After the first race, there were the inevitable grumbles: "Will he ever learn?" After the third, however, those who recognise Richard Hughes as one of the outstanding horsemen of his generation, and very much in his pomp, were able to turn the question round: "Will they ever learn?" Then, unfeasibly, the race after that left both parties shaking their heads, unanimous that Hughes – however good, bad or indifferent his judgement – sometimes needs luck the same as anyone else.
Riding Paco Boy with his usual, nerveless restraint, Hughes had failed by only a neck to run down the mighty Goldikova in the Queen Anne Stakes. Thankfully, he proceeded to give Canford Cliffs an identical ride to win the St James's Palace Stakes decisively. Both these mile championships had been anticipated for their vintage quality, but it was Hughes who gilded them with a due hint of genius.
Then came the Coventry Stakes, and here was Hughes, short of room and time on the hot favourite, Strong Suit. Somehow he retrieved an even keel, pulled out, and went into a candidly utilitarian overdrive to mug Elzaam on the line.
That kind of thing can happen to any jockey – win, lose or draw. But the conjunction of Paco Boy and Canford Cliffs should perhaps prompt his critics to ask themselves to look at Hughes afresh. How, otherwise, will they account for the fact that both these horses were long perceived –quite understandably – as sprinters rather than milers? The fact is that horses ridden by Hughes conserve the energy being squandered by more overtly positive riders. And they also offer him more without being asked. The delicacy of his hands and the courage that underpins his tactics together prompt them to relax and commit at the right time. Typically, of course, their rivals will be tiring in front – with only their different rates of doing so creating the optical illusion of "quickening".
It might be argued, for instance, that Olivier Peslier got away with a pretty mediocre ride on Goldikova. Unable to restrain himself any longer, so luxuriantly was she travelling just behind the pace, Peslier committed her fully 500 yards out in a race run in a lightning time. Sure enough, she began to tread water inside the final furlong, and that exaggerated the gusto of Paco Boy's finish. The chances are that Hughes, switched to Goldikova, would have won this race very comfortably. As it was, he was only a couple of strides from pulling off an outrageous win, and probably logged a career best for his mount. Yet most people were muttering that he had set Paco Boy too much to do.
Instead people should acknowledge Goldikova as one of the great milers of the modern era, fully deserving of the immortality she would achieve as the first triple Breeders' Cup winner if she defends the Mile successfully at Louisville in November. In the meantime, Freddie Head will return her to home soil in search of a 10th Group One success at Deauville next month.
"Perhaps she got there a bit early," the trainer admitted. "When Paco Boy came I was a little scared, but when she gets to the front she is never beaten. She always finds something else. It's rare you can ride a horse of that calibre in so many ways. She was not even blowing five minutes after the race."
Richard Hannon Jnr, assistant trainer to his father, absolved Hughes of any criticism. "That was probably the best performance of Paco Boy's career," he observed. "He has that one kick, and you've got to ride him like that. The two of them get on perfect."
It was another three lengths back to the outsider Dream Eater, while Rip Van Winkle was soon off the bridle on his comeback and faded into sixth. Nor did things turn out any better for his stable in the St James's Palace Stakes, where Steinbeck found himself in front after his pacemaker missed the break. Hughes, meanwhile, settled Canford Cliffs towards the rear and eased him through traffic from the home turn, artfully switching into a gap before Hearts Of Fire. Thereafter his mount just needed a couple of slaps to see off his stablemate Dick Turpin by a length, with Steinbeck dropping right away and the disappointing Makfi never landing a blow in seventh. Noble's Promise, the American raider, was not beaten far in fifth but never found a proper rhythm.
"I could afford to give them five lengths riding a horse like Canford Cliffs," Hughes said. "He needs to be ridden confidently to get him to settle. He also needs to come from off the pace, so needs some luck in running. But he's just so smooth and electric, like a Rolls-Royce. Riding another horse after him is like getting into a Morris Minor."
He would soon revise that judgement, however, after Strong Suit pulled the Coventry out of the fire. "I had a nightmare," Hughes admitted. "I had a barging match with Shane Kelly, and my horse was very raw and green. I had them all beat at the two-furlong pole so I said: 'Let's go and win it.' But I went to go round one horse and he just ran straight into the back of him. He wouldn't have come off the bit otherwise – he's a machine."
Hannon Snr, who proposed the Sussex Stakes for Canford Cliffs, could also take this colt to Goodwood for the Richmond, with the Newmarket July Festival an alternative.
The Australian raider Nicconi had earlier experienced the indignity of being outpaced in the King's Stand Stakes, keeping on only steadily for fourth behind Equiano. The rejuvenated 2008 winner of this contest dominated a race in which very few horses made ground, and will duly be kept to five furlongs for the Nunthorpe Stakes by his trainer, Barry Hills.
And the American favourite, Metropolitan Man, similarly failed to keep tabs on the home team in the Windsor Castle Stakes, dropping right out behind Marine Commando, who was crowning a prolific first half to the campaign for Richard Fahey and his stable jockey, Paul Hanagan. Goldikova duly proved the only overseas winner on a day that instead, with any luck, helped to identify a few home truths.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Safina (5.35 Ascot) Top-class pedigree and presumably kept back for this since breaking her maiden at Chester, form that has worked out well. This extra furlong will suit.
Moynahan (4.25 Ascot) Remains fairly treated after getting out of trouble at Goodwood last time.
One to watch
Mac's Power (J R Fanshawe) Promised to strike soon at Doncaster on Sunday, breaking clear like a well-handicapped horse before just being run down.
Where the money's going
Totesport make Strong Suit 9-1 favourite for next year's Stan James 2,000 Guineas after his remarkable success in the Coventry Stakes yesterday.Reuse content