Hannon closes in on trainers' title

Celebration beckons at Newmarket but son-in-law Hughes faces tough battle in race for jockeys' prize
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The Independent Online

It seemed an apt summary of their relative momentum, heading into the final six weeks of the season. For the first race here yesterday Richard Hannon had rolled out another three juvenile maidens, from the apparently endless conveyor belt at his Wiltshire stables. Two of them finished first and third – but Richard Hughes, his son-in-law and stable jockey, had chosen to ride the one who trailed in tenth. Hannon spread his hands apologetically. In the morning he had even rung the owner of the winner, Face Reality, and said: "Not today..."

Hannon could more or less seal the trainers' title at Newmarket later this week. Hughes, however, has been finding it tough going to eat into Paul Hanagan's lead in the jockeys' table. To his credit, he has been giving it a proper crack, but really needed to exploit a hiatus in the northern calendar, which had caused his rival to take a couple of days off. As it was, Hughes was turned over on a 2-5 shot at Ffos Las on Monday, albeit later proceeding to ride his 100th winner for Hannon this year. Here he had to wait until the gloaming to win the last of eight races on the hot favourite, and then only in a desperate finish, paring down Hanagan's advantage to 13.

For Hannon, meanwhile, things keep simmering nicely. On Friday, he seeks a Group One double through Memory, in the Cheveley Park Stakes, and Strong Suit, in the Shadwell Middle Park Stakes. And the next day his championship bid could be crucially sustained by cash, rather than kudos. It may seem wrong that the climax of the Tattersalls Millions series, confined to graduates of a particular sale, should carry so much more prize money. In Hannon's case, however, few could complain should he wrap up the title expressly through the value for money he has always secured his patrons at the yearling sales.

His very presence here was instructive of how reliably the system works. His son, assistant and namesake, Richard Jr, had been entrusted with the first day of the big auction at Goffs, in Ireland, loading up the next round of the carousel. Who knows? Perhaps the second championship of his career might prompt Hannon to hand over formal responsibility for what is already a joint operation.

Nor will the domestic table necessarily prove the best measure of their stable's unprecedented strength in depth this term. Despite the abrupt retirement to stud of Zebedee, who duly misses the Prix de l'Abbaye, Hannon retains Group One ambitions in Paris on Sunday for King Torus in the Prix Lagadère, and Paco Boy against Goldikova in the Prix de la Forêt.

"King Torus will run unless it gets really heavy," he said. "I left him in the Dewhurst this morning, as an option, but he has done well since Goodwood - he'll be fresh, and he's grown, too." It does seem, moreover, that Hannon is being persuaded into an intriguing volte-face over the Breeders' Cup. Earlier in the summer Hannon was adamant that Canford Cliffs or Paco Boy would not go to Louisville in November. He has not had a runner at the Breeders' Cup since 1993, the year after he lost Mr Brooks in Florida.

Now, however, he appears to be reluctantly yielding to connections of Canford Cliffs, who missed Ascot last Saturday after scoping poorly. "The owners seem keen to have another run, though there is nothing left for him in Europe," Hannon said. "So I suppose if he does go again they will be looking at the Breeders' Cup Mile, as well as Japan and Hong Kong. If they decide against travelling him this year, we'll pack him up until next season." He also acknowledged that Paco Boy's owners may be tempted "by one last roll of the dice at Churchill Downs".

Even champion trainers must heed those who pay the bills, though Hannon made little attempt to disguise his dismay that Zebedee is leaving after just one season: "The only time he got beat was my fault," he lamented. "At Ascot I told Hughesie not to let that American horse get too far ahead, but he went like the blazes for three furlongs and then fell in a heap." Be that as it may, it sounds as though he can't let the Americans out of his sights just yet.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Dancing Welcome (5.55 Wolverhampton) Bounced back to form here the other day, going sweetly before pulling well clear of the third. This trip probably a bare minimum but she is too well treated to ignore off a 3lbs lower mark.

Next best

Mirrored (4.20 Ayr) Another change of yard has prompted signs of renewal in his last couple of starts, travelling strongly before meeting traffic at Ripon last time, implying that he is now down to a very fair mark.

One to watch

Deacon Blues (J R Fanshawe) Is in the right hands to keep progressing next year, and excelled in third against older rivals in the Portland last Saturday, cutting down those drawn nearby in style.

Where the money's going

Coral report good support for Workforce in their Arc market, cutting the Derby winner to 5-1 from 7-1.

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