Ben Linfoot chats to former champion jockey Paul Hanagan ahead of Royal Ascot 2018, with Commonwealth Cup hopeful Sands Of Mali one of his best rides at this year’s extravaganza.
Paul Hanagan has just ridden work at Musley Bank, Malton, home of his boss (again), Richard Fahey. Nestled on a small nub of the Howardian Hills section of the North York Moors, the place is abuzz ahead of Royal Ascot with just a week to go.
The champion jockey in 2010 and 2011 is among a host of top riders at the stable as the final touches are applied to a team of about 13 or 14 that will be heading down the A1 to the big show. Tony Hamilton and Connor Beasley are in attendance as well, but then, there are a lot of good horses to share around at Musley Bank these days.
One of Fahey’s best two-year-olds, Cosmic Law, won’t even be ridden by any of that trio at the Royal meeting. PJ McDonald, retained rider to owner John Dance, will have the job of trying to beat the big guns from Aidan O’Brien’s and John Gosden’s in the Coventry Stakes with the six-length Woodcote winner.
But you sense most of the jockeys from Team Fahey will get their chance to shine next week. It looks like there will be three runners in the Wokingham, after all (Mr Lupton, Growl and George Bowen). Hanagan certainly will, after settling in for his second stint at Fahey’s like he’s never been away.
Before he finished as retained rider for Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, Hanagan had a 14 per cent strike-rate for Fahey. In stint two, he’s at 15 per cent and this year, he’s ridden 37 winners at 17 per cent for his number one supplier of rides.
It’s 19 months now since he left his Sheikh Hamdan role, a four-year stretch that saw him ride seven Group One winners in the famous blue and white silks.
They included Taghrooda, winner of the Oaks and King George in 2014, and the scintillating Muhaarar, an exceptional sprinter that signed off his career with wins in the July Cup, Prix Maurice de Gheest and Champions Sprint, all under Hanagan.
The split, though disappointing for Hanagan at the time, was amicable, a point underlined when he rode his 318th winner for the Sheikh at Beverley at the weekend, aboard Marcus Tregoning’s Alrahaal, 19 months after number 317.
In a game of numbers, Hanagan insists he isn’t counting this year. But, with almost 50 under his belt so far, with more than half the season to go, he’s on track to beat the 100-winners barrier for the first time since 2015.
“I don’t know how many winners I’ve ridden this season to be honest,” he says. “But I couldn’t be happier, it’s going great. The horses are in great form, we’ve had a good start to the season and long may it continue.”
Royal Ascot is a tough playground, but Hanagan has emerged with four winners over the years; two for Fahey and two for Sheikh Hamdan, Muteela and Mahsoob, the latter a 7/4 favourite in the Wolferton Handicap.
“I’ve got some great memories there, not only for Sheikh Hamdan but for Richard as well, the likes of Marine Commando and Cosmic Sun.
“I think every ride is pressure at that meeting, when you go to Ascot with horses that are deemed to have a good chance. No matter what the price is there’s always a bit of added pressure at Royal Ascot.
“It is a very difficult meeting, but I think we’re going into it this year with quite a few chances and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Royal Ascot, 2018, Sky Bet odds:
Top of Hanagan’s Royal Ascot wishlist is a win for Sands Of Mali in the Commonwealth Cup and, considering the likes of the aforementioned Muhaarar and Taghrooda, as well as five-length July Cup winner Mayson, the following statement is a big one.
“I’m very lucky that I’ve ridden some very good horses in my career and I’d have to put Sands Of Mali right up there with the best of them. I’m really looking forward to him. I think he’s got a massive chance.
“We were delighted when he won the Sandy Lane at Haydock. I don’t think the winning distance tells the whole story, I think he was just getting a little bit lonely in front, he was out there for a long time.
“I don’t think there’s been anything to lead us yet, he’s so quick out of the gates and he gets into that big long stride of his. We’re hoping that something can just give us a bit more of a lead. We’re hoping they go very quick at Ascot.”
They usually do. And such a scenario wouldn’t be a bad thing for Kodyanna, either, Saturday’s Hilary Needler winner, also owned by the Cool Silk partnership.
She could go to the Albany Stakes, over six furlongs, or the Queen Mary, over five. Her dam, Jadanna, went to the Queen Mary, where she was fifth, while her half-sister, Darkanna, also went to the Queen Mary, last year’s, where she was seventh. The Queen Mary looks favourite, then, especially as she’s showing plenty of zip at home.
Hanagan says: “I’m a big fan of this filly. I actually rode her in work last week and she absolutely flew up the gallops so I was quite happy she was going for the Hilary Needler at Beverley.
“I was so chuffed with her there, she was still quite green and quite raw but she flew home and did it very well, it was a bit snug in the end. I’d be quite hopeful with her.
“She’s a little bit more forward than Darkanna and she could be just as good. And, people don’t see it at Ascot, but it’s a lot for them to take in, especially the two-year-olds, but she’s got a good mind on her so I’m hoping she’ll be fine.
“A big field would be good for her. Going back to Sands Of Mali and the pace of the race, I think that would suit this filly as well if they go quick. I’m sure she’ll cope with everything.”
There are other big rides for Hanagan. Charming Kid in the Norfolk - “he gave me a proper feel at York” – and Ninetythreetwenty in the Coventry, possibly, – “he took a bit of pulling up after the line, always a good sign” – following his impressive success at Pontefract.
But the Commonwealth Cup is the big one. Hanagan didn’t ride Muhaarar when he burst onto the sprinting scene in the race in 2015. He was back in seventh on Adaay in the home strip that day.
This time, he might just be on the right one.