10/12/2011 1:44PM

Breeders' Cup: Mile win with improving Strong Suit would put Hannon on the board


American-bred, English-based Strong Suit scored his second straight Group 2 victory on Saturday at Newmarket, dashing away from seven rivals to post a 4 1/2-length score in the Burj Khalifa Challenge Stakes. That performance earned Strong Suit, a son of Rahy, a Racing Post Rating of 126, a career-best, and a number as high as anything Goldikova has hit during her 2011 campaign. Strong Suit, it appears, has as good a chance as anyone to end Goldikova’s three-year reign as Breeders’ Cup Mile champion when the two square off in Louisville next month.

But history is not on Strong Suit’s side. His trainer, Richard Hannon, still is trying to snap a U.S. losing streak stretching 20 years into the past. Hannon, 66, has sent 12 runners to this country during that span. My Memoirs finished second in the 1992 Belmont Stakes, but none of the others so much as hit the board, and Hannon-trained runners average finishing position in U.S. starts was ninth before Paco Boy was a respectable fourth in the 2010 Mile. Worst of all, Mr. Brooks, a crack sprinter, broke down in the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and had to be euthanized, an experience that soured Hannon on the American experience.

“No, we haven’t had much luck,” said Hannon, reached by phone Wednesday in England. “We lost Mr. Brooks over there. The owner had brought all his children to that race. It was a bad, bad day.”

Back home, Hannon, who long ago played drums for the English pop band The Troggs, has risen to elite status in the training ranks. A multiple champion trainer in England, he led the country in wins during 2010, and has more than 200 horses in training at East Everleigh Stables.

Hannon’s yard has housed several top milers in recent seasons. Paco Boy never could topple Goldikova, but was a solid Group  1-class performer who, Hannon said, would have finished better than fourth last fall at Churchill had he properly handled the course’s tight turns. Dick Turpin, who races against Frankel in the Queen Elizabeth II on Saturday at Ascot, has been somewhat disappointing this year, but Canford Cliffs was the top older miler in Europe this year, defeating Goldikova in the Queen Anne Stakes before losing to Frankel and subsequently being retired.

Strong Suit, twice a winner last year at 2, is a much different sort of horse than Canford Cliffs, Hannon said, and one who should suit American racing.

“This one’s a different type horse,” Hannon said. “Canford needed a bit of time to get organized. This horse, he has enough speed to run his race [at Churchill]. He could win anywhere from five furlongs to a mile.”

Strong Suit has raced around one right-hand turn several times, but never has gone two turns nor left-handed. Hannon said he’ll prepare the colt for that experience by taking him to an all-weather, left-turning track like Lingfield to work before shipping overseas, where Goldikova will be waiting.

“She is getting on,” Hannon said, but quickly shifted to a deeply respectful perspective. “I don’t think she’s lost anything. She’s a very high-class horse, quite amazing, really.”

◗ Gio Ponti showed he remains Goldikova’s foremost American foe by winning the Shadwell Turf Mile on Saturday at Keeneland for the second year in a row. There’s a sliver of a chance Gio Ponti could go in the Classic, but he’s far more likely for the Mile. Expect also to see runner-up Get Stormy at Churchill, with third-place finisher Sidney’s Candy another possible starter despite emerging from the Shadwell with a quarter crack. Sidney’s Candy also has been invited to the Hong Kong Mile on Dec. 11.

– additional reporting by David Grening