William Haggas put the finishing touches to his Cazoo Derby hope Mohaafeth on the Rowley Mile on Wednesday – with confidence seemingly growing he can add a second victory in the premier Classic.
It is 25 years since a relatively-unheralded Haggas won the blue riband event with the unconsidered Shaamit – and despite winning many big races around the world since, there has never been another Derby.
That is something the Newmarket handler is keen to rectify next week, and he believes the Frankel colt – who has improved in leaps and bounds in three outings this season – gives him a fine chance of doing so.
Smart stable companions Ilaraab and Faylaq were utilised in the racecourse gallop, along with Tom Marquand and Cieren Fallon, as Jim Crowley put his Epsom mount through his paces.
Haggas said: “He’s very good, Jim came and rode him, and he worked with two very smart older horses and went very nicely.
“The ground was too soft really, and I’ve been quoted several times as saying he’s a top-of-the ground horse – and I stick by that. It was surprisingly soft on the Rowley Mile, but he travelled very comfortably with Ilaraab and Faylaq.
“It was a hard piece of work, and now we hopefully can have an easy time as we lead into next Saturday.
“I wasn’t trying to find out if he was going to win the Derby. But I wanted it like a racecourse gallop should be, so he walked around the paddock to make it different from a normal gallop.
“I gave him a hard task today. Faylaq is rated 105 – which is probably too high – Cieren Fallon rode him, and Tom Marquand rode Ilaraab. So if you take weight-for-age in, he was probably asked a lot, but I wanted the other two to get going three furlongs out so he had a stretch. It just means he can have an easy week next week.
“I reiterated to Tom and Cieren, it wasn’t a race, it was a gallop to get the best out of Mohaafeth.”
Several other Derby and Oaks contenders went to Epsom on Monday for a workout – and having seen the conditions, Haggas is hoping for a few dry days next week.
He added: “The ground was bordering on heavy at Epsom on Monday. But it dries pretty quickly there, so if we can get some warmer weather Andrew (Cooper, clerk of the course) won’t even have to touch his watering can.
“If it’s soft I would be very keen not to run and wait until Ascot, but if it’s good or faster we’re up for it big time.”
While Haggas admits there may be some in the race with plenty of improvement to come, he is hoping experience is on Mohaafeth’s side.
“The horses who seem to do well in the Derby are ones like Ed Dunlop’s horse (John Leeper) who is clearly going to do better over further – he’s pretty good over a mile and a quarter, but he’s going to be even better over further,” he said.
“He’s got other issues that we don’t have in that ours is a ‘now’ horse -he knows what to do, whereas Ed’s, who I’m just using as an example, it might come a race too soon.
“It’s an open Derby and an exciting one, but it doesn’t appear to be clearly dominated at this stage by Aidan (O’Brien) – there’s Mr (Jim) Bolger and a few of us English souls who can put up a horse who could be a contender.”
The fact the Derby is still so revered around the world is because of its uniqueness – the twists and turns going uphill and downhill – and Haggas concedes that until a horse has been to Epsom once there is always a nagging doubt.
However, he takes heart from something his father-in-law Lester Piggott once told him.
Haggas said: “Of course the track is a worry – and you don’t know until it happens – but I think he’s got a bit of speed, and Lester always used to say you need speed from the top of the gate to get in a position that allows you to amble around the corner, so that will help him.
“Hopefully he gets a middle draw, so Jim can get a good position.
“The requirements haven’t changed – it’s still a big test. The staff are a little bit more edgy – you try to appear cool. Ed is a classic case as he walks round very calm, but he’s like a duck – underneath his legs will be going like the clappers, like all of us. He’ll be tense, because it’s our biggest race.
“We’re lucky to have contenders in the biggest races, but there ain’t one like the Derby.”
Mohaafeth runs in the famous blue and while silks of Shadwell Stud, whose founder Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum died earlier this year.
“It goes without saying how emotional it would be, given what has happened this year. Sheikh Hamdan would be thrilled, said Haggas.
“It would be the best thing, but you can only dream.
“There are plenty of dangers. I thought at the time the Sandown trial we won (with Alenquer) was very strong, but it turns out it wasn’t a very good race – although Lone Eagle did win the other day.
“I suppose Bolshoi Ballet was impressive, Mac Swiney has won a Guineas – he’s got to stay, but the trainer says he will. We’ll have all on, beating the Irish. The one I think ultimately will be the best one will be High Definition.
“I’m sure he’ll run, because Ryan (Moore) looked after him at York, and he’s virtually certain to be better over a mile and a half.
“But he’s got the track to contend with – and if he’s slow into his stride and the Piggott theory about needing a good position … well, it will be hard for him.
“I thought Roger’s (Varian) horse (Third Realm) was impressive at Lingfield. He’s nuggety and bound to run in the first four, I would think. But he’s a stayer, and they’ll be attacking a long way from home.
“I’m hoping Mohaafeth goes through a lot of the race on the bridle, and then the last bit we won’t know.
“I think probably Bolshoi Ballet will win, because he’s got a lot in his favour, providing he stays, but most Galileos stay really well.”
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