Sport Horse Racing

Thursday 18 January 2018

Strong Suit can prove ace in pack for Hannon

Damien McElroy

All eyes will be focused on Richard Hannon's undefeated Strong Suit tomorrow when the highly-regarded English raider makes his Group One debut at The Curragh.

Strong Suit runs in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes as undisputed ante-post favourite for the 2,000 Guineas.

The all-conquering partnership between Hannon and his locally-born senior pilot Richard Hughes won't entertain any talk of defeat here for Julie Wood's robust Rahy colt, which hasn't been seen in public since a last-gasp Coventry Stakes victory at Royal Ascot.

The Newbury debut victor overcame plenty of trouble in claiming that Group Two event and is a shade of odds-on with most firms to complete the hat-trick, when accompanying Godolphin's supplemented Al Aasifh (Frankie Dettori) in challenging the home defence.

The prestige associated with landing the long-established Keeneland promotion -- as much as the winner's prize of €116,000 -- has persuaded Hannon to target the highlight of a Curragh card that should appeal greatly to Irish flat racing fans.

Happily, the giant shadow cast by champion trainer Aidan O'Brien over this coveted juvenile event (ten of the last dozen scorers hailed from Ballydoyle) hasn't frightened off Hannon, Godolphin -- who forked out €20,000 to add Newbury Listed winner Al Aasifh -- or evergreen Kevin Prendergast, whose unbeaten Dunboyne Express blitzed the Jebel Ali Anglesey Stakes opposition in the soft here three weeks ago.


Prendergast's Son of Shamardal had O'Brien's reopposing Samuel Morse eight lengths adrift that afternoon, which explains why Declan McDonogh's mount is regarded as the main threat to Strong Suit instead of the latter's stablemate Zoffany, unbeaten in four outings on Irish soil.

There were only four runners in the Anglesey Stakes and the ground conditions were quite testing for juveniles, explaining why Prendergast wasn't getting carried away with what he had witnessed, although he believes the colt won't be inconvenienced by a drier surface tomorrow.

Good going may be required, however, for Strong Suit to perform at or near his peak, so those who have been backing Hannon's charge to sparkle here once more will be keeping a worried eye on the weather over the next 24 hours.

Nevertheless, the rain is not anticipated to materialise at headquarters until the meeting is drawing to a close. Therefore it may take a considerable leap of faith by the course bookmakers if they are inclined to lay Strong Suit on his hat-trick mission.

The preceding Keeneland Debutante Stakes, in which Seeharn for the Prendergast-McDonogh alliance is the sole candidate with an unblemished record, is also an interesting and competitive race, whereas twin Group Two affair, the Keeneland Royal Whip Stakes, looks at the mercy of hotpot Fame And Glory.

Lillie Langtry was Ballydoyle's odds-on Debutante Stakes heroine 12 months ago and the same outfit supply tomorrow's likely favourite Together, which was a snug winner from that classy maiden Laughing Lashes in the Silver Flash Stakes at Leopardstown last month.

The O'Brien stable is already responsible for seven winners of this contest and presumably Gemstone, which did the donkey work at the Dublin course for Together, will again ensure a decent gallop -- notwithstanding forcing tactics worked a treat for lone English raider Lily Again at Sandown.

Paul Cole's American Post filly took the step up to seven furlongs in her stride there for constant partner Jamie Spencer, thus encouraging connections to take on tomorrow's foray.

History is against Cole's rare Irish runner, however, as Polar Bird for Barry Hills in 1989 was the most recent English winner of this contest. The prize is probably destined for Ballydoyle once more, with Galileo's daughter Together their prime candidate from a quartet of runners.


For all her commendable progress this season, the Weld family's Group Three course and distance winner Precious Gem will hardly upset Ballydoyle's Coronation Cup scorer Fame And Glory, as last year's Irish Derby hero resumes in the Royal Whip Stakes ahead of some lofty autumn targets at home and abroad.

Another much-improved filly Bewitched -- from the Charles O'Brien yard -- is taken to contribute to another likely red-letter day for reigning champion Johnny Murtagh, by confirming recent Naas superiority over Prescription in the O'Leary Memorial Phoenix Sprint Stakes against mostly older opponents.

Irish Independent

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