In signing a retainer for Sheikh Hamdan, Paul Hanagan knew perfectly well that he had almost certainly forfeited any chance of a third consecutive jockeys' title. A four-timer at Hamilton yesterday reiterated that he can still accumulate the quantity, whenever the quest for quality permits. But the big meeting at Ascot this weekend could well provide equal impetus in both the race to succeed Hanagan, and the one for the trainers' championship.
The three jockeys apparently in contention for his title are all looking to take their seasons up another gear. Ryan Moore, on 77 winners, bids to give his boss, Sir Michael Stoute, a first Group One success since the 2010 Arc when Sea Moon contests the Betfair King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes tomorrow. William Buick, emerging as a challenger on the back of John Gosden's outstanding form, rides the defending champion, Nathaniel. And while Richard Hughes does not have a mount in the big race, he is hoping to profit from the increasing momentum of Richard Hannon's juveniles.
Today, for instance, he rides Havana Gold, a Teofilo colt who turned over an odds-on stablemate at Newmarket last month; and he partners Toronado, another debut winner, in a listed race tomorrow. Going into last night's meetings, Buick and Hughes had 65 and 62 winners respectively, with Hanagan now on 57.
Gosden, meanwhile, could go top of the prizemoney table if Nathaniel can trouser a purse of £567,100. The big man has already amassed almost exactly £2m, and so stands just over £400,000 behind Aidan O'Brien. The latter saddles St Nicholas Abbey, very easy to back on the sponsors' market on the race in recent days.
For Hanagan, meanwhile, it was just like old times. Stoute had sent one of Sheikh Hamdan's lesser animals to Scotland to break his maiden, enabling Hanagan to team up with his former employer, Richard Fahey, for three more winners – notably Sparkling Portrait, who had been all but brought down at Royal Ascot. "It was sticky, mucky ground, and I didn't want to use the stick at all," Hanagan said. "He's still a big baby, and got a bit of a scare at Ascot. But he's a very good horse – he just doesn't know it yet. So the plan was to give him a nice, long run through on the outside, and get his confidence back up."
Hanagan reckons Sparkling Portrait will really come into his own next year, but the colt has the option of a Ladbrokes St Leger trial in the Neptune Investment Great Voltigeur Stakes at York next month.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Mac's Power (3.55 Ascot) Coming steadily back to the boil, meeting traffic last time, and on a fair mark.
Jungle Beat (5.35 Ascot) Has been racing freely over longer trips.
Where the money's going
Shirocco Star is 7-1 from 8-1 with Paddy Power for the Darley Irish Oaks on Sunday.