This bloke Hannon seems to be getting the hang of things. At this rate, in fact, you wouldn't bet against him adding to the trainers' championship he won in 1992. At 65, Richard Hannon, in partnership with his son, assistant and namesake, is extending his pomp to the point that their Wiltshire stable, long a prolific source of juvenile winners, now houses the favourites for both the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas, in Strong Suit and Memory respectively.
Yesterday it produced the winners of both juvenile races on the second day of the July Festival, though in the case of Libranno in the TNT July Stakes even Hannon could not rival the Midas touch of the colt's owner and breeder, Oliver McDowell.
A few years ago McDowell, a north London locksmith, won over £7m on the Lotto. He says he has since given most of it away, but he kept enough to pursue the dreams that first brought him here as a boy. McDowell bought a filly named Annabelle Ja, and when she had to be retired prematurely he had her covered by a young stallion, Librettist. Libranno was the result, and a few weeks ago he won his first start over on the Rowley Mile, at 25-1.
Though he took on just four rivals for this Group Two prize, once again nobody wanted to know, and he was sent off 10-1. Instead it was Elzaam who started at odds-on, having only been collared on the line by Strong Suit himself in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, but he was soon off the bridle – perhaps not over a hard race there – as Ryan Moore set a strong pace on Libranno. One by one his pursuers began to flounder, with only Neebras rallying from a slow start to get within three-quarters of a length at the post, the pair well clear of Elzaam.
"I've got 15 grandchildren, but this horse is like another one to me," McDowell said. "And it would be just the same if he were just a selling plater. I served my apprenticeship in Newmarket, 67 years ago, with Joe Lawson at Carlburg Stables. It was very tough, but those were wonderful days. I didn't buy the dam, I stole her. Willie Browne paid 70,000 [guineas] for her as a yearling, and I got her for 18,000 at the breeze-ups."
Everything this family touches clearly turns to gold, as he is "a distant cousin" of Graeme McDowell, who won the US Open last month.But Libranno's trainer clearly had a role, too. "I sent this horse half-cocked for his debut and he won," Hannon said. "And if they win for me first time, they usually have a bit more in the tank. He's a bit free at home and I said to Ryan: 'If he leaves the gate good, don't try and organise him – let him roll.' You've got to give him some respect now."
At the same time, however, he admitted that Libranno was not in the same class as Strong Suit. "There's no doubt he's my best two-year-old," he said. "He's a very, very good horse. I think."
Hannon will be raising Casual Glimpse in class after he came from off the pace in the EBF Conditions Stakes, a notable effort on a card dominated by front-runners. Whether a similar bias will today favour Starspangledbanner in the meeting's climax, the Darley July Cup, remains to be seen. He certainly enjoyed the best of the draw when winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, blazing clear on the stands rail, and Society Rock (3.10) excelled in cutting through the rest of the pack after a messy start out in the middle. He looks overpriced for the rematch, still lightly raced and representing, in James Fanshawe, a trainer in far better form than his depressing statistics imply.
Another local yard to be showing signs of hitting form is that of John Ryan, who won the 3Red Superlative Stakes last year with Silver Grecian and could have a better chance of following up than the likely odds about Ocean Bay (2.0) would suggest. This colt showed promise in a good race over the bare five furlongs in the spring, and should prove a different proposition over this trip.
The same sponsors, together with the course management, apparently expect people no longer to refer to the day's big handicap as the Bunbury Cup. It is unmistakably the same race, however, in terms of competition, with Signor Peltro heading the many dangers. Group One-placed as a juvenile, Gallagher (2.35) shaped nicely on his return from a break at Ascot and is restored to his best trip today.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Society Rock (3.10 Newmarket) Close at 50-1 last time and warrants perseverance, with odds still too generous.
Keenes Day (3.0 Ascot) Down in the weights and back to form at Kempton last time.
One to watch
Straversjoy (R Hollinshead) Is finding her feet, no chance against a hotpot at Haydock but keeping on for fourth.
Where the money's going
Palace Moon is 11-2 from 7-1 with William Hill for the John Smith's Gold Cup at York tomorrow.