Canford Cliffs is pure class in Palace

CANFORD Cliffs arrived at Royal Ascot with a score to settle and left at the top of the podium in the three-year-old miling division after proving his worth in the St James’s Palace Stakes.

It is hard to believe it was exactly a year ago when Richard Hannon’s colt blew his rivals away in the Coventry Stakes and it had taken until last month’s Irish 2000 Guineas for him to register another victory.

But not only did he need to reverse placings with Makfi, Canford Cliffs’ conqueror in the English 2000, he had also finished behind his own stablemate Dick Turpin both at Newmarket – when they were second and third – and in the Greenham Stakes.

With Makfi, the 11-4 joint-favourite with the winner, looking a shadow of his best, it was again Dick Turpin who proved the biggest danger but the Hannon team’s one-two were divided by a comfortable length.

Richard Hughes’ combination of patience and confidence are the perfect foil for the exuberance of Canford Cliffs and he sat motionless as the race began to develop around him and the line grew ever closer.

The gaps opened right on cue and the son of Tagula surged past Dick Turpin to take the Group One in style.

“Canford Cliffs is a horse that just keeps getting better and better. It’s one thing to win the Coventry but to come on and win this year is something else,” said Hannon.

“He has got to go for Group Ones so I suppose the Sussex Stakes and the Jacques le Marois would be possibilities.”

Barry Hills missed Royal Ascot last year through illness but made sure his return to the meeting was heralded as Equiano landed a second success in the King’s Stand Stakes.

The veteran handler lay in Charing Cross hospital 12 months ago watching the early action unfold on the BBC, as the likes of Ghanaati earned him the title of leading trainer.

But after overcoming a life-threatening case of blood poisoning, Hills stood proudly in the winner’s enclosure as his son Michael made virtually all aboard Equiano to score by a length and a half from Markab.

The gambled-on 9-2 chance has proved a different proposition this year and returned to the kind of form which saw him capture the race in 2008 when in the care of Spanish trainer Mauricio Delcher-Sanchez.

Hills senior said: “It’s taken a long time for me to win the King’s Stand, I’ve got to say.

“His old trainer did a very good job with him. He’s been in such good form this season, but he was sick last year.”

Richard Hannon and Richard Hughes combined to win the Coventry Stakes for the second successive year with Strong Suit.

It was not quite the stroll Canford Cliffs enjoyed 12 months ago, though, as the 15-8 favourite only got up in the final stride to pip Elzaam after meeting trouble in running.

Hannon said: “He’s a good horse, we knew that at Newbury because he was a second faster than the Listed race that day. We could look at the Richmond or the July Stakes next, and he’ll be aimed at the Guineas.”

Richard Fahey and Paul Hanagan have been mopping up the prizes up north this season but winners down south have still proved hard to come by.

However, Marine Commando (9-2), a Carlisle maiden winner, showed a likeable attitude when just holding on in the Windsor Castle Stakes from the fast-finishing Petronius Maximus.

Fahey said: “The two-year-olds look OK this year. His first run was just to get him some experience and he’s all speed.”

David Pipe once again showed he is a chip off the old block by winning the Ascot Stakes with Junior (17-2). Last seen winning a novice chase for Alan King, he was bought by Middleham Park Racing and sent to Pipe with this as his aim. Given a typically aggressive ride by Seb Sanders, reminiscent of the years when Martin Pipe’s runners were feared at this meeting, he was a yawning five-length winner.

“We know he stays and we wanted to draw the sting out of some of the quicker horses,” said Pipe.

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