William Haggas has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his illustrious career – but it really could end with a bang at Ascot on Qipco British Champions Day.
Haggas has a chance with Hamish (owned and bred by his father, Brian) in the Long Distance Cup, the unbeaten Baaeed in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, three live chances in the Champion Stakes and another three in the Balmoral Handicap.
He has not been able to get carried away by the build up, however, as the meeting is coming hot on the heels of the prestigious Tattersalls Sales, the busiest weeks in the calendar for trainers – and even then his attention is not solely on Ascot this weekend.
“We’ve got a runner on Friday afternoon in Belmont (Spirit Of Bermuda), we’ve a runner on Saturday afternoon in Keeneland (Cloudy Dawn) and we’ve a runner in Paris on Sunday afternoon (My Astra), so it’s flat out,” said Haggas.
A fortnight ago the Sommerville Lodge handler saddled eight winners on a single afternoon – a feat that was generally lost seeing as it came on the same weekend as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
“I’ve been trying to find out on the Flat how many people had done this,” said Haggas.
“I went to Mark Johnston and he’d done seven, I don’t think Richard Hannon has done it and Richard Fahey hasn’t done it, so I don’t know who else could have done it in this era – obviously there’s much more racing than in the old days. We’re very proud of it.”
But while numerically Haggas is setting new standards for himself, he is determined to make more of a mark at the very top of the sport.
Haggas, just behind the principals in fourth in the trainers’ championship, said: “We don’t win enough Group Ones in England, we’ve won a lot of stakes races this year – all over – but we’d obviously like to win some more Group Ones here. They are quite hard to win you know, strangely enough.
“For the first time ever (Andrew) Balding is cheering us on this weekend – as well as his – because he knows we’re not a threat, but I could knock out (John) Gosden and (Charlie) Appleby if our horses win!”
In the opening Long Distance Cup Haggas runs both Hamish and Roberto Escobarr. But there is no doubt the former is his main chance.
“Hamish and Roberto Escobarr will run. I believe the ground will be on the soft side of good, it will probably be dead, and that will suit Hamish. He’s not bad, he’s in good form and did his last bit this morning, he looks great,” said Haggas.
“Providing the next three days go well he’ll run with Tom Marquand on board.
“That day we lost to Trueshan (October 2019), who has come a long way since then, we were gutted. There were only four runners and we were 4-7 favourite and I was mortified! Subsequent events – while Hamish recovered from his tendon injury – have been very heartening for us.
“I have to say Roberto is better on top of the ground so it might be a bit dead for him.”
Baaeed has come such a long way since making his debut in June, winning the Prix du Moulin last time out.
“A lot of people have said a lot about this horse, but you probably won’t have heard a lot from me. Whilst I’ve been very impressed with what he’s done in such a short space of time, he’s got an enormous task on Saturday,” said Haggas.
“Not only is there Palace Pier but there’s Alcohol Free, possibly Mother Earth and last year’s winner The Revenant and maybe even Benbatl – lots of good horses.
“I was really pleased with him at Longchamp and without undermining those behind him we’d had a little hiccup and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t at his best. If I can get him there as he is now you’ll see the best of him on Saturday.”
To have one horse good enough to run in the Champion Stakes takes some doing, but Haggas has three legitimate contenders in last year’s winner Addeybb, the improving Dubai Honour and the enigmatic Al Aasy.
“Addeybb’s ideal ground is when it passes an inspection on the morning of the race. This will be soft, but I’m not sure it will be soft enough for him. He loves Ascot and his record right-handed is fantastic. But this is a hugely competitive, fantastic race,” said Haggas.
“Mishriff was awesome at York and I could do without Adayar – if Charlie was 10th in the championship I think he’d be back at Godolphin having a rest! He’s a very good horse and I’d be frightened of him – even over a mile and a quarter.
“Al Aasy has been called all sorts. We know he doesn’t find as much as it looks like he might under pressure so I hope his jockey waits a bit, at Newbury he went three and a half furlongs from home and exposed him.
“The horse is much better than that, he should have won there and we’ll see what he has to offer. He may not be good enough, but he’s talented and he’s no mug. He’s a very good horse and has been rubbished by everyone.
“Dubai Honour was supplemented for £75,000 which is steep enough, but the owner was keen. James (Doyle) said he showed a very smart turn of foot in the (Prix) Dollar.
“There’s nothing else for him until Hong Kong in December and when I suggested it the owner nearly bit my hand off.
“I’m also going to run all three in the Balmoral as I’m desperately trying to knock John’s horse Sunray Major out as I think he’s a certainty! Unfortunately he has too above him himself so he could take those out if he wants.
“We’ll run our three, but I think John’s is a good thing if he gets in.”
He added: “We usually have one or two runners on Champions Day. This year we have nine and we’re thrilled to be involved. The big horses are Baaeed, Hamish, Addeybb and Dubai Honour, but I love Al Aasy and the other four are perfectly entitled to be there. We’re blessed to have so many nice horses.”