Lanigan backs green Meeznah to take root at the Curragh
It is the most fitting of races for those little acorns, sown by so many young trainers around the land, to take root. In recent seasons, the Oaks has announced the emerging talent of Andrew Balding, with Casual Look in 2003, and Ralph Beckett, with Look Here in 2008. Last Friday, admittedly, it required a second look to identify a parallel breakthrough for David Lanigan, in that his filly was run down by a neck close home. But nobody should mistake the significance of Meeznah's performance, on her first start outside maiden company.
Lanigan, in only his third season, had clearly risked ridicule. Meeznah had beaten just three rivals on her reappearance, and the runner-up was then beaten out of sight at Chepstow, just four days before Lanigan took his filly to Epsom. After all, countless horses impress in maidens. How many would justify being audaciously fast-tracked to a Classic? Little wonder Meeznah started at 25-1. In the event, however, she handsomely vindicated her trainer's judgement, swooping on the bridle before just being worried out of it by Snow Fairy.
"When that filly was beaten at Chepstow, I did wonder if everyone would think I was bonkers," Lanigan said yesterday. "But three out, knowing how good Ted Durcan is in a finish, I thought she wouldn't get beat from there. In the end, you could only be very proud. It is frustrating, to go so close without winning, when it can take people a lifetime to win a Classic. But the main feeling was relief, that everyone did their job well, that it had been right to run, that she didn't make you look an idiot."
Lanigan, 35, will seek revenge on Snow Fairy in the Irish Oaks, believing not only that the Curragh will suit Meeznah better than Epsom, but also that she will improve for her rite of passage. After all, it had never been his intention to send her to the Oaks without sampling tougher company. But a stone bruise in March had interrupted her schedule, and she was obliged to sit out the trials.
"She did lack experience, though it helped that she is so straightforward, mentally," Lanigan said. "Before the race, practically all the others were black with sweat, revved up to the eyeballs, but she never turned a hair. But Ted said she ran around a bit, once she hit the front, and it's hard to keep going forward if you've got to hold a green filly together. And while I would take nothing at all away from the winner, it can only have been a help once she got down on that rail."
Lanigan's assured arrival among the elite will surprise nobody familiar with one of the deepest CVs in Newmarket. His is a respected surname in Irish bloodstock, thanks to his parents' endeavours at Tullamaine Castle Stud, and his schoolboy apprenticeship comprised summers in a veritable Hall of Fame, with Vincent O'Brien, John Oxx and Edward O'Grady. Following a diversion into land management at Cirencester, his true vocation was completed in two five-year modules, first with the Kentucky breeding empire, Walmac International, and then as assistant to Henry Cecil. Each gave him a grasp of different extremes of the racing culture. At Walmac, he handled stallions such as Nureyev and Miswaki, before proceeding to a pre-training centre in South Carolina; at Warren Place, meanwhile, he witnessed at first hand Cecil's stirring renaissance, not least through Light Shift in the Oaks itself.
"It's incredible what he has come through," Lanigan said. "To lose your twin brother, and go through a divorce, and then deal with illness – he's very tough. He never missed a day during his treatment. He was extraordinary, to learn from. He would never just decide: 'Right, you're running tomorrow.' You wait for the horse to come to you."
Cecil also played his part with Meeznah, allowing his protégé to work this understated filly with a couple of his own, and so gain an objective sense of her eligibility. Lanigan, meanwhile, has plainly assimilated his mentor's comfort with blue-chip patrons: the Niarchos family, Kirsten Rausing, Plantation Stud and above all Rabbah, the Dubai-based owners of Meeznah among others.
These are not the patrons of your common-or-garden rookie. But Lanigan, with a 15-month-old daughter and 43 boxes filled at Revida Place, not to mention another dozen at an overflow yard, needs no reminding of the pressure to perform. "This is something I wanted to do since I was at school," he said. "I'd spend every day dreaming about it. When the chance came, your biggest fear was making a mess of it. You can never sit on your laurels. You have to get better every year. The competition is huge. I know lots of people, well able to train, who are stuck with 10 horses, five of them cripples. But I've never thought of it as a job. It's the best life in the world."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Candleshoe (2.30 Newbury) Remains on a very fair mark, and the way she travelled before going down narrowly at Chepstow the other day suggests that she will appreciate being covered up by Richard Hughes over this more conventional track.
Fantastic Cuix (5.20 Newbury) Looked to be coming to the boil when staying on for fourth at Yarmouth last time, and looks fairly treated for her handicap debut.
One to watch
City Dancer (D Nicholls) Produced her most auspicious performance since joining the master of sprint handicaps when a close sixth at Epsom on Derby day, slowly away and meeting traffic on her way through.
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