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Alastair Down: Sky Lantern's seductive powers one for the purists

Richard Hughes shows his delight as Sky Lantern lights up the Rowley Mile with a scintillating run
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First published on September 29, 2013


Falling for females with more than a touch of grey about them is a peril born of advancing years but it is hard not to be smitten by Sky Lantern, who cemented her position as the year's outstanding filly when slotting her third Group 1 of the season in the Sun Chariot at Newmarket.

It is that rare, class-dripping, blazing turn of foot that is the serial seducer at the top level on the Flat and Sky Lantern has it in spades. And if you like your victories to be clinched with a touch of all-confident flash then there is nobody better at making it look oh-so-simple than Richard Hughes, who communicates with genuine verve to Post readers of a Saturday but whose real genius is the discourse he has with the horse underneath him when doing the day job.

Last year's jockeys' title for Hughesie was welcomed, not least for the fact that for a jockey of his outstanding instinctive talent never to have been champion would have been one of those gaps in the record books that would always have rankled as an injustice.

Another crown is in the offing this time round and some bookies have already paid out on him. This may prove a case of premature accommodation as there is only 13 in it between him and the implacably determined Ryan Moore with six weeks of the course still to run.

And the Sun Chariot proved something of the Hughes-Moore battle in microcosm, as when Moore stole a beautifully timed first run on the ever-progressive Integral I thought he had nicked it.

Oh me of little faith!

Hughes's antennae flicked early and despite being stone last two out he smuggled Sky Lantern closer so that he was never going to be caught unawares. For a short spate of seconds Integral looked home for all money, but as soon as Sky Lantern made her move the momentum was inexorable and the result inevitable.

Quickening up like only the proper ones can, she scythed the leader down and, taking it up a little over 100 yards from home, ran out the utterly conclusive winner. The cheers that rang out to greet her had very little to do with the fact that she was the 7-4 favourite. Newmarket is forever a barn of a place in terms of atmosphere and feel, but this is a place that still draws plenty of purists to its decimated autumn programme and they gave Sky Lantern a fine reception on her return to the winner's enclosure, upon which she had made her imprint way back on 1,000 Guineas day.

High fives between champion jockey Richard Hughes and Richard Hannon jnr after Sky Lantern’s Sun Chariot win

And I doubt that I was alone in being struck by the sincerity and passion with which Hannon The Younger paid tribute afterwards. He said: "She's our sort of filly. She didn't cost the earth and may not be the most beautiful. But she has been on the go since April, is very strong, holds on to her weight and has the heart of a lion."

So much of the Hannon philosophy handed down the generations lay in that heartfelt statement. A mixture of artisan and artist like no other yard, team Hannon knows what it likes and for all the massed firepower, the thousands of winners and irresistible drive upmarket they are still caught up emotionally in the sheer pure-hearted, blood and iron endeavour of the racehorse trying his or her heart out.

That is how it should be and although Richard jnr may never match the achievements of the old man, the succession is passing to a man who genuinely 'gets' what the game is about. The operation that has grown at East Everleigh and Herridge is something the sport as a whole can take pride in.

Have you ever sniffed a whiff of scandal or heard a bad word about what the Hannons have bought to our sport? No, me neither.

They may do some ferocious damage to the products of the great champagne houses of Rheims but I begrudge them not a glug of it. As a good pal of mine is heard to say every time he hears a cork pop loudly out of a Bollinger bottle: "Ah, champagne, the artillery of success!" On a glittering afternoon the Cheveley Park victory of Vorda also stood out, not least because it was an 800-mile drive from home for trainer Philippe Sogorb who, until yesterday, wasn't even a household name in his own maison.

I thought Vorda, who has changed hands more times than a 224,000-mile Mondeo in recent months as she has climbed the food chain to Qatari ownership, was well on top at the death, although whether she is the type to excel over a Guineas mile at three is a question of a very different stripe.


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The operation that has grown at East Everleigh and Herridge is something the sport as a whole can take pride in
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