HE MIGHT have won the blue riband Epsom Derby with his very first runner when Shaamit prevailed in 1996, but nothing gives proud Yorkshireman William Haggas more satisfaction than saddling big race winners on his beloved Knavesmire.
The son-in-law of legendary jockey Lester Piggott, Haggas always targets the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival and afforded himself the slightest smile of quiet satisfaction after impressive wins by Tasleet and Besharah left him with a perfect four winners from four runners following Wednesday’s opening-day double.
This remarkable sequence only came to an end when Mange All, ironically owned by the trainer’s father Brian, who lives near Ilkley, was unplaced in the Clipper Logistics Handicap. Even Haggas senior, a formidable task master and highly successful businessman of Harris Tweed fame, was likely to have been in a forgiving mood as he, too, basks in the plaudits being bestowed upon his son.
Not only did Tasleet’s victory in the opening DBS Premier Yearling Stakes for two-year-olds take the Haggas stable’s win prize money passed the £1m milestone for the third successive season, but the trainer has now won each of the last three renewals of the six-furlong test.
Even more significant is the fact that horses trained by Haggas and his wife Maureen are operating at a 24 per cent strike rate that they have never bettered since they saddled their first runners in 1988. This statistic was enhanced still further by Besharah’s empathic victory in the Pinsent Masons Lowther Stakes over the highly-regarded Yorkshire challenger Lumiere. The filly is a deserved ante-post favourite for next year’s 1000 Guineas.
And there is potentially more to come – Muthmir, winner of last year’s Skybet Dash at York, takes on American speedster Acapulco in today’s Group One Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, while Haggas will seek a still elusive win in the Betfred Ebor when Arabian Comet lines up in Europe’s richest Flat handicap tomorrow.
Yet what is striking is that the stable now has the horses, and owners, to compete with the very best after the gutsy endeavour of the now retired Mukhadram who helped Paul Hanagan, the former champion jockey, establish himself as Sheikh Hamdam al-Maktoum’s retained rider .
Like Tasleet and Besharah who are exciting prospects for the future, the same also applies to Wednesday’s winners – Storm The Stars, the winner of the Betway Great Voltigeur Stakes, is ante-post favourite for next month’s Ladbrokes St Leger while Recorder, owned by the Queen and victorious in the Tattersalls Acomb Stakes, could develop into a Classic contender (the Royal colt’s sire is the great racehorse and stallion Galileo).
Though based at Newmarket, Skipton-born Haggas remains fiercely proud of his roots – he once opened the batting for Yorkshire CCC’s 2nd XI – and draws particular pride from saddling winners in his home county, even though he admits to being a nervous watcher of races when his horses are expected to prevail.
Away from the limelight, he is fulsome in praise for the support of his wife – this is very much a team operation – and work riders of the calibre of Jason Farrell, who has helped to becalm the highly-strung Storm The Stars who has been placed in both the Epsom and Irish Derbies.
As for Tasleet, Haggas ventured: “I don’t think he was at his best today. Who knows if he’s a Guineas horse? He’s tough and might go for the Middle Park next.”
He clearly thinks there’s more to come from Besharah, who is likely to be stepped up to Group One level in next month’s Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket. “She hadn’t shown at home that she’d been improving like that,” said Haggas. ”
Significantly, Middleham-based Mark Johnston, trainer of the runner-up Lumiere, was not downbeat.
“If you’d said to me two months ago she’d be second in the Lowther on just her second start I would have taken that,” he said. “On her debut she never saw another horse, so she lacked experience for a race like this,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pleascach stayed on best of them all to claim a success in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks, the day two highlight. Although put in her place by Covert Love in the Irish Oaks last time out, Jim Bolger’s filly reversed the form with this last-gasp win.
Martlet’s win in the Galtres Stakes, run in honour of the late Sir Henry Cecil, provided trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori with minor consolation for Epsom Derby winner Golden Horn’s shock reverse in the previous day’s Juddmonte International – Golden Horn will now look to restore his reputation in next month’s Irish Champion Stakes.
This week already belongs to William Haggas.
But it will only be complete if the aforementioned Arabian Comet lands the Ebor, England beat Australia in the final Ashes Test and Yorkshire prevail at Sussex to set up a second successive County Championship. And not necessarily in that order.