INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS

Baaeed’s brilliance is met with reverential awe

York witnesses a defining victory as Shadwell’s champion puts up a sublime display on the Knavesmire.

“He’s quite squat,” a fellow says in blunt Yorkshire fashion. He is looking down at the smallish bay in the pre-parade ring wearing the number two cloth. The man is among a press of people: lads in jeans, women in their ‘best’ dresses and hats, men jacketed in their pick of Tweed, linen or manmade mix, depending on the clip of their vowels or the wad in their wallet. They stand nine or 10 deep from the white rail, back almost to the weighing room’s outer wall, all eager to get an early look at the afternoon’s star attraction.

York in August is the jewel in the crown of a county and region that has a long and deep connection to racing, and a York crowd is a knowledgeable bunch. They know Baaeed is a clip better than good: that’s why they are here, just like they were for Brigadier Gerard and for Frankel.

There is a constant hum of conversations, flitting in and out of earshot: “He’s built more like a sprinter, really, isn’t he?” is heard at one turn, then, “He should have no bother with a mile and a quarter,” at another.

Two jockeys have come out to have a look: lads from the northern circuit. This is their first in-the-flesh viewing of the horse that has drawn the large and expectant throng. “There’s less of him than I thought there’d be,” says one to the other. “And he has a bit of a dip to his back…like that.” He gestures in a curving motion with his right hand. 

Baaeed is unfazed by the massed attention as his lad, Ricky Hall, leads him into the paddock proper. The keen watchers begin the slow, bobbing shuffle through the bottleneck between the paddock and the weighing room entrance; they’re hoping to find a new position to observe the Shadwell superstar in the final minutes before he heads to post for the Group 1 Juddmonte International. They are frustrated: the crowd there is at least 12 deep at every point.

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Baaeed, the subject of all the pre-race attention. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

“Let’s go Baaeed!” a flat-toned Yorkshireman shouts out. “Let’s go Baaeed!” an echoing call responds. The horse throws his head up and down; Jim Crowley is in sight and seconds later he is astride the champ and they are walking to the paddock exit, cantering easily along the chute in front of the packed grandstands, then turning to lope to post as a breeze stiffens the flags on the infield pavilion and lowering clouds block the August sun.    

The last of the masses are still moving to position. Still assessing. Offering opinions. Making blunt observations.

A young woman passes between the race goers with a well-arranged basket of wares: pork pies. This is ‘the Ascot of the north’, after all: a grand occasion with its own take on pomp, without all the regal palaver and Fortnum & Mason picnicking.

Yorkshire folk have been gathering to watch sport on the Knavesmire for centuries. They came to see highwaymen hang on the ‘Three-legged mare’ gallows; they cheered The Flying Dutchman and Voltigeur 171 years ago in their legendary match race; they were floored when Roberto downed the great ‘Brigadier’ half a century ago; and they were awestruck when the peerless Frankel dominated the 2012 ‘Juddmonte’ by seven lengths.  

The crowd noise rises at first to an ecstatic roar when Baaeed flicks from cruise control to turbo and the adrenaline flushes; but then, as he sails away from his defeated inferiors, with fully half a furlong still to race, the people as one begin to clap their hands; applause rings around the grandstands as the son of Sea The Stars and Crowley ease past the winning post. Baaeed wins his ‘Juddmonte’ by six and a half and the crowd responds with spine-tingling reverence.

There is more applause – not cheers – and a sense of deep respect, when the colt re-enters the paddock for the walk to unsaddle. John Gosden pats the defeated Mishriff’s face and turns admiringly to put his hands together as the victor passes close by. And then the loud, unbridled, cheering erupts from the crowd. Reverence has turned to rapture.

“It’s a very special day. I’ve never experienced anything like that, but the Yorkshire crowd, they know their racing,” says Crowley when The Report corners him.

Willie Carson, for so long Shadwell’s number one jockey, and his understudy, Richard Hills, are on hand to celebrate the success of the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s breeding programme. Baaeed’s fifth dam is the exceptional mare Height Of Fashion, the dam of the three star colts Nashwan, Unfuwain and Nayef. The Sheikh bought her from the Queen.

“Would you have won on that?” a wag asks the pair of long-retired jockeys.

“No” laughs Carson.

“We’d have gone for him three furlongs out,” jokes Hills.

Baaeed’s trainer William Haggas gives the media huddle its soundbites as he talks of the horse’s ‘spectacular’ performance, and reiterates his line that the Champion Stakes over 2000 metres at Ascot in October will be Baaeed’s final race and not the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe over 2400 metres in Paris.

Victory at Ascot would give him a tally of 11 wins from 11 races, seven at Group 1 level. Before his York procession, he was already the world’s highest rated horse, Europe’s best at a mile. Now he is Europe’s best at 10 furlongs as well and is drawing comparisons even with Frankel.

Trainer William Haggas plots Baaeed's Juddmonte course. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Jockey Jim Crowley is all smiles at York. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Frankel demolishes his opposition in the 2012 Juddmonte. (Photo by Anna Gowthorpe/PA Images via Getty Images)

Frankel defeated a deeper field at York than did Baaeed. The latest people’s champ was a late developer, too: he did not have to go through the rigours of a two-year-old campaign, arriving at the races as a three-year-old and skipping the Classics, which are always a difficult rite of passage not to be underestimated. But his ‘Juddmonte’ win after two seasons of top-class performance proves that he is at least worthy of being part of such debates.

“He’s incredible,” says Hall, who rides the horse at home in Newmarket.

“Me and Harry Thorpe-Codman rode him as a two-year-old and Harry probably saw a bit more of him than I did. But I ride him every day, other than when Mikey Hills has a sit on him now and then for pieces of work.”

Hall reveals that while Baaeed is laidback he can be fresh at times too.

He’s tiny, it’s just he’s really muscley. He looks like he should be a sprinter.

“In the winter he’s dropped me four times each year I’ve ridden him,” he says. “He gets fresh in the winter and he’s harder to sit on but other than that he’s straightforward and a delight to deal with.”

And then he adds: “He’s tiny, it’s just he’s really muscley, he’s got a massive backside on him and that’s where the power comes from. He looks like he should be a sprinter.”

With Baaeed off the premises, the next race, a two-mile handicap, returns things to normality; the pre-parade ring crowd is a civilised one-deep but the conversation is still all about the horses. The York racegoers really do know their stuff and they know they just witnessed a champion.

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