Richard Hannon watched the last colt snorting up the gallop, and turned round with a grin. "Easy, isn't it?" he said. "Now let's go and have a drink."
And there, if you weren't careful, is where he might lead you astray. Not so much in what you will dependably be offered, once reaching his kitchen, as in the illusion that the leading stable in the land could more or less run itself. Because that, for too many people, is Hannon in a nutshell: a very successful formula, but a formula just the same. An eye for the right type of yearling, industrial efficiencies of scale and – win, lose or draw – plenty of entertainment for the owners. Perhaps only now, four decades after he saddled his first winner (over hurdles, at Chepstow) are people finally beginning to comprehend that something so "easy" can only be done with a touch of genius.
A press open morning yesterday ultimately disclosed little – beyond the familiar conviviality, all those self-deprecating grimaces and asides – to account for his flourishing fortunes at 65. One two-year-old, for instance, was introduced with a roll of the eyes. "He beat our other one at Goodwood, when we had a few quid on," Hannon said. "I was in London, went into a betting shop and had a couple of hundred on. The abuse I got..."
He almost seems to relish the impression that it all happens haphazardly, artlessly, just another benediction among the swelling Wiltshire landscape of blond and green and blue – cornfields, woodland, huge skies. Yes, there was his son, namesake and assistant, very much in evidence, their mutual responsibilities candidly apparent. "I don't know," Hannon would say, asked about some of the horses breezing by. "What are you going to do with that one, Richard?" But their partnership is palpably a matter of evolution, not revolution, and the bottom line is that the results – almost entirely from middle-market bloodstock – are surpassing even Hannon's one championship year, in 1992.
The focus of the morning was next week's big meeting at Goodwood, at which Hannon has saddled 47 of his 195 course winners. One after another his candidates emerged, cantering out of a hollow beneath the Iron Age earthworks of Sidbury Hill. Many of his other stars are being reserved for targets overseas – a fact that will certainly dilute his title challenge, should Sir Michael Stoute proceed to scoop the big prize at Ascot this Saturday – but Canford Cliffs is scheduled to lead what remains a formidable team in the Sussex Stakes, a week today.
"He's improved beyond recognition," Hannon said of the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner. "And he's still getting better, I'm sure he is. I took him to Kempton yesterday and worked him seven furlongs. He's matured, put on a lot of weight, and now that we've got him to settle in his races, he can show that turn of foot."
Ideally, Hannon would like to keep Canford Cliffs apart from Dick Turpin, after three meetings already this season. "I don't want to keep banging their heads together," he said. "But they've got different owners, and if we were to get a drop of rain I could see Dick Turpin running in the Sussex as well. Otherwise I don't know where we'll go, but one thing I am thinking about is a mile and a quarter for him. It would cost a lot to supplement him for York [in the Juddmonte Stakes] but it's something I want to do at some point."
Both are likely to stay in training, emboldened by the success of Paco Boy, who remains on track for a rematch with Goldikova in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville next month. "Though I did put him in the Prix Maurice de Gheest, over six and a half furlongs, just in case it gets soft," he said. "You can see how well he looks – and he looks like that all winter, never gets a coat on him. Bit a cameraman this morning, too, that's how well he is."
Though Memory and Strong Suit are both waiting for Group One options in Ireland, Hannon's strength in depth in the division will be apparent across all juvenile races at Goodwood – whether maidens, nurseries or Group races like the Tanqueray Richmond Stakes, won last year by Dick Turpin and this time targeted with the recent July Stakes winner, Libranno. "He's just come out of the blue, that horse," Hannon admitted. "We hardly knew he was in the yard, until his first run. He jumped out of the gate, and they never saw him again. And it was the same the other day. Zebedee's going for the Molecomb: he's very quick, won't be far away. King Torus might go in the Champagne – the track would suit him, if he does – and we've got some lovely unraced ones for the maidens. Big Issue, he's a really nice colt by Dubawi. And Sir Alex Ferguson has one by Kyllachy, called Pausanius."
Even with this next wave to come, Hannon has already run over 200 horses. They are divided between two yards, four miles apart, and it seems impossible that any trainer could have an intimate grasp of their each and every nuance. By hook or by crook, however, the system works. The next will be its 100th individual winner of the campaign.
Among all this quantity, moreover, the quality required to win at Goodwood will be especially cherished. Hannon's son-in-law and stable jockey, Richard Hughes, sacrificed any prospect of the riders' title by taking last week off, specifically to avoid any bans that might cut into the meeting. "It looks to me like they're picking on him," Hannon grumbled. "He hardly dares ride at Kempton now. Every time he goes there, he picks up a day or two. The other day he was done for intimidation, never even touched the other horse. They should get lanes. It's bloody horse racing, isn't it? They're two-year-olds, they're green. They don't run in straight lines."
But that's the point about Hannon, really. All these hundreds of horses in his care, apparently going round in circles. And almost all of them, somehow, end up on the straight and narrow.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Menadati (6.15 Leicester) Finished behind more than he beat on his debut at Sandown but, very green early on and soon well behind, he really got the hang of things later.
Cape Quarter (5.30 Lingfield) Richard Hughes is a good booking for a horse that has twice finished off really nicely round this track.
One to watch
Flambeau (H Candy) Is quickly showing smart form and stressed that speed is her forte when dominating a sprint handicap at Newmarket last Saturday, only to get collared on the line.
Where the money's going
Harris Tweed was yesterday chalked up as the sponsor's 9-1 favourite for the Totesport Ebor at York next month.Reuse content