Sunday Supplement: Epsom Downs (and Lingfield Ups)

Hannon Jr: the Storm Rider?

Hannon Jr: the Storm Rider?

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford 

At Epsom the other day, someone asked Richard Hannon if he could give him a horse that might be worth following in the coming weeks. Helpful as ever the young tyro came out with the name of an unraced two-year-old that will win in a couple of weeks’ time.

I cannot remember who the inquirer was and was so busy putting in my own two-pennyworth that I can’t remember the horse’s name either. No doubt when Richard sends out a ten-length first-time Newbury scorer, it will hit me.

Make no mistake it’ll win. When Tony Gorman, the Head Lad on the Herridge side of the organisation was interviewed before one of the team ran in Ireland the other day, Tony predicted an imminent torrent of juvenile winners, and there’s been little that’s happened since to conflict with that opinion.

Having almost 150 two-year-olds and a similar number of older horses might have its logistical problems but as Luca Cumani opined in an interview years ago, “the more horses you have, the easier it gets” or words to that effect.

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They still get the odd disappointing result and more than the odd happy surprise. So, to go to my two-pennyworth. I jumped in with “that horse that won at Lingfield yesterday will win the Cambridgeshire”.

Richard looked at me as if I were mad, saying: “he was off 56!” As I said at the time: “not for long”.

In the BHA list of handicap ratings, the Hannon team has 117 horses listed with an official figure. Very few come into the less than 70 category, and three only below 60, namely Storm Rider and two others, Bishop Wulston, 53 after four sub-Hannon-standard runs to which a fifth on a similar level was added last week. The other, Manor Way, is down to 55 (from an original 62) after eight fruitless outings.

On the other hand, a bumper 27 of those 117 horses were rated 100 or above, and there are many in the next 10lb band after that. So Storm Rider could hardly have gone into his 0-60 three-year-old handicap on the mile grass course at Lingfield with too many expectations.

He had been beaten a minimum of 15 lengths in maidens respectively at Newbury (last year, when only 4-1 for his debut) and this year at Windsor and Warwick. On the last of them, even a figure of 56 might have looked optimistic as he finished a toiling 22 lengths behind a winner that was assessed afterwards with 82.

Yet in the race – one with a number of interesting “three-noughts” candidates – he started only 6-1, that despite a sustained run on the Stuart Williams-trained favourite which was backed from around that price to 5-2.

He ran well, staying on strongly, but not well enough to get nearer than five lengths behind the winner, who showed no signs of stopping once Pat Dobbs had sent him into the lead. But for the fact that winners in the three-noughts circumstance have to be enquired into as a matter of routine, the local stewards might not have looked at it much further, but to their and the on-course stipe’s credit, they did. Luckily for them, the trainer was on hand. Unfortunately for young Richard, his helpful nature might in the end prove a bit of an embarrassment.

As part of his explanation about the dramatic improvement in performance by this 150,000gns Amanda Skiffington purchase – she’s bought quite a few of their top horses in recent years – Richard cited the horse’s being unsuited both by the course at Windsor (where he actually was ahead turning for home under Hughesie) and the bends at Warwick. In contrast, he thought the long home straight at Lingfield (three furlongs) gave him a better chance. I thought Windsor had an almost five furlong run-in with just a little kink in it, but that’s me.

When Richard’s a little bit older, he’ll enrol for the senior trainers’ explanation college. When a horse from one of those yards runs unexpectedly poorly, for instance, that trainer might say “I’ve no explanation”. That’s usually accepted. Having watched the three races minutely, true off a single camera angle – the BHA stewards when they convene will have angles galore to consider – my conclusion is that rather than try to be helpful, a bland “I haven’t a clue” would have served him better, because there’s absolutely no hint of preventing the horse doing his best with plenty of energy shown each time.

That was probably pretty much the size of it. In the month between Warwick and Lingfield, a three-year-old could easily have suddenly realised what’s needed, and confidence-boosting work up the Herridge or Everleigh gallops, preferably in company with either Bishop Wulston or Manor Way, could have done the trick.

So here’s the nub. Will this son of Fastnet Rock get into the rarified air of the Class 1 handicap? I think he might. As to what the handicappers will make of it on Tuesday morning, anything less than a 15lb hike, which will keep him out of 0-70’s has to be likely. Even then, it may well not be enough to stop him. The trainer’s own words confirmed: “he’s on the upgrade”, spoiling it a bit by suggesting he didn’t beat much.

Australia needed to beat plenty to live up to the expectations at Epsom yesterday when I thought the style of the performance, both by horse and jockey, was eerily reminiscent of the perfect wins of the Vincent O’Brien – Lester Piggott days.

Sixty years on from Lester’s first Derby, young Joseph O’Brien, no relation to Vincent except by environment, made it two by the age of 21, with a calmness that exceeded that of anyone else in the Coolmore entourage, save Vincent’s remarkably-spritely Australian-born widow Jacqueline, who was accompanied by her grandson Charlie. His father David O’Brien bowed out soon after his own Epsom success with Secreto. I can hardly believe that shock defeat of his father and Robert Sangster’s El Gran Senor was 30 years ago!

With the Eclipse apparently the likely path for Australia, that should leave the way clear for the admirable Kingston Hill to annexe the Irish Derby, as did El Gran Senor when Secreto stayed away all those years ago. David and Vincent’s father and son’s Epsom 1-2 was echoed in the winning and second colours department by Paul and father Derrick’s silks on Saturday, possibly a first in Derby history, but ask John Randall or Tony Morris.

I never fancied California Chrome last night at Belmont having seen so many great or not-so-great contenders fail to collect a Triple Crown in the US since Affirmed, 36 years ago. It was only a year after that Affirmed’s rider, Steve Cauthen, still in his teens, was recruited by Sangster to ride for him and the Barry Hills stable. I was at Salisbury for his first English winner on Marquee Universal on a horribly wet day that must have made him wonder if he did the right thing. His glorious Derby-winning time with Henry Cecil ended such misgivings from the Kentucky Kid, and it was great to see last night how kind the years have been to this unfailingly lovely man.

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