A pleasant destination on any pretext, Salisbury today compounds its usual charms with some interesting sport and the first public sighting of the champion jockey in over three weeks.
Ryan Moore was reluctant to acknowledge as much himself, when invited to do so last week, but he surely lost any chance of retaining his title when falling from Rocket Rob at Windsor on 9 August. A swollen wrist proved slow to heal, prompting a series of postponements for his return. In the meantime Paul Hanagan has extended his advantage over Moore to 33. With the summer grind of double shifts now over – albeit there will still be some floodlit evening meetings on the all-weather – Moore has too much ground to retrieve, even if his principal patron, Sir Michael Stoute, happens to end the season in rather more prolific form.
With a deficit of 16, going to Kempton last night, Richard Hughes remains a more feasible threat to Hanagan, albeit the disappointing performances of several high-profile mounts – notably, in consecutive Group One tests abroad, by Strong Suit, Libranno and Memory – have in turn heightened concerns about the momentum of his own stable. When Memory failed to meet expectations at the Curragh on Sunday, Richard Hannon Jr did grant that "a few of ours have been running like that recently". The Hannon stable admittedly operates on such an industrial scale that it is impossible for every single horse in their care to be in the pink of health. And its division between two yards, separated by four miles of Wiltshire countryside, should insulate at least half the horses against any low-grade infection.
The Hannons have a championship quest of their own, of course, and will be hoping to erode Stoute's slender advantage – barely £50,000 – at Salisbury today. Certainly their prolific history here will prompt many locals to view their fortunes as instructive of their overall form, with two months still to go.
The Hannons run two fillies, for instance, in the EBF Dick Poole Stakes, a £30,000 listed race. (Ralph Beckett, who saddles Ishbelle, yesterday suggested that this field has more depth than the one that contested the Lowther Stakes, at York.) Hughes rides Sweet Cecily, second in a similar race at Newbury last time, leaving Moore to pick up the mount on Tale Untold, impressive when odds-on for her debut at Kempton earlier in the summer.
Not that the championship is their principal priority just now, with Hannon Jr getting married on Saturday. There had been talk of Hughes riding Paco Boy in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock on Saturday, before flying south to perform his duties as brother-in-law and usher. Yesterday, however, Hannon Sr said that Paco Boy now "looks certain" to wait for the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp on Sunday.
Moore's comeback, incidentally, is by royal appointment. He wears the Queen's silks on Caraboss, a filly by Cape Cross and said to be among the more gifted of Stoute's juveniles.
There has never been any suggestion that Am I Blue has any particular ability, but all that changed at Hereford yesterday when she was backed from 25-1 to 5-1 before winning by 19 lengths. What's more, she was ridden by Richard Johnson, a late replacement for an unwell conditional jockey, Dean Coleman. Am I Blue had been stone last on her previous start, but while her trainer could not account for the gamble, she could the improvement in form. "She's had a bad shoulder so we had that sorted," Delyth Thomas said. "She just hasn't been travelling but we changed the tactics today. Richard thought she could be made more use of, and it's worked." The stewards accepted these explanations.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Baralaka (4.35 Epsom) Last chance to run in 0-75 company, and instructive that he is turned out under a penalty for his first start in handicaps, having no more than run to his rating when cutting down an exposed rival on his first start over this trip.
Sarasota Sunshine (4.25 Salisbury) Given the slip in a tactical race at Ascot last time, but that may have come too soon after her previous win. Looked well ahead of her mark at Newbury, idling in front.
One to watch
Carrignavar (R M Beckett) Showed promise in debut at Ffos Las, losing ground at the start but retrieving stylishly for third.
Where the money's going
Rip Van Winkle is 4-6 from evens with Ladbrokes for the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday.