05/22/2010 12:00AM

Canford Cliffs last to first in 2000 Guineas


Canford Cliffs missed the break but took advantage of a blistering pace set by one of Aidan O'Brien's six runners to win the $406,000 Irish 2000 Guineas in last-to-first fashion at the Curragh on Saturday. The victory by Canford Cliffs, a son of Tagula, gave trainer Richard Hannon and his ultra-cool rider Richard Hughes their first triumph in the one-mile classic.

Although he was a good third behind Makfi in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket three weeks ago, there were lingering doubts about Canford Cliff's ability to stay a mile, but those were erased on Saturday. Hughes gradually moved him into striking distance as the 150-1 Encompassing went clear at the halfway point in the hope that his exertions might clear a path for one of O'Brien's five other runners. The 9-4 Canford Cliffs hit the front at the eighth pole and went quickly clear, defeating the 25-1 overlay Free Judgement by three lengths. The time for the mile on good to firm ground was 1:37.64

O'Brien's attempt to win his third Irish 2000 in a row and seventh overall with quantity rather than quality came up short. His Viscount Nelson, eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, was third while wearing first-time blinkers, 1 1/2 lengths behind Free Judgement , winner of the Group 3 Tetrarch Stakes. O'Brien's lowest-priced entry, the 9-2 Steinbeck, was half a length further back in fourth, clearly in need of the race after a seven-month layoff.

Canford Cliffs has always been highly regarded. His six-length victory in the six-furlong, Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot was an eye-opener, and he did nothing to discredit himself when he was a half-length third in the six-furlong, Group 1 Prix Morny behind Arcano and Special Duty. Questions about his stamina arose when he drifted badly left in the seven-furlong, Group 3 Greenham Stakes, losing the lead late to stablemate Dick Turpin. He was an improved third behind Makfi and Dick Turpin in the Newmarket Guineas, and now looks ready to tackle those two again in the St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 15.

It is a bumper year for milers for Hannon, as he also trains the ace 5-year-old Paco Boy, the winner a week ago of the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes.

Hannon and Hughes doubled their pleasure a little later when Shamwari Lodge led throughout to take the one-mile, Group 3 Ridgewood Pearl Stakes for older fillies and mares.