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Cliffs leaves rivals all at sea

Royal Ascot next on agenda after Hannon's star romps home in Irish Classic

The horse justified the faith and the hope at the Curragh, the punters were the recipients of the charity. Canford Cliffs, the well-backed favourite for the Irish 2,000 Guineas, made his 9-4 starting price seem mighty generous with his scintillating three-length success. And for trainer Richard Hannon, the performance was vindication of his opinion that the colt may be the best he has had in 40 years with a licence.

Canford Cliffs had looked a talent out of the ordinary when he streaked away with the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot almost a year ago but had met defeat in all three runs since, most recently his third place in the Newmarket Guineas 22 days ago. Yesterday, though, the three-year-old in the tangerine silks was a galloping testament to the time-honoured adage about form and class.

With the Ballydoyle trailblazer Encompassing ensuring a relentless gallop, Richard Hughes was able to settle Canford Cliffs almost last of the 13 runners, but travelling sweetly and strongly. Two furlongs from home, with most other riders animated in their pushing and shoving, changing hands and gathering reins, he remained motionless as Canford Cliffs cruised through the pack.

He picked off the leader at the furlong pole, Oasis Dancer, at will, and quickened away for an impressive victory. Free Judgement tried to go with him and failed but was a clear second-best ahead of the Aidan O'Brien pair Viscount Nelson and Steinbeck, with another British raider, Xtension, inches fifth.

The pattern of yesterday's race was in marked contrast to that at Newmarket, where slow early fractions were followed by a sprint. And after that experience, Hughes rode Canford Cliffs differently, too. "The last day I was too relaxed on him," he said, "I put him to sleep and then couldn't wake him up in time. This time I got him really revved up and ready to go and he hit the bridle straight away."

With doubts about his ability to truly stay a mile in top company laid to rest a return to Royal Ascot next month for the St James's Palace Stakes is on the son of Tagula's agenda. There, he will face a rematch with the two in front of him in the 2,000 Guineas, the French-trained winner Makfi and his own East Eversleigh stablemate Dick Turpin. "That French colt looked very good at Newmarket," admitted Hughes, "but I think I have the key to ours now."

With five-year-old Paco Boy as well as Canford Cliffs and Dick Turpin, the Hannon stable has riches in the mile department, but hardly embarrassing ones. "This horse's homework since Newmarket has been as good as it was before Ascot last year," said the trainer's son and assistant Richard jr yesterday, "and he has run like it. He did a piece of work last week so good that Hughsie was able to sit on him like a jet-ski."

Steinbeck, on his first outing for seven months and only the third of his life, ran a sound race, only half a length behind Viscount Nelson and doing all his best work at the end and he, too, has the Ascot decider pencilled in. "He ran a bit fresh," said O'Brien, "but he came home well and we'll look forward to the next day." The Oratorio colt started joint second-favourite with stablemate Fencing Master, a disappointing tenth.

The Classic circus remains at the Curragh today where the raiders Music Show (Mick Channon) and Anna Salai (Godolphin) take on the home side's perceived best Lolly For Dolly and Gile Na Greine in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.