Group One prize in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville, where her rivals include the Falmouth Stakes winner, Music Show. Navigating the other way, meanwhile, are Stacelita and Rosanara, for the Blue Square Nassau Stakes at Goodwood today.
Between them, the two French fillies probably offer stronger resistance than Midday (3.05) met here last year, but she would go on to a new peak in the Filly and Mare Turf at the Breeders' Cup. A comeback defeat by her old rival, Sariska, represented a solid effort at the weights and you never know when a Henry Cecil filly has finished improving.
Success for Midday would consolidate Cecil's return to the top five in the trainers' championship, which could itself turn into a useful recruitment tool for RFC this season. Following the success of Canford Cliffs, Richard Hannon retains every right to retrieve the lead surrendered to Sir Michael Stoute when Harbinger won at Ascot. (Hannon, incidentally, reckons Sir Alex Ferguson has another useful colt in Pausanias, who makes his debut on today's card.)
A more obvious stimulant to public interest, however, remains Paul Hanagan's unexpected charge for the jockeys' title. His debt to the skills of Richard Fahey is measurable by the fact that he had to choose between five in the Blue Square Stewards' Cup. Punters, of course, are doomed to a choice of 28, but a surfeit of jockeys excitably contesting the pace over this steep track might just set things up for Palace Moon (3.40).
The calendar, anyhow, is never more than the matrix. And as men like Hanagan and Hannon are showing, much the most engaging "narratives" are those that could never be scripted in advance.
Hannon and Co keep the juvenile winners coming
If strong suit is the best young horse in Richard Hannon's care, as he again insisted after saddling yet another juvenile Pattern winner at Goodwood yesterday, then the chances are he must also be the best in the land. For the stable's unprecedented strength in depth this season is not just a tribute to the partnerships that underpin his operation – one with his son, namesake and assistant, the other with his son-in-law and stable jockey, Richard Hughes – it is also becoming a downright embarrassment to his competitors.
The big spenders dismiss the yearlings favoured by Hannon as merely commercial or precocious, the type that will do a job for his good-time owners. Well, you would not be at all surprised were these same men to try to tempt Hannon's patrons with some of their millions.
There's time yet. In recent years, after all, there has been a shift in the profile of yearlings sent to Ballydoyle, with many staying types emerging in the season's second half. But that stable's relatively quiet start with juveniles has exposed a humiliating vacuum among the other bloodstock superpowers.
And Hannon keeps making hay. Just as at the Newmarket July Festival, he has won all three of the Group prizes offered two-year-olds at Goodwood this week. Yesterday it was the turn of Libranno, who made all in the Tanqueray Richmond Stakes, seeing off The Paddyman by over a length.
Hughes reckons the colt would have to be taught to race a different way to last a mile, and for now connections intend to play to his strengths over six furlongs. "He jumped extremely fast and I was tanking down the hill," Hughes said. "The last two furlongs were very lonely, out there in the middle, but he had killed them off in the middle of the race."
Libranno is now likely to be upgraded to Group One level, possibly in the Middle Park Stakes, and doubts about his stamina prompted bookmakers to leave him at 20-1 for the 2,000 Guineas. You can get the same odds against King Torus, very striking here earlier in the week, and around 6-1 about Strong Suit. Hughes, likewise, rates the Coventry Stakes winner as the best of the bunch – "just through feel" – and is looking forward to riding him at the Curragh next month.
But nobody should get ahead of themselves, in view of the poignant postscript to events here the previous day. Age Of Aquarius has been retired to stud after tearing fetlock ligaments, while overnight it emerged that Borderlescott had returned to the stables lame and will miss the rest of the season. You can't buy luck. And, as Hannon keeps proving, that leaves you with judgement.
Rock N Roll Ransom (1.55 Goodwood)
Unbeaten in two starts but that looks the tip of the iceberg, his top-class staying genes and a late surge over a mile at Salisbury last time both promising more now that he steps up in trip. Having given the runner-up a start that day, he did well to get up in a photo and in the process restricted the handicapper to another 5lb.
Simple Jim (4.40 Thirsk)
A credit to his young trainer, winner of five of his past nine starts but by no means finished yet, again finishing strongly when set rather too much to do at Redcar last time. Runs off the same mark here and can continue to outpace the modest plodders he tends to encounter at this level.
One to watch
Satwa Moon (E A L Dunlop)
Has very few miles on the clock for a four-year-old and was making only his second start on turf when third at Goodwood on Tuesday, set far too much to do and not given too hard a race once his chance was gone, managing third all the same.
Where the money's going
Enact is 7-1 from 9-1 with Totesport for the Blue Square Stewards' Cup at Goodwood today, while William Hill saw support for both Tom Dascombe's runners, Johnny Mudball (9-1 from 10-1) and Noverre To Go (12-1 from 16-1).
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