Baaeed primed for Ebor festival’s most coveted prize

William Haggas-trained star colt expected to extend unbeaten record to a perfect 10 in Juddmonte International

Baaeed is hot favourite to summarily dismiss his opposition at York on Wednesday although the odds on him winning other metaphorical contests as a result are much bigger.

The world’s highest rated racehorse contests the Juddmonte International with the legacy of two former winners of the race hovering over him. One of them, Sea The Stars, is his dad so pretty integral to his own story. However, it is the other outstanding thoroughbred of the modern era whose name is going to be called on most on Wednesday.

It is a decade since Frankel first raced past a mile in this race and pulled off one of the signature victories of his superb unbeaten career. Now Baaeed steps up over a mile for the first time, bidding to stretch his own unbeaten record to a perfect 10.

There are enough similarities to make comparisons as inevitable as they are invidious.


Bulletproof so far against the horses put in front of him, Baaeed’s theoretical struggle for esteem in comparison to champions of the past is all but impossible for him to win.

It sees the finest talent of the moment sometimes being damned for what he isn’t rather than what he is, a ludicrous situation since what he is looks outstanding. A handful of Group One victories at a mile include three this year that have been achieved with a rare authority.

Frankel too pulled off the hat-trick of the Lockinge, Queen Anne and Sussex Stakes in 2012 and did so with his trademark extravagance. That incomparable style yielded wide-margin successes that had handicap calculators spinning with statistical evidence of his superiority.

Baaeed, in contrast, seems to have inherited his sire’s habit of doing no more than necessary to win.

It is 13 years since Michael Kinane assured John Oxx there was no point asking Sea The Stars to stretch out and win by double-digit lengths since the equine paragon had concluded there was no point being profligate with his energy. His own Juddmonte win over Mastercratsman was achieved by just a length and yet never looked in doubt.

There has been plenty to suggest Baaeed’s instincts are similarly conservative, bare numbers failing to reveal his full superiority. The burst of speed he showed in putting the Sussex to bed looked a case in point and the habits of a lifetime may not change now he is asked to stretch his stamina to a mile and a quarter.

Bred to appreciate a step up in trip, the William Haggas-trained colt will be tested by a pair of genuine Group One horses in Mishriff and Native Trail. The latter represents the classic generation and has a second go at the trip after getting outpointed in the Eclipse.

However, it is Mishriff, a brilliant six length winner of this race a year ago, who shapes as Baaeed’s biggest test.

A superbly versatile international talent, these look to be Mishriff’s optimum conditions so if his A-game can’t get close to the favourite it will be quite a feather in Baaeed’s cap no matter what the debate.

Aidan O’Brien’s chances of a record seventh Juddmonte success revolve around High Definition’s shaky claims.

High class at his best, that best is hard to predict and even if repeated in this context is highly unlikely to be good enough. That’s because Baaeed’s presence makes a stellar summer highlight even more significant than usual.

In the half century since Roberto shocked Brigadier Gerard in the first renewal of the race, some of the sport’s greatest names have taken on the challenge of the Ebor festival’s most coveted prize.

Baaeed’s CV doesn’t contain a two-year-old championship or a classic like Frankel’s. Neither will it ever have the range of accomplishment that Sea The Stars managed in his incomparable 2009 campaign.

But in the right here-right now, there is no more exciting runner in the world, surely a prospect to relish on its own terms.

That famous 1972 race underlined the dangers of presumption when it comes to horses and those prepared to take on the favourite might be encouraged by the prosaic reality of some dirty scopes in the Haggas yard recently.

Baaeed’s stable companion Alenquer misses the race due to a poor scope. The same applied to Maljoon in Sunday’s Prix Jacques Le Marois.

“Obviously it is something you take notice of and as the trainer the only thing they can do is scope him,” said Angus Gold, spokesman for Baeed’s owner.

“They scoped him and he’s clear. Like you and I though, if something is brewing, you’re not going to perform at your best. So hopefully it is not but until we know otherwise there’s no point making a thing about it.”

In other news, the Cheltenham authorities have introduced a 68,500 attendance limit for next year’s festival.

The move comes on the back of concerns at the festival in March about record attendances stretching the track’s infrastructure. The new limit is designed to improve the racegoers’ experience at National Hunt racing’s biggest meeting of the season.

A total of 73,875 attended Gold Cup day earlier this year. There were 73,754 a day present previously for the St Patrick’s day programme. A record 280,627 attended the four days overall. The new maximum capacity will be 274,000.

“It was fantastic to attract capacity crowds on both Thursday and Friday to witness some brilliant racing in glorious sunshine. However, we are well aware that our facilities, even after significant investment in recent years, are stretched at these attendance levels,” a Jockey Club spokesman said.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column