Storm the Stars offers Haggas a chance to repeat Derby surprise

WINNING FEELING: William Haggas, right, talking with jockey Paul Hanagan, returns to the Epsom Derby today 19 years after Shaamit gave the Yorkshire-born trainer a Derby winner at the first attempt.
WINNING FEELING: William Haggas, right, talking with jockey Paul Hanagan, returns to the Epsom Derby today 19 years after Shaamit gave the Yorkshire-born trainer a Derby winner at the first attempt.
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SKIPTON-born trainer William Haggas can still vividly remember the 1996 Epsom Derby.

Shaamit, his first runner in an Epsom Classic, let alone the Derby, gave the Newmarket handler victory at the first attempt.

Haggas remembers it like it was yesterday.

Yet the 54-year-old says the rest of the racing world has forgotten.

“We must get another to show that wasn’t a fluke,” he declares

Haggas has been based in Newmarket since 1981 but carries Yorkshire’s hopes in today’s Epsom Investec Derby with 25-1 live outsider Storm The Stars.

The son-in-law of legendary jockey Lester Piggott was educated in Bedale and remains deeply proud of his Yorkshire roots, meaning racing forays to the county are commonplace.

Talyani was victorious at Ripon on Tuesday with the in-form trainer operating at a 31 per cent strike rate for June.

Nineteen years on from Shaamit’s sensational success, Haggas, it seems, is better than ever.

And now the handler again wants to prove that point in English racing’s most prestigious contest with Haggas proud to fly the flag not just for his Somerville Lodge yard in Newmarket, but also for Yorkshire.

Haggas told The Yorkshire Post: “Shaamit winning the Epsom Derby was great and it’s something that you cherish for ever more, for a lifetime really.

“But that was a long time ago and most people weren’t alive when he won the Derby.

“I’ll never forget it but everyone else has so we must get another one to show that wasn’t a fluke.

“Am I flying the flag for the north? Possibly, I feel like I am.

“I have been down here a long time now but I’m very much a Yorkshireman and proud of it.”

Yorkshire, too, can be deeply proud of Haggas whose Dancing Rain bagged the 2011 Oaks. Three years on, the trainer’s only other Derby runner, 50-1 shot Our Channel, was 13th in last year’s renewal, won by hot favourite Australia.

Dante winner Golden Horn is a similarly warm order 12 months on and Haggas admitted: “I think Golden Horn is the best horse and he’s got the most class I 
think.

“You can find a hole in nearly everything else and there’s even a hole in Golden Horn about whether he gets the trip.

“But I think when they have got a lot of class I don’t think it matters.

“Jack Hobbs is not certain to get the trip. Although everyone says he will, I don’t think his dam’s side is strong enough in stamina to suggest that he’s a certainty to stay the trip well, or be better at the trip.

“Then there’s been a problem with the Hamdan horse of Dermot Weld’s (Zawraq) and that’s never a good sign.

“Elm Park is a Group One winner but he didn’t look very good on the track.

“He’s a strong stayer and he’s sure to run well but if it got on the fast side of good I’m not sure it would suit him very well.

“And then you are getting into the three Aidan (O’Brien) horses.

“Giovanni Canaletto, I’m sure he’s been the best he’s got but I think they have had a real battle with him through May and to only have his first race of the season the other weekend is not ideal.

“Of the two trials winners – Hans Holbein – I think he wants very soft ground and I think Kilimanjaro might want that too.

“I would think one of those two will be kicking on, making it a solid pace I would suspect.”

Should the doubts about the market leaders prove well founded, Haggas will hope the Pat Cosgrave-ridden Storm The Stars can pick up the pieces, though the trainer admits even having a realistic contender for Derby glory is an achievement in itself.

Haggas added: “If you’re analytical and study form closely you’ll know that Storm The Stars has got a bit to find.

“But in his favour is that he’s quite a well balanced horse so the track shouldn’t hold any terrors for him and he goes on any ground. He goes on soft or firm so that won’t bother him.

“And he’s run at Chester and Goodwood in his last two starts – both fairly complicated tracks and handled that fine.

“I don’t have an issue with the track but I just think he’s got a bit to find on the book.

“It’s just fantastic to go with a runner and a chance, of course it is. It’s the biggest race for an English trainer in the country, it’s a huge race for us.

“Very few people have the firepower to have a horse to have a chance of running in the Derby and a realistic chance.

“Storm The Stars is 25-1 and that’s about indicative of his chance. But it’s a funny place Epsom and you can get some strange results. If the horse handles the day and handles the track then they can outrun their odds – as has been proven many times.”