Britain’s Hannon family has been picking winning horses for three decades. Current head of the stables, Richard Hannon Jnr, tells Colin Cameron about friends with four legs and legacies
By Colin Cameron
September 24 2019
From now until December, Richard Hannon Jnr will accumulate some £2 million of personal debt, buying yearlings “on spec” at bloodstock sales from Newmarket to Doncaster. He will then find owners for them ahead of next year’s Flat Racing season. Certainly gets you off your arse, he laughs, perhaps only partly in jest.
The urgency is beyond money. There is a family reputation at stake. Hannon took over his father Richard’s Hampshire stables in 2014 after 12 years as his assistant, helping with anything from driving the horsebox to everything else.
Richard Snr had saddled more than 4,000 winners over 60 years at Everleigh and Herridge stables (formerly a stud), which make up the operation today, and was crowned champion trainer three times. His own father was also at Everleigh. Richard Snr also saddled a quartet of British classic winners. His son matched this benchmark in his first season as licence holder with Night of Thunder’s success in the 2000 Guineas. Then, in 2018, Billesdon Brook brought home the 1,000 Guineas. Ah, The Classics, sighs Jnr. Those races wake you up in the morning (as do huge overdrafts).
Rather than a nuanced approach to the bloodstock market based on his ‘A’ Level in Economics, Hannon’s strategy is to “be brave, take a risk, and don’t be a fool”.
The overdrafts do weigh on his shoulders, he says. “Clear by Christmas,” he hopes. Hannon Snr will help. “Two heads are better than one,” his son maintains. The elder Hannon famously played drums for The Troggs before accepting the family calling. Today, his son is the beneficiary of 45 years in the racing game. “The ethos of the yard is the same,” Hannon Jnr says, recalling successes such as Paco Boy and Canford Cliffs at Royal Ascot. “Growing up, I remember the owners would often come to the yard on Sundays. Dad would say, ‘Be polite. Talk to those who’ve made the effort to come see their horses. Enjoy any success. Always have fun.’”
His search at the sales is for what his followers would immediately recognise as a “Hannon type”. “You get a feel for what a good horse should look like,” Hannon confides. “We have a horse here called Oh This Is Us. I want a statue of him. Never sound. Even needs X-rays for trips to the races so the stewards can see there’s nothing wrong with him. A double-figures winner. Brilliant.”
Hannon laughs – often. He recalls following his father’s runners at school on a transistor. His PE master would also have his ear pressed up against the radio, most memorably when Tirol won the 2,000 Guineas in 1990. An impromptu lap of honour of the athletics track to mark a hefty winning bet left bystanders confused, as the school had a far-fromgold standard performance that day.
You might imagine Hannon to be a punter. After all, in the play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, the trainer who parks his baby triplets on the sofa and takes bets on which one is a girl is based on him (and his siblings). He is actually not much of a betting man. The game’s hard enough as it is, he reasons. “After I’ve saddled a loser, the last thing I want to do is hand over five grand to a bookmaker.”
Hannon’s advice for the turf is simple: Don’t look for clues that aren’t there. Take the times when his stable has two runners in a race at different odds – like the 2000 Guineas in 2014, when Night of Thunder won at odds of 40-1 and he had also saddled the more fancied Toormore at 15/2, ridden by the then-stable jockey, Richard Hughes.
“People can be too literal. They see who we’ve booked as jockeys and think the senior rider is the one we fancy to win,” he says. “But arrangements can be based on something as simple as the jockeys riding for owners they have represented before.” Sometimes there’s nothing to see.
A good bet would have been to wager on any Hannon first. After all, his debut runner as a trainer won in January 2014. His first runner at Royal Ascot also won that year, as did His first runner in a Classic race.
Hannon hopes to join us for Boisdale’s Starter’s Orders Flat Season preview supper next year. No overdraft by then, all being well. If your own has mounted, he might be able to help. Not least with his winning habit