All eyes on Baaeed in eagerly-awaited Lockinge return
Baaeed will bid to conserve his flawless record when kicking off his season in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.
The William Haggas-trained Sea The Stars colt has been victorious on each of his six racecourse appearances to date, signing off his three-year-old term by defeating Palace Pier in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.
That neck triumph was his narrowest thus far, with previous Group successes in the Prix du Moulin and the Thoroughbred Stakes achieved by a length and a quarter and six and a half lengths respectively.
“Most milers start off in the Lockinge if they are that class,” Haggas said.
“After he did what he did on Champions Day it was a pretty straightforward decision – the programme for a miler is the Lockinge and then the Queen Anne and then take on the three-year-olds – wherever that may take us.
“If there was any talk about him retiring to stud, I wasn’t party to it. Obviously I wouldn’t have been in favour but those decisions are out of my hands.
“Sheikha Hissa, who is in charge of Shadwell now, was very keen to race him as a four-year-old.
“Obviously I didn’t think he’d go from being a maiden winner to champion miler within four months, but it was a strange one because everyone knows we are not in a rush most of the time.”
Baaeed will face Group One-winning fillies Alcohol Free and Mother Earth in the Lockinge, both of whom he defeated in the QEII.
“Obviously I hope we have a similar outcome to Ascot, Mother Earth and Alcohol Free are very talented and have had a run and we haven’t,” Haggas said.
“It’s a Group One race and they are never easy, but I’m trying not to delve too deep into it as all we’ve got to do at this stage is get our horse ready to go.
“The burning question is what is left to come this season as he’s quite deceptive, he’s laid-back, he’s not keen – he’s not lazy, he’s just nice. I don’t know how much more there is to come.”
Andrew Balding’s Alcohol Free will cross paths with Baaeed again and so too will Mother Earth, whose seasonal debut ended with victory in the Group Three Park Express Stakes at the Curragh on March 26.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien said: “Mother Earth is in good form. We gave her a run at the Curragh to have her ready for the Lockinge, we are very happy with her.
“We think she has matured from last year. She had some very good runs and she was a bit unlucky a few times. Physically she has come forward since last year.
“She did it well at the Curragh, it was competitive enough. They didn’t go very fast and she was back a little bit so she had to get going early to win, but we were happy enough with her run.”
Saeed bin Suroor is represented by Real World, a Godolphin-owned five-year-old who won all four of his European runs last season before embarking on a winter campaign in Dubai.
The horse is not exclusively a miler and has won over 10 furlongs in the past, but Bin Suroor has no reservations about the trip after prior victories in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein and Zabeel Mile.
“He’s won over a mile so I’ve no worries about the trip and he’s a horse I like a lot. I’m happy with him and he’s ready for action,” said Bin Suroor, who has won the Newbury showpiece five times, most recently with Farhh in 2013.
“Baaeed looks very good, obviously, but he hasn’t run for a while, not since Ascot.
“Last year we came through gradually, brought him along steadily and it worked.
“He’s showing plenty of speed, a mile to nine furlongs is fine for him. He did win over a mile and a quarter at Newbury in a Listed race last year but a mile or nine furlongs is his trip.”
Richard Hannon’s Chindit also made a winning start to his season when landing the Listed Doncaster Mile Stakes in late March and will step back up to Group One level at Newbury.
“We were pleased with him at Doncaster, it was a nice little spot for him and he’s been in good form since,” Hannon said.
“He’s been on the periphery in these races all last year and it would be nice to see him getting a bit closer to the front and having a say. We think he’s improved, although it’s a smart race.
“They’ll go along quicker with it being a Group One and that will help him.”
Hannon will saddle a second contender as Etonian returns to the scene of his ninth-placed run in the Spring Cup last month.
The Juddmonte silks will be carried by John and Thady Gosden’s Sunray Major, a lightly-raced five-year-old who was fifth when starting his term in the bet365 Mile at Sandown.
Barry Mahon, Juddmonte’s racing manager, said: “He faces an uphill task taking on Baaeed, but he performed well on his last outing when he found the ground a bit softer than he likes.
“On good, quick ground hopefully he can improve for the run and run a respectable race.
“He’s five years old now, he’s a big, solid colt and he’s not easy to get fit. I’d say he definitely got a little tired and Frankie (Dettori) just felt the ground didn’t suit him (at Sandown), he’d prefer good to firm.
“We know we’ve an uphill struggle taking on Baaeed and if you’re not in you can’t win, but we saw in the Balmoral (14th on good to soft) he wants good ground.”
Ralph Beckett’s New Mandate took the Listed Paradise Stakes at Ascot on his first run of the year, beating William Knight’s Sir Busker, a fellow Lockinge entrant, by just a neck.
“He’s in rare from and he’ll need to be to take on Baaed, but we look forward to it,” Beckett said.
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