Monday 19 February 2018

Guineas shock sees Night Of Thunder silence big guns

Hannon's charge defies logic with glory in Guineas

Kieren Fallon drives Night of Thunder to victory in the Qipco 2000 Guineas stakes at Newmarket
Kieren Fallon drives Night of Thunder to victory in the Qipco 2000 Guineas stakes at Newmarket

Ian McClean

Some logic-defying results at Punchestown were followed by another head-scratcher in the opening classic of the Flat racing calendar at Newmarket yesterday when a lesser-fancied Richard Hannon runner Night Of Thunder overcame an erratic last furlong to trump the market's two big guns in the dying strides at 40/1.

It did for the eye-popping Scoop 6 for one thing.

The feeling of shock was palpable as racegoers struggled to digest the fact that not one, but two two horses – Kingman and Australia – mooted by their trainers as the best to have ever passed through their hands, had just met with defeat from an unheralded rival. The fact that Night Of Thunder had been comprehensively thrashed by Kingman in the Greenham trial just three weeks ago only added to the confusion.

There are many Irish in the past who have headed for Australia but winning rider Kieren Fallon found himself unwillingly but quite literally in that position as Night Of Thunder careered violently away from the whip in the closing strides and appeared to be on a collision course with Aidan O'Brien's strongly fancied Australia just before the horses hit the line. Mercifully, an entanglement was just averted but the Fallon horse still had sufficient in reserve to truss up his more trumped-up rivals.

In truth the race was highly unsatisfactory in that it instantly became not one, but two races when the 14 runners split into distinctly separate groups from the start. It could easily have been a tactical move on the part of Richard Hughes to capitalise on the outside (14) draw of Toormore and to confuse the hand of favourite Kingman, drawn on the very inside.

Whatever effect it had on Toormore, which ran flat and faded late on, it made life especially ponderous for James Doyle on board Kingman. Not only was he stranded in the smaller group on the far side, but his three main rivals were all on the opposite side.

It meant he probably had to play his hand earlier than expected and actually swept to the front of his group on heavily-supported Kingman at the furlong pole in an effort not to be outgunned by the nearside crew. However, in doing so he left himself vulnerable to a counter-attack in a fiercely run contest and that counterpunch, ironically, was lethally delivered by Night Of Thunder.

Six-time champion jockey Fallon was recording his fifth victory in the race. The fact that his previous four winners came as retained rider for respective knights of the realm Stoute and Cecil, and that number five arrived in a parcel marked 'chance spare', is indicative of his career trajectory. However, there are few who would argue that Fallon doesn't still possess the big-day nous when equipped with the right goods and he proved as much yesterday.

Hannon was saddling his first-ever classic winner since taking over the licence from his father a few months ago, and was understandably emotional in the aftermath. "We always thought a lot of him and he's done it well. He gets a mile, no problem, and he settled better today. He pulled a little bit in the Greenham and he's turned the form around with Kingman. We'll have to talk to Bruce Raymond (racing manager for owner Saeed Manana) but I'd imagine it will be either the Irish Guineas or the St James's Palace at Royal Ascot."

Mouth-wateringly, Kingman is also under consideration for the same two races.

Aidan O'Brien can't have been too disappointed with Australia on his first run of the season over a distance that is less in line with his pedigree than that of the Derby.

"I was delighting with the run," he said on reflection. "Obviously I'd have preferred for the field to stay together and we maybe had to get racing a little earlier than we would have liked to, but he ran a great race. Joseph (O'Brien) was always going to follow the pace, and with Toormore on his side it made sense to stay where he was. He's (Australia) still a baby. Obviously we'll talk to the boys but the Derby trip shouldn't be a problem."

Many speculated beforehand that the field with four individual Group One winners had all the hallmarks of an epic renewal. Neither of the putative superstars won on the day but they did at least finish second and third. We will live out the 2014 Flat campaign from here forward, but will understand it better looking backwards.

Who knows, but as we look backwards later on we might yet conclude this was indeed the epic line-up we first imagined.

Irish-trained favourites had mixed fortunes amongst the other Group races earlier in the afternoon with Sole Power becoming the first ever dual winner of the Palace House Stakes, while heavily backed favourite Trading Leather disappointed on his seasonal debut in the Earl of Sefton having pulled too hard during the early exchanges.

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