Baaeed has the chance to prove he is a superstar in waiting, in what is a fascinating renewal of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.
Unraced until June this year, the William Haggas-trained colt has made giant strides with each run and last time out proved he could cut the mustard at the highest level in the Prix du Moulin.
Despite maintaining his unbeaten record, though, Haggas felt he was not quite at his peak that day and in any case, he will have to take his form up another notch against Palace Pier, the best miler in Europe.
“The bit that none of us know, and that includes me, is what he’s got left as he’s going to be tested. I know Jim (Crowley) is very fond of him and he’s a very, very lovely horse to deal with,” said Haggas.
“I couldn’t see, in my initial reading of it, where the pace was going to come from, but it’s a very strong race. It’s a championship race and it’s probably the best mile race of the season.
“All I’ll say is that if he wins on Saturday then the people who have been building him up were right. It is extraordinary, everyone wants him to go maiden, novice, Listed, Group Three, Group One.
“What we really want is to do what Sea The Stars did, which was to go from the Juddmonte to the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc de Triomphe. That’s the ideal career and this horse, to use a popular expression, has danced every dance so far.
“I’m not a punter, but I’d have Palace Pier at even money, no questions, and be 3-1 with Baaeed. What they are in the market is irrelevant, I think he’s as short as he is on potential, but he hasn’t really got going.”
Reflecting on the Moulin, Haggas said: “I was really pleased with him at Longchamp, but we’d had a bit of a hiccup and I don’t want to undermine the horses that finished behind, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t see him at his best.
“If we get to Saturday all in one piece, you’ll see the best of him.”
The standard is well and truly set by Palace Pier, trained by John and Thady Gosden. The one blemish on his 10-race record came in the corresponding race 12 months ago – on deep ground when he also lost two shoes.
Thady Gosden said: “It looks a great race, I’m looking forward to it, but obviously there are some nerves for sure.
“He’s been in good form since the Jacques le Marois and everyone has been happy with him at home.
“Baaeed looks the big danger, he’s the horse coming through the ranks and won a Group One last time.
“This race last year is the only blemish on his record, he’s an exceptional racehorse but it was frustrating with the ground last year and he lost two shoes which in that ground will hinder your chances.
“Whether this is his last race, it’s a decision for his owners after the race.”
Jeff Smith has been lucky enough to have owned and bred some fantastic horses during a long involvement in the game – and he feels Alcohol Free, a three-time Group One winner, is right up with the best of them.
The Andrew Balding-trained filly has had a break since failing to stay 10 furlongs in the Juddmonte International.
“Obviously I’m looking forward to it and it’s one hell of a race. It brings all the strands of form together and it’s certainly the highlight of the day – for me anyway!” said Smith
“She’s already beaten the colts once this year (Sussex Stakes), there was cut in the ground at Goodwood so that won’t be an issue, it’s just going to be a case of best horse on the day, which is as it should be.
“She had a break at the stud for about 10 days after York, put on a bit of weight, it was absolutely perfect. I haven’t seen her since she went back to Andrew’s, but by all accounts she’s in cracking form.
“Of all my horses she’d have to be the best, you don’t win three Group Ones without being top class. She’s achieved a lot in a season and a half.
“This will be it for the season, she won’t be going abroad but she stays in training next year.”
Aidan O’Brien’s Mother Earth has had 15 outings in two seasons, an incredible amount considering all bar her racecourse debut have been at Group level.
She won the 1000 Guineas back in May, added the Prix Rothschild in August and has not been out of the first three all season.
O’Brien said: “Mother Earth ran a good race in the Sun Chariot in Newmarket where the winner came up the other side. She is very consistent. She turned around the Matron Stakes form (with No Speak Alexander) by four or five lengths.”
Saeed bin Suroor has been absent from the season-defining mile contest for some time – but his old favourite Benbatl gives him a puncher’s chance.
“He came back good from his last race and is working well,” said Bin Suroor, who has won the QEII a record five times, most recently with Poet’s Voice in 2010.
“The ground is good at this moment. There are showers around, but if the ground stays as it is that would be great.
“The jockey (Pat Cosgrave) knows him well – he won a Group One in Australia on him (in 2017).
“The horse is in good form and good condition. It’s a very strong race with some of best milers in the world, but hopefully we will see a good run from Benbatl again.”
William Jarvis has elected to run Lady Bowthorpe here rather than in the Champion Stakes and said: “Once I saw that the Derby winner Adayar was running in the Champion as well as Mishriff it wasn’t a difficult decision. I don’t think we could beat either of them, but we might be competitive in the mile race.
“Nothing emerged after the Deauville race (beat only one), although she didn’t settle in the stables despite having travelled over there well. I’ve been delighted with her since and we are all looking forward to this.”
Adding further spice is Master Of The Seas, as the 2000 Guineas runner-up has his second outing since his comeback in the Joel Stakes won by Benbatl.
Trainer Charlie Appleby is hoping to head next to the Breeders’ Cup Mile – and the QEII is this year a ‘win and you’re in’ contest for that race.
The Moulton Paddocks handler told the Goldolphin website: “Master Of The Seas has pleased us since his reappearance (third) in the Joel Stakes last month. He is mentally maturing. The hood is removed this time. This is his stepping stone to Del Mar.”