Baaeed the star draw for 12th running of QIPCO British Champions Day
William Haggas is itching to step the brilliant Baaeed up to a mile and a quarter for the first time in Wednesday’s £1m Juddmonte International Stakes, but he does not underestimate the task the colt faces as he continues to follow in the footsteps of Frankel.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Haggas said. “We’ve always felt he’d be better over further, but we’ve got a few people emailing us and casting doubt on whether we should be doing it. But Sheikha Hissa is up for the challenge and I think it would be remiss of us not to give it a go.
“There’s nothing I can do about the competition on the day, and if the Mishriff of last year comes to York in the same form he’ll be incredibly difficult to beat, as he was unbelievably impressive that day. Mishriff ran a very, very good race in the Eclipse and a little bit of a lack-lustre race in the King George, so who knows which one will turn up. But he’ll be a danger, as will lots of others.”
Baaeed is a red-hot favourite for this first of four races at York this week in the QIPCO British Champions Series, but Haggas understandably prefers to resist comparisons between the four-year-old and Frankel. They are inevitable however so long as the path taken by the current world number one mirrors so closely that taken by racing’s all-time-great a decade ago.
Just like Baaeed, Frankel came here unbeaten, including in the previous autumn’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) and then the Lockinge, Queen Anne and Sussex Stakes. The Juddmonte was also Frankel’s first opportunity over further than a mile, and of course he won in devastating style.
Baaeed has won nine races to Frankel’s 12, and his winning margins have been less extravagant, but that’s simply his style. This year’s three wins, in particular, have been gained in the smoothest fashion, and his style of racing – more akin to that of his sire Sea The Stars than the exuberant Frankel – should lend itself admirably to this distance. His pedigree, like Frankel’s, suggests the new trip ought to be well within range.
Haggas tries to ignore talk of Baaeed also being recognised as the world’s best racehorse, pointing out that it is simply an opinion and that in any case how can one compare a British turf miler with an American dirt horse and an Australian sprinter. He admits such talk is “very flattering” and says that he is “honoured to train such a good horse”, but adds: “We don’t think of it like that – we just carry on.”
That said, Baaeed has been the apple of his eye for more than a year now, having given a first major clue to his potential when running away with a Listed race at Newmarket on his third start.
Recalling the early days, he said: “Most of ours run green first time and do much better on their second start, so the fact that Baaeed won first time out at Leicester made me think he could be all right. In his work afterwards he shaped up quite well, and when we ran him in a novice at Newmarket he hosed up.
“He then won a Listed race at Newmarket with authority, and afterwards the BHA senior handicapper Dominic Gardiner-Hill told me he could have put him ahead of the Guineas winner on what he’d achieved there.”
Since then, it has been Group races all the way for Baaeed, the last five of them Group 1s, and over a mile nothing has been able to lay a glove on him this year. That might change on Wednesday, but Haggas will try not to get too anxious about it.
He said: “I said to Jim (Crowley) at Goodwood that we had him for two more races and so let’s try to enjoy it. He’ll be off to stud afterwards, and that will be the end of it. We’ll be searching for another one for the rest of my career, and probably for the rest of his.
“So long as we are happy with the horse’s condition, happy with the way he’s trained, and everything has gone right up until the time Jim gets on board, then what is there to worry about.”
Sheikha Hissa is firmly embracing the long tradition begun by her late father Sheikh Hamdan and has taken a far closer interest in Baaeed than some might have guessed. She can clearly recall his “babyish” debut at Leicester, which she said ”gave me a thrill, especially at a grieving time”, and she remembers the first time she saw him up close at the Haggas stables, after his Prix du Moulin win, when she immediately picked up on “his strut”.
She said: “When a horse likes to do his job it makes life so much easier, and Baaeed has his ears pricked even on the gallops. It’s amazing and satisfying to see a horse enjoy his job.
“Sea The Stars leaves a mark on his foals and Baaeed takes a lot of his temperament and how he is from him, but I’m glad he looks like his mum Aghareed. My father would have loved him, as home breds always gave him special pride, especially from the Nashwan family.”
Like Baaeed’s trainer, she “can’t wait” for Wednesday. She added: “Last year I was very afraid every time he went to the racecourse, but I don’t know when I’ll next see a horse like him, so I’m trying just to enjoy the process. He proved he is a great horse at a mile and he’s bred for stepping up, so he should be fine technically.
“I hope he ends on a good note and stays undefeated, but it’s just a pleasure to have him. No matter what happens, he’s a great horse for us.”
Neither John nor Thady Gosden would dream of underestimating Baaeed, but if there is a chink in his armour then last year’s six-length winner Mishriff looks the one most likely to exploit it, and they had first-hand experience in 2015 of the turn-ups that can happen in the Juddmonte when Golden Horn lost his unbeaten record to a 50-1 chance.
Thady Gosden said: “Mishriff has come back from Ascot in very good form and the one mile and two furlongs Juddmonte trip suits him well. Giving away ground at the start of a race of the King George’s quality is a serious hindrance, but he’s got plenty of speed and the shorter distance is what he’s best at.
“It’s interesting, and Baaeed is obviously brilliantly talented. He relaxes well and you would be shocked if he didn’t get the trip, but he’s taking on top-class mile and a quarter horses and I think it’s fair to say that it’s a stronger division than the miling division at the moment.
“Mishriff seems to be in similar form now as he was when he went to York last year. He ran a huge race in the Eclipse and was perhaps unlucky there. His work gives us a pretty good measure of where he’s at, and he’s in very good form.
“The Juddmonte is the summer’s premier mile and a quarter race and it’s great to see these horses take each other on. Whatever happens, it’s going to be an exceptional race.”
The Irish 2000 Guineas winner Native Trail did not take the anticipated step forward when stepped up in trip in the Coral-Eclipse, losing second close home to the unlucky-in-running Mishriff, so he was initially headed for yesterday’s Prix Jacques Le Marois. Plans changed however when Coroebus missed the Qatar Sussex Stakes with an abscess and was switched, unsuccessfully, to the Deauville race.
Weighing up options for his colts after the Sussex, Charlie Appleby said: “Native Trail is in great order. He’s walking around on two legs! The Jacques Le Marois was going to be Native Trail’s race, but I see no reason why he couldn’t run in the Juddmonte. He didn’t not stay in the Eclipse. He was outstayed by good horses who will probably go on at a mile and a half.”
A field of seven also includes last year’s runner-up Alenquer, who is a stable-mate of Baaeed and gained a first Group 1 win in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, and Aidan O’Brien’s High Definition, who was the neck runner-up there. The line-up is completed by William Knight’s Sir Busker and Dubai Honour, a third Haggas runner, who were separated by just a nose in the Group 2 Sky Bet York Stakes over course and distance last month.