Hanagan raises spirits in bleak times with 40-1 comeback win

Sunday Times, 27 September

All of those having dark times around the country should draw inspiration from Paul Hanagan. Seven months ago he was as smashed up as any pandemic economy but yesterday he was breaking the Newmarket track record with an all-the-way Cambridgeshire success on the 40-1 outsider Majestic Dawn.

The track record was somewhat spurious owing to a gale blowing up Majestic Dawn’s tail but nothing else was. The four-year-old finished fifth in the race last year, had not been able to get on the track until a fortnight ago and, fired up with first-time blinkers, was now allowed to bowl clear of the 27-strong field by Hanagan.

The rider, who turned 40 this month, then showed all the grit and expertise that has won him twojockeys’ championships and in a dozen victories’ time will help him to pass the 2,000-winners mark for his 22-year career.

It marks a fine comeback for Hanagan, who suffered fractured vertebra in a fall at Newcastle in February. “It was a long road back and at one stage I didn’t think I was going to make it at all,” Hanagan said.

“This is very special and I couldn’t have been happier with my comeback, which I owe to so many people. Jack Berry House [a rehabilitation centre in Yorkshire for injured jockeys], my family and friends, while [trainer] Richard Fahey has been amazing.”

It was a first Cambridgeshire and the biggest winner for Hanagan since he returned to the saddle a month ago. “I don’t think you’ll see many winners like that,” he said. “Majestic Dawn was a little bit keen early on, so I took him away from the others and he relaxed lovely. He picked up when I asked him to and I was just a passenger.”

The other highlights of the afternoon were provided by a trio of two-year-olds who gave us that most coveted of currencies, something for next season.

The admirable Clive Cox-trained, Adam Kirby-ridden Supremacy outgunned the Middle Park Stakes field to emerge as a star sprint contender for Royal Ascot’s Commonwealth Cup. Jeff Smith’s beautifully named Alchohol Free (by No Nay Never out of Plying) became a live 1,000 Guineas candidate with an athletic victory in the Cheveley Park but the most extraordinary news came from Ireland.

There, at the Curragh, the Aidan O’Brien-trained High Definition became the new Derby favourite by snatching the Beresford Stakes in the very last strides after being so impossibly far behind that he was quoted 100-1 in running.

He is a huge loping beast who will surely have to get his act more together to handle the Classics although O’Brien was bullish about tilting at both the 2,000 Guineas as well as the Derby. Since O’Brien was winning the Beresford for the tenth consecutive year and the 20th time in all, it might be wise to heed his opinion.

Earlier in the day a cold and windy Newmarket was lit up by one of the last glimpses of Enable at full stretch before she runs in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and then leaves us for maternity duties at stud.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori in an eye-catching “gilet jaune”, she went a mile round the famous Limekilns gallop to the east of the town and powered easily past her lead horse at the close.

“She has never been a flashy worker,”Dettori, 49, said, “but she is in good form and her mental strength is good. We just need to get through the next week but it’s all systems go.”

That, of course, is not something that can be said for many parts of the racing scene, with racecourses in particular staring into a six-month abyss of zero gate receipts.

Quite how many of Britain’s tracks will be able to survive is not a happy question any more than the thought of how many owners will drop out of the sport under the duress of the pandemic.

But hope is central to racing’s DNA and in the months ahead it will be needed more than ever. Starting with Enable next Sunday.

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