Hughes allows Cliffs to carve own glorious path
He made it sound like some undeserved sinecure, a perk of marrying into the right family. "I'm the luckiest man in the weighing room, to ride for Richard Hannon," he grinned. "It's as simple as that. Jockeys are ten a penny."
Richard Hughes was not fooling anyone. In the previous race, admittedly, he had been little more than a passenger as King Torus won yet another juvenile Group prize for the Hannon yard. But the way he rode Canford Cliffs in the biggest race of the week reiterated that Hannon is himself pretty lucky, to have his son-in-law as stable jockey.
This summer Hughes has been in the form of his life, and it is an ample compliment for either to say that the Sussex Stakes winner and his partner richly deserve each other. The colt's status as the best miler in Britain or Ireland seems inviolate after he ran down Rip Van Winkle, last year's winner, getting up by a neck without feeling the whip. Hannon unequivocally saluted him as the best he has trained. On that basis, many other jockeys might have got Canford Cliffs home yesterday. But precious few, if any, could have escorted the champion quite like this – with something closer to a caress than a ride.
Hughes could soon be seen sitting quietly among the main body of runners as the Ballydoyle pacemaker opened up. Rip Van Winkle, trying to repeat his runaway success last year, was sent for home early in the straight and Canford Cliffs had perhaps three lengths to make up approaching the furlong pole. Hughes sensed a momentary hesitation, as his mount switched leads on "chewed-up" ground, but characteristically had the nerve to sit tight "and let him make his own mind up".
Essentially Hughes won with hands and heels, briefly showing Canford Cliffs the whip and pulling up even as he joined Rip Van Winkle a few strides short of the post. It was over three lengths back to Premio Loco, who caught Beethoven inside the last. This was the winner's third consecutive Group One success, completing his transformation from the spring.
"I wasn't happy with him then," Hughes said. "Richard was saying to me that he was fine, what more did I want? But he wasn't showing me what I know he can do. If you rode him work, you'd ride him that way, too. He's unbelievable, a superstar. And you haven't seen the best of him yet. He's getting bigger and stronger all the time."
Hannon is duly imploring the colt's owners to keep him in training, or at least to obtain an equivalent guarantee from the various studs expressing interest. "He'd be awesome, next year," Hannon promised. In the meantime he is reluctant to commit to any plans. For instance, while Canford Cliffs looks tailor-made for the Breeders' Cup, an extension to his career might justify sparing him a meeting there with Goldikova as a three-year-old.
Canford Cliffs was Hannon's 51st winner at this meeting, King Torus having brought up the half-century with that startling, six-length romp in the Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes. This colt, in marked contrast, has taken the stable by surprise, but they may yet be bringing him back here next year for the Sussex Stakes itself. "You wouldn't know this horse was in the yard," Hughes said. "He wouldn't win a piece of work. He's heavy, he's slobby, you wouldn't back him going to the start. Then you grab hold of him in a race and he goes into overdrive. I haven't done the last two furlongs here as fast as that in a long time. I couldn't pull him up."
King Torus was bred by Aidan O'Brien, who offered sporting congratulations to Hannon after the big race. O'Brien was delighted that Rip Van Winkle had duly improved for his Ascot comeback, and may now step him back up to ten furlongs in the Juddmonte International at York.
Over in Ireland, meanwhile, Finger On the Pulse was driven out by Tony McCoy to win the Galway Plate. It was a typical McCoy ride, bold and strong. Ten a penny, mind you, these guys.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Solicitor (2.10 Goodwood) Struggled to build on juvenile promise but now miles ahead of his mark – a 6lb penalty is unlikely to stop him from an excellent draw.
Spoken (3.45 Nottingham) A young horse on the upgrade against largely exposed rivals. Cheekpieces, castration and fast ground prompted major improvement at Bath last time in a fashion that suggested he could improve again over this distance.
One to watch
Violent Velocity (J J Quinn) Is another to suggest that his astute trainer will soon be back in top form, kicking a long way out at York last Saturday before excusably fading into sixth. His rating has returned to a very manageable level while his stable has struggled for form.
Where the money's going
Lethal Weapon, the mount of Tony McCoy, is 8-1 from 16-1 with William Hill for the Guinness Galway Hurdle today, with the recent Northumberland Plate winner, Overturn, 6-1 favourite.
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