William Haggas, whose exceptional, unbeaten colt Baaeed is due to make his final trip to the races for the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, spoke this week about the extent to which everyone around the horse is carrying on as if it will be just another day at the track.
“We’re all lucky to have had this horse while he’s been in training with us, and every single person has enjoyed the ride immensely,” Haggas said. “But we can’t go around getting tense and taut because he will then feel it. We’ve just got to be normal, work normally and treat him, as best we can, as another horse in the yard, so that he knows no different. That’s the idea.”
The extent to which Haggas’s “don’t mention Saturday” approach is for Baaeed’s benefit – and not also an emotional crutch for a yard which is about to lose its superstar – is anyone’s guess. But as any racing fan or punter who has followed Baaeed through his 10 races to date will affirm, very little about the four-year-old is in any way normal.
Baaeed is not quite a once-a-century talent to match the extraordinary Frankel, who completed his own unbeaten career in the Champion Stakes a decade ago. He did not race as a juvenile, while Frankel was a champion in each of his three seasons on the track. And he did not line up for a Classic, whereas Frankel obliterated his three-year-old peers in the 2,000 Guineas, the first of a series of freakish performances that elevated his rating to an all-time record. Haggas’s colt, in fact, may well not finish the 2022 as the top-rated racehorse on the planet, following the recent, explosive arrival of Flightline on American dirt.
But an unbeaten, multiple Group One winner, carrying that air of invincibility into final last race, is still a vanishingly rare commodity. “I think it [his perfect record] is terribly important now that we’re nearly there and we’ve got one race to go,” Haggas said. “Frankel obviously was unbeaten but few are unbeaten in a career at that level so I think it would be sad if he was beaten.”
Sea The Stars, Baaeed’s sire and another of the modern greats, reeled off six Group One wins in his three-year-old season and took eight of his nine starts in all, but inexperience got the better of him first time out and he finished only fourth.
It was almost the same story for Baaeed when he made his belated three-year-old debut at Leicester on 7 July 2021, 48 hours after Adayar, the second-favourite for Saturday’s race, had led home the best stayers of their generation in the Derby at Epsom.
He missed the break, took time to settle, dropped off the back of the screen two furlongs out and then looked clueless for several strides when, with several lengths still to find, his rider asked him to quicken.
When the penny dropped, however, Baaeed accelerated to such an astonishing effect that he won by more than a length easing down. A star was born, and just three months later and four starts later, he bagged his first Group One in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp.
His career path since has followed Frankel’s to the race, from a win by a neck – the smallest margin of his career – in last year’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day, via Newbury, Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and an emphatic step up from a mile to 10 furlongs in the International Stakes at York.
Baaeed’s winning run has also underpinned a serious challenge for the trainer’s championship for the first time in Haggas’s 34-year career with a licence, and he knows that there will not be another one like him through the doors at his Newmarket yard.
“I wouldn’t have a clue what makes him better, I wish we knew and then I could buy another one like him at the sales,” he says. “He’s just got everything, and I’ve always likened my job to being the headmaster of a boarding school, in that the new boys or girls come in and we spend two years trying to work out which of them have got talent.
“This horse would get 10 A stars at GCSE, he’d be captain of rugby, cricket and football or hockey. He’d breeze into Cambridge, he’d be prime minister. He’s just got it all, that pupil that every head wants.”
Adayar has had just a single race since finishing down the field in last year’s Champion, but still promises to be as stern an opponent as Baaeed has faced in his career. A comprehensive defeat of last year’s Derby winner could yet see him edge his official rating – currently 135 – a little closer to Frankel’s final mark of 140.
But one more win, whether it is by a nose or 10 lengths, is what matters most of all. The near-impossible dream of breeding, owning or simply watching an unbeatable racehorse has fired the imagination of generations of racing’s fans, and in that respect at least, Baaeed can still be an equal of the greatest horse of them all.