History will be at stake today when unbeaten colt searches for 11th successive win
A great horse carries a golden visa that for those around it will last their racing lifetime. This afternoon should see the final stamping of one stating: “I was with Baaeed.”
It will be only verbal, but the words will have an awe about them that will open doors anywhere on the bow-legged universe. In Chantilly, back in the 1960s, they used to point out a thirsty old lad called Max with the hushed phrase: “Il a fait Sea-Bird,” and, for a couple of Pernods he would regale you with stories of the runaway 1965 Derby winner who followed with the greatest Arc in history.
Since then only those connected with half a dozen from Sir Ivor to Enable can be sure of such a welcome. With Baaeed that list stretches from an academic biologist to a prince of stable staff but, with a poignant twist, now misses out the man who started it all. Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum spent 60 years of his life trying to breed for greatness. He had some exceptional horses but nothing quite to match the unbeaten 11-race record that Baaeed should complete this afternoon.
As triumphs go, this would be the ultimate posthumous tribute. For it was in 1982 that the late sheikh made the offer that even our Queen could not refuse. The reported £1.5 million he paid for Height Of Fashion seemed extravagant then but is a bargain now. She became one of the finest broodmares in recent history, not only foaling the likes of the Derby winner Nashwan but becoming the pillar of Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Stud breeding operation and direct progenitor of Baaeed himself.
When her great, great, great grandson carries those blue-and-white silks to the start he will do so as the distillation of decades of study and investment on his owner’s part. But while the sheikh was personally involved in deciding Baaeed’s parentage and saw him as both a foal and a yearling, he died three months before his galloping dream first ran in June last year. Fortunately for racing, his 26-year-old daughter, Sheikha Hissa, is getting increasing enjoyment out of what has become a streamlined and vibrant bloodstock operation, but there will always be an empty chair.
Baaeed was already a three-year-old that first day at Leicester and, to their credit, in hindsight none of the chain of “golden visa” holders, from the academic biologist Carol Palfreyman through to stud managers and staff all the way to trainer William Haggas, claim that another Pegasus was on the way. They will only testify that Baaeed had all the right elements of conformation and temperament — “a very good prospect”, wrote Derrinstown stud manager Stephen Collins of Baaeed’s yearling days — but no one went further than that.
“I would love it to sound more complicated and that I am a genius,” Haggas said one sunny Newmarket morning a few weeks ago. “But he is a very straightforward horse to train and does everything you expect him to do. He is well made, very athletic, and has a fantastic mind.”
In his ruminant, self-deprecating way, Haggas goes on to say that although he was impressed with the way Baaeed overcame his inexperience to win his first two races, it was only when the colt destroyed a better-class field at Newmarket a month later that the trainer said to himself: “Uh-oh, we might really have something here.”
From there on it has been history on the hoof. A dazzling display at Goodwood followed by a six-race sequence at the highest level from Longchamp to York and a move up to a mile and a quarter for a six-length thrashing of Mishriff, the 2021 world horse of the year. The subject itself was now circling unostentatiously in the trainer’s paddock under Ricky Hall, his long-time devoted partner, and the question, as it has been with all these great horses — Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Dancing Brave, Sea The Stars and Frankel — is: what makes him different?
He doesn’t look that different and when he and Hall later spin up the side of the Warren Hill gallop, he doesn’t move that differently. He is not that tall, hardly 16 hands (5ft 4in) at the shoulder but he is broad and strong, and the extra comes from behind. “He’s got massive hindquarters,” Hall says. “When you ask him you feel the power beneath you. It takes a few strides and then it’s like a motorbike. I rode him a couple of days ago and the moment he quickened up I couldn’t stop the smile on my face.”
During races, that smile belongs to Jim Crowley, for whom this is the crowning of 25 years in the saddle, starting with a stage as a jump jockey based in the wild and windy delights of Sue and Harvey Smith’s stable up on the back of Ilkley Moor.
“He’s definitely the best I ever sat on,” says the rider who has been aboard some very good ones since becoming Sheikh Hamdan’s jockey in 2016. “He ticks every box, you can put him anywhere in a race and he really gives when you ask him. When I took Mishriff in the Juddmonte it was incredible, he lowered himself down and stretched — like a cheetah.”
It is such images that those around him have seared in the memory but first there is the no small matter of dealing with the Derby winner Adayar and seven others over a mile and a quarter at Ascot. But if all goes to plan and their horse signs off into greatness those connected will cherish that golden visa.
“Even being a small part of it is just amazing,” relates Hall with a smile. “There’s one lad who just comes in at weekends to muck out and he said to me, ‘I am going home to tell my grandad that I mucked out Baaeed.’ ”
His Group One wins
• Sept 5: Prix du Moulin, Longchamp
• Oct 16: Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, Ascot
• May 14: Lockinge Stakes, Newbury
• June 14: Queen Anne Stakes, Royal Ascot
• July 27: Sussex Stakes, Goodwood
• Aug 17: International Stakes, York
Career races 10
Prize money £2,622,282