One filly was extending an immaculate start to her career, winning for the third time in three starts; the other, in contrast, redressed a sequence of misadventures that measured the odds against any such seamless reward. In both cases, however, the agency of fulfilment was the same: the silky hands and steel-girder confidence of Richard Hughes.
The sight of Hughes so obviously in his pomp has been one of the more gorgeous blooms of this parched summer. And yesterday, on the opening afternoon of the July Festival, he produced another pair of peaches. In both cases he appeared late and fast, with an insouciance that would long have deserted lesser jockeys, running out of time and space in the day's two biggest races.
First there was Memory, who confirmed herself already a luminous prospect for next year's 1,000 Guineas when retrieving what seemed a desperate situation in the most leisurely fashion in the ITM Cherry Hinton Stakes. Trained by Richard Hannon for a Highclere syndicate, she had won a maiden at Goodwood and then the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot and duly started hot favourite here. But she began too freely, and Hughes was obliged to settle her behind rivals; as they began weakening into her path, he found himself trapped and it was well inside the final furlong, with Soraaya in full cry, before he could angle wide to challenge. At the post, however, Hughes was three-quarters of a length in front and already pulling up.
Memory will be tried over a seventh furlong in the Moyglare Stakes at the Curragh next month, but Hannon is confident she will get a mile next year. Harry Herbert, the Highclere manager, admitted that he had been anxious. "He's ridden her very confidently," he said. "But then Richard is very confident at the moment! He said she's a filly that almost enjoys that trouble. He knew there was a lot of gas left in the tank. Looking at her make and shape, and pedigree, you would hope she'll go on improving. And her work – well, normally when you go and see them work, they're like diseased goats. But when I saw this filly just given a little squeeze and she went four or five lengths clear. It was a rare sight."
Memory certainly has the plausible look of a Guineas filly, 8-1 favourite with Totesport, but the travails of Music Show in her own Classic campaign this year will temper excitement. Hopelessly marooned by the draw in the Guineas, she only accumulated fresh excuses at the Curragh and Royal Ascot. Ridden for the first time by Hughes, however, she was dropped out before coasting through to cut down Spacious in the Etihad Airways Falmouth Stakes. Lillie Langtry and Special Duty, who had beaten Music Show at Ascot and over the Rowley Mile respectively, this time trailed in only fifth and seventh of eight. Their trainers professed themselves mystified but Mick Channon had no hesitation in declaring Music Show "the best three-year-old filly in the country".
He expanded: "I've never had any doubts about that, and today she's beaten the ones that had beaten her. It's annoying, when you know they're good and it doesn't happen, through no fault of their own. At Ascot, she was drawn two and ended up on the wide outside. In Ireland it was daylight all the way. People start telling you she's just a Group Two filly, and all that bollocks, and you do start to have your doubts. Thank goodness everyone at West Ilsley kept the faith."
Hughes had also proved a central character at Ascot last month, not least in getting Strong Suit out of such a pickle in the Coventry. And that colt, himself awaiting Group One options, overshadows the TNT July Stakes on today's card, with three of the five runners owing their lustre to his reflected glory.
Elzaam (2.00) had thrashed several subsequent winners when heavily backed at York and, viewed in isolation from Strong Suit at Ascot, his surge clear of the rest confirmed him an exceptional juvenile in his own right. Neebras, meanwhile, had chased home Strong Suit on their debut at Newbury, pulling six clear of a subsequent Group winner in third. Since recruited by Godolphin, Neebras bolted up in his own maiden at Goodwood and already has better numbers on the clock than Approve, who steps up in trip after winning the Norfolk. Completing Strong Suit's hold on proceedings is Libranno, chosen by Hannon from countless other juvenile winners housed in the same stable.
Approve's trainer, William Haggas, places his horses so carefully that the promotion of Harris Tweed (1.30) in the opener looks auspicious. The card's other Group race features the return to the fold of Spanish Moon, who was given a six-month ban for misbehaviour at the stalls last year and promptly won a small fortune overseas. With Tazeez stepping into unknown territory, however, this could be controlled from the front by Holberg (3.10). Point Out (2.35) can meanwhile summon some top-class genes now that he goes up in trip. Punters have no short cuts today, however: Hughes is suspended.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Invincible Lad (4.55 Newmarket) Improved past this rating on the all-weather, and promised to prove equally effective on turf when unlucky at Sandown last month.
Aegean Shadow (7.45 Doncaster) Looked capable of defying her revised mark despite being turned over at odds-on at Lingfield last time.
One to watch
Menadati (D R Lanigan) Hinted he may contribute to his trainer's growing reputation despite finishing only eighth of 13 on his debut at Sandown, very green early before staying on nicely up the hill.
Where the money's going
Fleeting Spirit is 4-1 from 9-2 with William Hill for the Darley July Cup at Newmarket tomorrow.