The concept of races tied into auction sales does not find favour with all, but there will be few complaints around East Eversleigh about the Weatherbys Super Sprint, run for the 18th time at Newbury this afternoon.
Since the valuable contest's inception, Richard Hannon has sent out six winners and umpteen placed horses, netting some £675,000 in prize money. And that, considering how competitive the race has become, is farming on a mid-west prairies scale.
The Super Sprint is confined to animals who, as yearlings under the hammer, cost less than 48,000gns, a sum which, although a substantial annual income to most people, is back-pocket change in the rarefied world of horse trading. The idea is to give the Ordinary Joes among owners – who not only have to buy their own beasts, rather than breed them, but can't afford the perceived elite, a crack at some proper money.
Certainly, the notion is popular and the invariable full field ensures a splendid spectacle as the young speedsters thunder along the straight five furlongs, every one trying for its life. With a prize fund of £200,000 on offer, this is not an afternoon for an educational run.
The weights for the race are based on each horse's auction price; broadly, the more expensive, the greater the burden. Hannon's victorious sextet have so far come from across the lower price range: Miss Stamper cost 7,500gns; Risky 12,000gns; Lyric Fantasy 12,500gns; If Paradise 13,500gns; Presto Vento 18,500gns; and Lady Livius 21,000gns.
Credit where credit is due; Wiltshire-based Hannon has always been aided and abetted at the yearling sales by his great buddy Peter Doyle, the noted Irish agent and talent-spotter. And the baton in both their professions is being passed on to the next generation as Hannon's son Richard and Doyle's son Ross are now bargain-hunting comrades-in-arms.
And happily for the bloodstock industry, one built on dreams, cheap does not always mean bad, and some properly smart horses have won the Super Sprint – Lyric Fantasy being a prime example. Hannon fields five contenders today, of whom the top one in the betting, Monsieur Chevalier, is a highly-regarded young athlete.
The colt, who had a 17,000gns price tag last year, has given his owners Valerie Hubbard and Ian Higginson, a huge amount of fun already, including taking an unbeaten record of four to Royal Ascot. He started favourite for the Norfolk Stakes, but after a rough passage could finish only fifth, and returned home as walking wounded.
"He got bashed around at Ascot," said Hannon, "and came home with sore ribs. He's fine now, though. He's won four times over five furlongs and is probably ready for a step up to six, but they always go fast in this race, which will suit him because, although he'll have to be scrubbed along to stay with them at first, he loves to have a target and come though horses."
Monsieur Chevalier (3.25) is today's class act and his price will reflect that, but Hannon has prevailed with market choices from Lyric Fantasy's 2-5 favourite to Lady Livius' 100-1 four years ago.
"He has the form," added Hannon, "but don't forget the two fillies down the bottom. I'd give them both a great shout; they're getting a lot of weight from the colt." The two mentioned in dispatches are Chocolate Cookie and Reach For The Sky; the last-named the cheapest in the field at 2,000gns and already a winner.
As far as starting position across the wide Newbury track is concerned, the Hannon quintet have all bases covered, with Monsieur Chevalier, Chocolate Cookie and Reach For The Sky drawn low and Palisades Park and Desert Auction towards the stands side rail.
Another of the lightweights is Shamandar, who went through the sale ring twice last year and failed to find a buyer on either occasion, even at 3,500gns. She showed just how flawed was the ringside pundits' judgement by winning easily first time out at Ripon 12 days ago and, although she may ultimately be better suited by further than the minimum trip, she has bags of unexposed potential and perhaps it should be noted that her trainer, William Haggas, has two Super Sprints in his bag.
Fast horses command most of the interest at Newbury today; before the flyers of the future strut their stuff, one with the runs already on the board in top company makes his long-awaited seasonal debut in the Group Three Shadwell Stakes. Last year, War Artist (2.20), a top-level winner in his first training home, South Africa, finished second in the Golden Jubilee Stakes and a close third in another Group One contest, the July Cup.
Injury then cut short his season and illness – he underwent abdominal surgery to treat a colic attack in February – thwarted attempts to get him back to the top-level fray to try his luck again in the midsummer features. The James Eustace-trained six-year-old sets the standard today and, even after more than a year's absence, can notch his first success in this country and get his campaign back on track at the expense of the upwardly mobile four-year-olds High Standing and Palace Moon.
Smith and Cheka double act is set to rumble on
As any stand-up comedian knows, timing is key; for racehorses, being given time when needed is equally important. The Cheka, who carries the colours of comedy actor Mel Smith, had not been seen in public since his promising second place in the Solario Stakes at the end of last August, but returned to action at Newbury yesterday with a gutsy neck defeat of the favourite Ashram in the Shadwell "Nunnery Stud" Conditions Stakes.
The three-year-old's physical niggles are now behind him and the hopes entertained that he can compete against the best are still alive. "He needed that race," said trainer Eve Johnson Houghton, "and he'll come on a lot. He's a serious horse and if he progresses I'd love to run him in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes."
Heavy rain in Berkshire yesterday morning rendered the Newbury ground soft and both today's cards at Ripon and tomorrow's at Redcar must pass inspections after a similar deluge in Yorkshire.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Flame Of Gibraltar (2.35 Newmarket)
Continued her progress by chasing home classly Flying Cloud in a Group 2 at Royal Ascot last time and, despite the potential of Splashdown, meets nothing of that calibre here and can gain compensation in a contest won last year by subsequent top-level winner Dar Re Mi.
Penitent (4.10 Newmarket)
This son of Kyllachy pulled well clear of the third horse when making the more experienced winner fight to the line on his belated debut last week. He should benefit from both the experience and today's step up to seven furlongs.
*One to watch
Racer Forever (John Gosden) did well to take fifth in last week's Bunbury Cup at Newmarket after slow early fractions and will be seen to better effect with a stronger gallop, for instance in the International Stakes at Ascot today week.
*Chris McGrath's Nap
Bugaku (4.30 Newbury).