Thursday August 18 2022, 12.01am, The Times
It was all we could have asked for and more, one of those moments in sport when what you are seeing sends the spirit skywards: it was Baaeed sprinting clear in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York yesterday, as good a gallop as you will ever see.
It was the tenth victory of Baaeed’s unbeaten career, but since it was his first try at ten furlongs his rivals were determined to test his stamina. Straight from the stalls Ryan Moore sent the Irish horse High Definition to the front. Mishriff, showing no sign of the moody reluctance seen last time at Ascot, followed a rapid pace, with Jim Crowley, on Baaeed, content to sit a good ten lengths back, fifth of the sixth runners.
However superior you may believe a horse to be, and Baaeed started as short as 5-2 on, there is always a doubt when good horses have such a start. Swinging into the straight there were brief moments when we recalled High Definition’s sky-high reputation 18 months ago and then longer, more intense ones, as Mishriff cruised up to the lead, recalling his success in this race last year.
This was Mishriff, the champion, the world’s highest-rated thoroughbred. Native Trail, the young pretender, was driven past High Definition but never looked a match as all the while we watched the stillness of Crowley’s blue silks as Baaeed moved up. These last two furlongs were unknown territory. He had shown such speed over a shorter distance that the power might not now be there.
But it was. With 300 yards to run, Crowley finally asked the questions. Baaeed’s hooves dug deeper into the turf. It took him three or four strides to gather momentum and then his powerful, compact quarters propelled him on towards equine immortality. A top horse like Mishriff was reduced to long, floundering forelegs as Baaeed rocketed three, four, five and, finally, six-and-a-half lengths clear.
I have watched every Juddmonte International since Brigadier Gerard’s shock defeat by Roberto in the first running in 1972. In that time only Frankel has been as impressive and the way Baaeed races makes that imaginary match into an open question.
“I have never, will never, have a feeling like Baaeed gave me two furlongs out,” Crowley, who at 44 has never lost perspective during his long journey from early days riding jump horses for Harvey and Sue Smith up on Ilkley Moor, said. “This is a horse of a lifetime. At this distance he is even better; better than anything.”
Baaeed is the ultimate, poignant posthumous achievement of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Stud breeding operation and yet another dividend from his move to buy Baaeed’s great, great, great grandam from the Queen in 1982. His daughter, Sheikha Hissa, was an enthusiastic spectator yesterday, but the call of stud duties may give us only one more glimpse of Baaeed on the track.
William Haggas, his trainer, is adamant that this will be the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October and is resisting an increasing populist clamour to pitch even higher and target his superhorse at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe over 1½ miles
Ours is not the choosing, but the extraordinary, spontaneous applause as Baaeed lit up the Knavesmire gives us all a sense of ownership and the craving for a tilt at heights which not even Frankel or Brigadier Gerard could match. Maybe we will just have to settle for yesterday’s victory. The warmth of the memory will take a long while to cool.
It was in the 1690s that the Byerley Turk arrived in Yorkshire and became one of the three founding fathers of the thoroughbreds we see worldwide today. What we saw with Baaeed on the Knavesmire yesterday was the best proof yet that 300 years of selective breeding have not been in vain.