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Weatherbys Super Sprint

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by Graham Dench

In a year like no other before it at least some things stay the same.

Newbury’s Weatherbys Super Sprint might have moved temporarily to a Sunday slot, but it could yet again have a runner from the Hannon stable at the head of the market when Queen Mary fifth Happy Romance leads a team of eight possibles bidding to provide the family a remarkable tenth win in a pioneering race which Richard senior was instrumental in devising.

The stable had to settle for third when Paris House took the inaugural running for Jack Berry in 1991, but the ‘Pocket Rocket’ Lyric Fantasy was a runaway six-length winner for Hannon senior only 12 months later and then in 1992, the year the Super Sprint first came under Weatherbys sponsorship, her similarly talented stablemate Risky led a stable one-two.

Hannon senior went on to saddle seven winners of Newbury’s foremost test of pure and unadulterated speed, while his successor has already added another two.

Lyric Fantasy, who later the same year beat the stable’s July Cup and Abbaye winner Mr Brooks in the Nunthorpe, won the Queen Mary by a whopping five lengths, and so did Risky.

Royal Ascot, and specifically the Queen Mary, was also a springboard to Super Sprint success for Presto Vento and the brilliant Tiggy Wiggy, whose six-length Newbury win in 2014 following a narrow Royal Ascot defeat came in the first season following the handover from Richard senior to his son.

Reflecting upon the foundation of the Super Sprint and its enduring appeal, Richard senior said: “Lord Carnarvon and I thought the race up together. We both felt that a nice prize was needed for horses who hadn’t cost a fortune at the sales, and the idea was to find a concept that would attract a lot of people, which it did.

“The sales companies were all in favour of it, and it’s been a great success. We’ve been lucky enough to have the right sort of horse for it quite a few times over the years.”

He added: “Lyric Fantasy (who was owned by Lord Carnarvon) was a very fast filly and had been an easy winner of the Queen Mary, but she didn’t cost a lot of money and so got into the Super Sprint well. Risky had won the Queen Mary too, and she also got into the race very well, so they were both ideal types for it. 

“We were buying a lot of the right sort of horses for the race in those days, and so we usually had a few who were well qualified for it.”

Times have changed since Hannon senior bowed out as champion trainer for a fourth time in 2013, and there has been less emphasis on speed and precocity under the new regime, which retained the trainers’ title in 2014.

Nevertheless, enough likely types are still bought on spec as yearlings every year, and with £150,000 on offer despite the ramifications of Covid-19, plus prize money down to tenth place, the Super Sprint remains a very attractive proposition. There is every chance therefore that the name R Hannon will be engraved upon the trophy yet again after Sunday’s race.

Now in his seventh season at the helm, the trainer formerly known as Richard Hannon junior clearly fancies his chances of a third success in the race that his father made his own, and Happy Romance understandably carries high hopes following an excellent effort in a red-hot Queen Mary.

Hannon said: “Happy Romance is probably as good a filly as we’ve run in the Super Sprint since Tiggy Wiggy, who looked like she joined in at halfway and bolted up by six lengths before going on to win the Lowther and the Cheveley Park.

“This is a massive chance for her to pick up a lot of prize money. She’s quick enough to do it, and she’s a strong filly with a very good temperament, who takes her races well. I’ve no doubt it was a very good Queen Mary, and the two fillies who finished just in front of her are both winners since. We could have continued down the black type route, but there’s plenty of time for that.

“What would please me especially if we can win with her is that she is a first horse for the people who own her (registered as The McMurray Family), and they are exactly the type of owners the race is framed for. 

“I met them racing one day, and from my point of view the Weatherbys Super Sprint is a big carrot to dangle when I bring yearlings home to sell them on, as it’s a big pot and it’s only available to horses bought for up to around sixty grand.”

The Super Sprint’s appeal is such that it is invariably oversubscribed, but while the Hannons have traditionally been mob-handed this year’s team is likely to be relatively select. That said, while the final line-up from the stable’s eight five-day confirmations will not be decided later in the week, Happy Romance is unlikely to be alone.

Hannon revealed: “I haven’t talked Harry (Herbert, of owners Highclere Thoroughbreds) into it yet, but I’d love to run Cirrus as I think she’s a good filly and she just didn’t get the trip when fourth over seven furlongs at Salisbury on Saturday. I’ll also probably run Kool Moe Dee, who is still a maiden but is very quick, and Julie Wood’s filly Risque, who would have a small chance off her very low weight.”

Happy Romance is clearly the stable’s number one, but we should not forget that Lady Livius was a 100-1 rank outsider when winning for Hannon senior in 2005. Clearly nothing can be ruled out where the Hannons and the Super Sprint are concerned.