Hills reflects on Classic heroine Lahan

Injury curtailed Guineas winner’s career.

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Lahan left a lasting impression when she won the 1000 Guineas some 20 years ago – so much so that those who witnessed that brilliant effort at Newmarket will always wonder just what might have been.

A home-bred daughter of Unfuwain, the Sheikh Hamdan-owned filly went into the winter unbeaten in two starts and reappeared as the 9-4 favourite for the Fred Darling at Newbury on April 14, 2000.

Hopes were understandably high for trainer John Gosden – who was in his first year of training at Manton – and his team, but testing ground proved her undoing and there were some long faces afterwards.

It proved only a temporary setback, however, as while the bookmakers seemed to write her off at 14-1, she showed her true colours next time out on the Rowley Mile, travelling strongly throughout and producing a clinical turn of foot when asked to quicken.

Richard Hills was in the saddle and recalled: “I remember riding her in the Fred Darling, she’d been working really well before it but was only fourth. John always tells me driving home his daughter said ‘nobody’s died, dad!’. We were absolutely devastated, the pair of us.

“But the weather changed and I went down and rode her the week before the Guineas and she absolutely flew. She was a big price at Newmarket, purely I guess because of the way she ran in the Fred Darling.

“The horses were always slow to come to hand at Manton and she was pretty highly strung, we had to ride her like a little mouse. She was one of those fillies that if you moved on her, everything went alight and she took off.

“So we settled her in and everything went really good during the race. I remember I got a really good lead and when I gave her a kick, she won her race within a furlong, it was all over.”

Lahan’s racecourse debut did not come until the October of her juvenile year, starting as a 10-1 chance at Redcar.

Hills said: “She had a great turn of foot and was a very special filly. I remember the year before, we were going to run her at Newmarket, but couldn’t, and John decided to send her to Redcar for a maiden.

“Dale Gibson rode her and she bolted up – Dale always reminds about her whenever I see him!”

The plan following Newmarket had been the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, but sadly she picked up an injury and never ran again, leaving her with a record of three victories from four starts, the only defeat being in the Fred Darling.

Hills said: “I’m pretty sure she would have won the Irish Guineas that year as well, but Sheikh Hamdan always likes to give them a break from the Guineas to Ascot, because he loves to be there for Ascot. Unfortunately she injured herself in the stable.

“I remember after the Guineas I went down to ride her in a bit of work, as we were trying to persuade Sheikh Hamdan to run in Ireland, and I’ve never sat on a horse to work so well on the spur gallop at Manton. Ben Sangster was there and said he hadn’t see a horse work like that since Rodrigo (De Triano).

“It was like riding a colt, she was very broad with big shoulders and a thick neck. She was very special and very talented.”

Like everyone in the sport and the country as a whole, Hills, who has worked as assistant racing manager to Sheikh Hamdan since his retirement, must do his best to pass the time and stay safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: “At least I can go up on my own and watch horses on the gallops in Newmarket, we’re lucky, but we’re keeping isolated and the lads in Newmarket are doing unbelievable, and the trainers.

“They’re keeping horses apart with small strings and no horses walking next to each other. They’re a credit to everybody.”

Hills reflects on Classic heroine Lahan
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