By Graham Dench
Maintaining such high standards as those we are all so accustomed to can not be easy, but as 2019 draws to a close Richard Hannon can reflect upon an especially satisfying campaign.
Indeed with two Group 1 wins in a fortnight in October - 1,000 Guineas winner Billesdon Brook’s defeat of Veracious and Iridessa in the Sun Chariot Stakes having been swiftly followed by King Of Change’s superb win in the QE II - there must have been an element of regret that the turf season didn’t go on another month or two.
The pair helped take domestic earnings to just short of £4m - Richard’s best total since 2014, when he got off to such a flyer in his first season with the likes of Night Of Thunder, Toronado and Tiggy Wiggy - and it’s great news that most of the main contributors will be around again in 2020.
Billesdon Brook had steadily been working her way back to her best prior to Newmarket, while King Of Change probably hadn’t been given the credit he deserved when chasing home Magna Grecia in the 2,000 Guineas because he was a 66-1 chance, so neither of their Group 1 wins came as a surprise to Richard.
He says: “King Of Change was very good at Nottingham on his reappearance and I didn’t think he was flattered at all in the Guineas. We took him to Kempton a couple of times before Ascot and Sean [Levey] said he’d never had such a feel before, so we went to the QE II full of optimism.
“He obviously handled the heavy ground that day, but he doesn’t need it and so next year we’ll be looking at all the top mile races, like the Lockinge, the Queen Anne and the Marois, before going back to Ascot in October.
“Billesdon Brook was right back to her best in the Sun Chariot, and although she couldn’t repeat the form at Santa Anita I don’t think she quite stayed. She’d already beaten Iridessa, who won that race, and it’s great for all of us here that her owner-breeder Jeanette McCreery is so keen to race her on again as a five-year-old. There’s a lot more fun to be had before she has babies.”
If Billesdon Brook and King Of Change were the stars among the three-year-olds and upwards, there were a host of others who also did well, including Anna Nerium, who won a Group 3 at Epsom, Beat Le Bon, whose four wins included the Golden Mile at Goodwood, Fox Power, who landed the £100,000 Burradon Stakes at Newcastle, Fox Champion, who won the German 2,000 Guineas, and the ever dependable older milers Oh This Is Us and War Glory.
Plans are fluid still for Anna Nerium, but the rest will definitely be back in 2020, as will Raymond Tusk, who was as good as ever in 2019 despite not winning. He ran pretty well in the Melbourne Cup, where he was going as well as any turning in, and he will be travelling once again, either back to Australia, or else to Dubai or Saudi Arabia, where some huge pots are on offer at the inaugural Saudi Cup night in Riyadh at the end of February.
Floating Artist, Kuwait Currency, Tabarrak and Urban Icon, all four of them rated well over 100 at the end of the year, will also be in training again, with every chance of picking up decent prizes in 2020.
It’s not all about the big races though, and there were few better days than the routine Tuesday in August on which the stable achieved a 4,458-1 five-timer and reached 100 wins for the year.
The two-year-olds did Richard proud too, with Group wins from Threat (two), Mystery Power and Dark Lady, and best of all perhaps that stunning sales race victory from Mums Tipple at York. For differing reasons, none of them did themselves justice in their Group 1s at Newmarket, but there were valid explanations.
Richard has high hopes of all of them in 2020, and also of Cloak Of Spirits, who looked so good on her Ascot debut, and Al Madhar, who won a good maiden at Newmarket’s July Meeting first time out but wasn’t seen out again.
He says: “The day of the sales race at York was the same day Enable was having what was expected to be her last run in Britain, yet Mums Tipple was so spectacular that as racegoers headed home all of the talk was about him rather than Enable.
“There was a danger that whatever he did after that was going to be underwhelming, but when he was down the field in the Middle Park he wasn’t helped by the horse next to him in the stalls getting upset, and he wasn’t moving quite right afterwards.
“You don’t win the way he won at York without being very good, and he’s still a Guineas colt in my estimation. So is Threat, who also ran in the Middle Park. Threat had already won the Gimcrack and the Champagne Stakes by the time he went to Newmarket, and he found six furlongs too short there. They are both top class.”
He adds: “Dark Lady beat Millisle in the Dick Poole at Salisbury, so it obviously wasn’t her form when she was only seventh behind Millisle in the Cheveley Park. Cloak Of Spirits was very impressive at Ascot, and after disappointing us in the May Hill she ran another good race when a close third in the Rockfel.
“Cloak Of Spirits has always been a filly who will get better as she fills out, and I think she’s going to be very good next year. I’ve also got very high hopes of Al Madhar, the Sheikh Hamdan-owned Siyouni colt who beat a Godolphin colt now rated 113 when he won at the July Meeting on his only start.”
As ever, it’s been a busy autumn at the yearling sales, and Richard reckons to have bought around 100 of them.
He says: “We bought a lot of very nice horses and we’ve found owners for all but a couple of them already.
“We have to go out and buy them for ourselves, and it’s not easy moving them on, but we are lucky to have a very good core of regular owners and so they are nearly all spoken for now.”
With home breds from established owners to bolster those bought on spec as yearlings it’s a near certainty that there will be some high-class two-year-olds among them, and Richard already has his eye on one filly in particular.
Richard says: “We’ve got a half-sister to King Of Change, by the Derby winner Golden Horn, and she’ll be running in the same colours.
“Among the others we’ve also got some very nice Night Of Thunders, and it was great to see him make such a good start to his career at stud, with three Group-race winners in his first crop.”
Much to look back on then, and even more to look forward to. Roll on 2020.