Hannons' horse-trading puts flesh on the dream


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The Independent Online

So here they all were again, the agents and trainers and pin-hookers, appraising adolescent horses against their own, sober budgets and the deranged monologue of the auctioneers. While some had already been skirmishing overseas, in France or America, for many British and Irish professionals yesterday marked the resumption of a cycle as perennial and perplexing as migration: the yearling sales, this gruelling, addictive ritual, where over the coming weeks millions of pounds will ferment in the interstices of romance and commerce.

It should not have been difficult to exercise restraint, under sagging grey skies in Doncaster. This sale has always traded on pragmatism, rather than glamour, offering a catalogue of functional pedigrees – low-risk, high-speed stuff, yielding just the one six-figure lot in the opening session. But its opening pages are nowadays decorated by graduates of increasing distinction: Canford Cliffs changed hands here for £50,000, and Dream Ahead for £32,000. Both were top juveniles, but also went on to win all-aged championship races.

This profile has been reciprocated in a stable long admired for the way it systematically prospects the market's middle seam. Sure enough, Richard Hannon and his team have returned, for the first time since 1992, as supervisors of Britain's top yard. The champion trainer's son, namesake and assistant was once again picking out a job lot to take back to Wiltshire, as usual working from a shortlist drawn up by Peter and Ross Doyle.

"Generally speaking, it's a sale for two-year-olds," Hannon Jnr said. "The yearlings sold here tend to have been born quite early, and more often than not they're the ones ready to go first. Those types tend to stick out, and that's why we have done so well here. But the standard's gone up and up, every year, and you can get anything here nowadays – decent milers, too, even champions like Canford Cliffs."

His father had disappeared somewhere, he complained good-naturedly, but had been doing the rounds through the morning. With each year, the accession becomes more tangible, but the old man is making too stubborn a defence of his title to be handing over the licence just yet. He retains a lead of more than £400,000 over Sir Henry Cecil, albeit an engorged prize fund for the inaugural Champions Day at Ascot could settle the championship at a stroke.

"You have to say Frankel will win his race there, and that's going to make it hard for us," Hannon Jnr said. "But we've still got Census in the St Leger next week, and runners in all the big two-year-old races, and it'll probably go to the wire. And that's good for racing. Normally, it's all about the jockeys, so it's great the trainers' championship is creating a bit of interest for a change. I'm sure there will be people rooting for us, and others rooting for Sir Henry. Win or lose, we've had a great year, and so has Sir Henry. He and Dad were both at the top 20 years ago, and they're both having the time of their lives."

Certainly, the Hannons have been quick to find a potential heir to Canford Cliffs, retired after suffering an injury behind Frankel in the Sussex Stakes, but whether Harbour Watch proceeds to the Middle Park or Dewhurst Stakes remains to be seen. "It's still up in the air," Hannon Jnr said. "But the seventh furlong wouldn't be a problem in the Dewhurst. He settles so well, in fact, it would probably suit him."

They are reliably represented today on an excellent card at their local track, Salisbury, notably by Dreamwriter in the Listed race. "I must admit she surprised us at Newbury first time out," Hannon Jnr said. "We didn't see that coming. But on the basis of what she did, she should take a fair bit of beating. She had done a couple of nice bits of work, in fairness, and had just had a bit of an attitude, to start with."

Dreamwriter has a dirt pedigree and was sent to the stable after being found by her owners at Keeneland – a sale Hannon Jnr has never even attended. But if her antecedents were unusual, her christening could hardly have been more pertinent to the quest her stable renewed here yesterday.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Romantic Wish (4.25 Salisbury) Improved again in defeat at Goodwood last time, but the energetic way she went through the race suggested she will do better again restored to this trip.

Next best

Colour Vision (5.30 Salisbury) A little disappointing in France last time, but well worth another chance back on faster ground.

One to watch

O'Gorman (Kevin Ryan) Again suggested himself fairly treated when blazing clear at Beverley on Sunday, only to be run down on the climb to the line.

Where the money's going

Our Jonathan is 14-1 from 20-1 with the sponsors for the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup, while Ladbrokes laid Spifer from 7-1 to 6-1 for their big handicap at Ascot on Saturday.