Nothing daunted by some high-profile recent reverses with two-year-olds, the operations division at Richard Hannon's powerful Wiltshire headquarters is planning an audacious assault on the season's next Group One prize, Saturday's Sprint Cup at Haydock. The stable's star older miler Paco Boy was one of 20 entries left in the six-furlong contest yesterday and, despite having run over the distance only once since his juvenile season, is judged classy enough to enter the early market as third favourite.
Paco Boy's latest try at six furlongs came in last year's July Cup and was a creditable one; he finished fourth to Fleeting Spirit and the forecast easy conditions at Haydock will suit him. "He ran very well in the Newmarket sprint last season," said Hannon's son and assistant Richard Jnr yesterday, "and the owners are keen for him to take his chance on Saturday. The ground will be to his liking and he's in good nick at home."
Ahead of Paco Boy in the Haydock betting are the season's best sprinter Starspangledbanner, yet to be confirmed a runner, and last year's winner Regal Parade. The participation of Starspangledbanner, winner of the Golden Jubilee Stakes and July Cup and runner-up in the Nunthorpe Stakes last time, will be decided after he works at Ballydoyle today or tomorrow.
O'Brien also holds the key to another of Saturday's top-level contests in Ireland, with five of the 10 in the Irish Champion Stakes. The quintet are headed Rip Van Winkle, winner of the York International two weeks ago, and Fame And Glory, who has the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as his prime autumn target. Rip Van Winkle's immediate Knavesmire victim Twice Over will line up for the rematch.
The Hannon-trained two-year-old Memory, who lost her unbeaten record behind Ballydoyle's Misty For Me at The Curragh on Sunday, emerged from her Irish exertions none the worse, with her wide draw blamed for her defeat.
But ally them to lies, or even damned lies, sometimes statistics can reveal a pattern. For the months from March until July, the strike rate for the Hannon yard averaged nearly 20 per cent. But this month it has slumped to just 11 per cent.
Another to suffer a setback at the weekend was the US star Rachel Alexandra, who has been struggling to find the form that brought her last year's Horse Of The Year title. She had to settle for second place in a Grade One at Saratoga on Sunday night, caught close home by Persistently after beating off her perceived chief rival Life At Ten with fierce early fractions.
*sue montgomery's nap
Jasmeno (5.55 Folkestone)
Blossomed given similar underfoot conditions last time out.
Guga (2.30 Ripon)
Has a questionable attitude but a new, in-form stable and strong handling can do the trick.
*one to watch
Becausewecan (M Johnston), third in a handicap at York over two miles, is close to his last winning mark and his turn should come with a less demanding test.
*where the money's going
Starspangledbanner is 7-2 favourite with Totesport for Saturday's Sprint Cup at Haydock.
*chris mcgrath's nap
Toymaker (4.50 Folkestone).