Ascot: Hannon’s title bid hit hard by Cliffs blow
Regular punters and racegoers might be forgiven for twitching an eyebrow over Canford Cliffs' eleventh-hour defection from his eagerly awaited showdown with old rival Makfi in tomorrow's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.
On Wednesday morning, the Richard Hannon-trained three-year-old had apparently left scorchmarks on the East Eversleigh gallops during his final warm-up for the Group One finale to the European mile programme, but just 24 hours later a routine veterinary examination produced a slightly abnormal result and consequently his name was not among the eight confirmed yesterday for the £250,000 contest.
Canford Cliffs had been favourite for the QEII but, despite the fact that the French raider Makfi has been the horse for money in the betting this week, any sinister inferences will be drawn from yesterday's news only by conspiracy theorists.
His absence from what was billed as one of the pivotal clashes of the season is disappointing and none feel those sentiments more than those closest to the horse.
“Everyone here is absolutely gutted and we realise that it could cost us the trainers championship,” said trainer Richard Hannon.
“The welfare of the horse comes first and you need to be 100 per cent to go into battle in a Group One.”
Makfi, who won the 2,000 Guineas, is now odds-on for tomorrow's contest.
The Sussex Stakes runner-up, the four-year-old Rip Van Winkle, is now second favourite; he will be accompanied from Ballydoyle by Beethoven and their pacemaker Air Chief Marshall. Godolphin representative Poet's Voice is third-best in the lists, with the field completed by Bushman, Hearts Of Fire and Red Jazz.
The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes has, since its instigation in 1955, regularly proved the decider in establishing the season's champion over a mile, but in future it will no longer be the centrepiece of the three-day meeting that starts this afternoon. Instead it will be part of a new £3 million extravaganza at Ascot in mid-October, the most valuable day's racing ever held in this country.