Consecutive championships and a lucrative retainer for Sheikh Hamdan having failed to make the remotest impression on his innate humility, Paul Hanagan has no problem with the scenario facing him at Sandown on Saturday. For in order to give Mukhadram a chance of reversing form with Al Kazeem in the Coral Eclipse Stakes, Hanagan must deflect at least some of the praise lavished upon him for an outstanding ride at Royal Ascot last month.
"To be honest, I felt a bit guilty to be taking so much credit," the jockey confessed. "We've always thought a lot about this horse, and he has improved every time I've sat on him. He's still lightly raced, a very good-looking individual who seems a lot stronger this year."
Mukhadram was only run down by a neck in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, after Hanagan had sent him scuttling clear off the home turn. But it was not as if the pace had been farcically slow. This was simply a tremendously alert, enterprising ride on a colt who looks eligible to control the tempo once again on Saturday – not least after being drawn on the rail.
"I did manage to fill him up with a lovely breather before kicking at Ascot," Hanagan said. "But this is a very uncomplicated horse. He doesn't have to make the running. If someone else wants to go flat out, I'll be happy to take a lead. But if I find myself in front again, so be it. He does have this great long stride, and certainly seemed to enjoy things at Ascot."
Having ridden him in all seven career starts, Mukhadram has become one of the first significant Hamdan projects to bear Hanagan's personal imprint. As such, there could be no more fitting conveyance for a first Group One win in his patron's silks – a breakthrough again plucked from his grasp only in the final strides of another race at the royal meeting. As it happens, Declaration Of War – Aljamaaheer's nemesis in the Queen Anne Stakes – joins Al Kazeem as a familiar obstruction.
"I was absolutely gutted when Declaration Of War came and caught Aljamaaheer," Hanagan said. "But after watching the replay, I had to admit he would have been very unlucky not to get there. And he does look like the extra distance will be okay for him."
The pain of those near-misses at Ascot obtained a literal quality on the final day, when Ektihaam took a frightening fall when leading in the Hardwicke Stakes. "It was just frustrating, really, because I thought him one of my best chances of the week," Hanagan said. "Unfortunately we happened to have that downpour of rain, and it just got slippery on the bends. I was a bit battered and bruised, but I've had plenty of physio and took a couple of extra days off this week, with a busy spell ahead."
Hanagan did hasten back, five days after that spill, to ride a juvenile named Ertijaal – trained, like Mukhadram, by William Haggas – to a really impressive success. "I don't want to get carried away," he stressed. "It was only a Yarmouth maiden. But he couldn't have done it any better, gave me a really nice feel, and seems to have a lovely temperament."
Ertijaal could run at the July Festival at Newmarket, but it would be gratifying if Hanagan did not have to wait until the blossoming of this colt's raw talent for the milestone he craves next. "I would just love to get that Group One for Sheikh Hamdan," he said. "It's such a massive team effort, and I love being part of that. All I can do is try my best, and hope it comes soon."
Who knows? More of the same on Mukhadram, and it might even come on Saturday.
Chris Mcgrath's Nap
Altharoos (7.30 Beverley) Won his maiden round here and looked better than this rating when resuming at Sandown last month, staying on well after getting held up in traffic.
Mankini (4.45 Doncaster) Gave the winner a head start at Leicester last week but pulled 15 lengths clear of the rest and should make amends off the same mark.
One to watch
Arch Villain (Amanda Perrett) Could not sustain his winning spree in the Northumberland Plate but challenged smoothly before fading and may yet resume his progress back in trip.Reuse content