There were emotional scenes in the Ascot winner’s enclosure after the brilliant Baaeed starred in a treble for the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell operation on Qipco Champions Day.
Seven months on from the prominent owner’s death, the blue and white silks that have been synonymous with so many equine greats over the years were once again in the spotlight on the richest raceday of the British Flat season.
While the success of Roger Varian’s Eshaada in the Fillies & Mares Stakes came as a surprise to many, much was expected of Baaeed as he put his unbeaten record and huge reputation on the line in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
What followed was a race for the ages as the William Haggas-trained three-year-old outgunned his older and more proven top-class rival Palace Pier by a neck, leaving Sheikh Hamdan’s long-time racing manager and close friend Angus Gold struggling to fight back the tears.
“Sheikh Hamdan would have loved this. It’s a huge day for the team and Sheikh Hamdan’s family to sort of mark his legacy in the year he died,” he said.
“It’s fantastic to have two Group One winners. To have one is enough, but to have two and for this horse (Baaeed) who has shown so much all the way through to win again is brilliant.”
Palace Pier was the narrow favourite at the off at at 6-4, with Baaeed – who did not make his debut until appearing at Leicester in early June – a 2-1 shot under Jim Crowley.
Baaeed was travelling much the better of the pair racing inside the final two furlongs, but Palace Pier gritted his teeth to make a race of it and there was just a neck between them at the line.
Gold added: “Everyone was asking beforehand ‘what do you think?’. I just said we’d let the race tell us as he’s never beaten a horse of Palace Pier’s class before.
“What a fantastic horse race it was. At the three-furlong pole I looked at Frankie (Dettori, on Palace Pier) and thought ‘fantastic, we’ve got you’ – but he was still there at the end and was only just beaten, so it shows what a tough horse he is.
“Palace Pier had done it all before whereas we still had to prove it. He had a proper fight on his hands and thankfully he proved man enough for it.”
Shadwell, who went on to complete the hat-trick with Baaeed’s stablemate Aldaary in the Balmoral Handicap, announced last month it would slim down its operations in the UK, Ireland and America, “to focus on quality and competition at the highest level of the sport”.
But Gold is hopeful the colours will continue to be a major force in the sport next season and beyond, with Baaeed primed to captain the team.
“Obviously it was a huge operation and I think they just felt we needed to trim it, which is perfectly understandable,” said Gold.
“We’ve got a lot of horses going to the sales in the next few weeks, so we’ll see what we’re left with.
“We’re hoping to keep some of the best ones and obviously we’ve got some yearlings to come into training next year, so I think there’ll still be a fair few horses there.
“I think compared to most owners, it will be a fairly sizeable team.”
Of Baaeed, he added: “I’m amazed how much speed he has, with his pedigree. He’s a full-brother to Hukum, who as we know stays a mile and a half well.
“He’s a charming horse who always wants to please, so to see him win a stallion-making race – which is very important for the breeding – was a huge thrill.
“I don’t remember many that have done it so quickly and he’s never taken a backwards step, that’s what’s been so extraordinary for me.
“He hasn’t had a particularly hard life so far and has done what we’ve asked him the whole way through, so I can’t see why he wouldn’t go on.”
Crowley was aboard all three winners, and was quick to pay his own tribute to Sheikh Hamdan.
He said: “For me it was one of the best days racing that I’ve seen, let alone to have been a part of. Fantastic horses running today and so nice to have crowds back, it was a big plus.
“Sheikh Hamdan I’m sure is looking down. It’s so sad that he can’t be here, because he would absolutely been buzzing today. Hopefully his daughter, Sheikha Hissa, is watching and she will be over the moon. He loved Ascot.”