When the nine equine athletes involved in the seven-furlong contest for Newbury’s Saturday highlight, the Group Two BetVictor Hungerford Stakes, strolled around the parade ring there was nowhere else in the world I would have preferred to be. As the sun gleamed off perfectly burnished coats and perfectly toned muscles rippled in sturdy hindquarters I wanted every one of them gift-wrapped and delivered to a paddock behind my garden. The classy Chindit, a Wootton Bassett colt trained by Richard Hannon, looked glorious. His stable companion Witch Hunter, sired like this year’s wonder-horse Paddington by Siyouni, gazed intelligently around him. Spain had a rare representative in the Lope de Vega colt Rodaballo, six times a winner in Madrid, and Charlie Hills’s habitual front-runner Pogo looked perfectly tuned for battle. In the event the early leaders faded. New Endeavour moved through smoothly to lead two out looking the likely winner but then Witch Hunter, having been given the fast pace on which he thrives, came past each of his eight rivals to emerge a one-length winner at 12-1 with the favourite, Chindit, three lengths back in third. ‘On that ground Chindit’s wheels were spinning,’ said his trainer.
I could not believe that Witch Hunter, the winner of the Buckingham Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot who likes the good to soft ground, had been allowed to start at 12-1 though I and my bank manager remain grateful. Perhaps it was that Witch Hunter was clearly the stable second string, entered only because the ground might have been deemed too soft to risk Chindit. Maybe punters were worried that this was Witch Hunter’s 11th race this year. As jubilant jockey Sean Levey put it: ‘He hasn’t missed a single dance.’