15 October 2022

Beaten, but Baaeed still a champion – and still brilliant

15 October 2022

Now we can let the arguments rage. The pub chatter can begin. The comparisons are sharp enough to penetrate the most stoic defence of any equine superstar.

Whether Baaeed is deserving to be placed on the same exulted pedestal as even some of the latter-day equine greats like Sea The Stars or Frankel, let alone Brigadier Gerard, Dancing Brave et al, is, in reality, a moot point.

Apple carts are always tipping up, especially at this time of year.

Saturday’s Qipco Champion Stakes, run on soft ground, was supposed to be little more than a golden seal set on an expertly-conducted five-month campaign which began when Baaeed first appeared in the Lockinge at Newbury.

This eagerly-awaited Champions Day ultimately failed to get anywhere near our most vivid dreams – yet still produced an unforgettable race won brilliantly by Bay Bridge, who upended the best horse in Europe, almost certainly the best we have seen since Frankel.

For all the palpable disappointment felt by trainer William Haggas, jockey Jim Crowley, groom Ricky Hall and all at Shadwell, Baaeed has sent them on a journey of racing wonderment, as he fulfilled and surpassed every expectation, bar one.

This was always going to be a different, more difficult test as Baaeed attempted to win a seventh successive Group One and saunter off into the sunset unbeaten.

As in so many of Baaeed’s races this season, one had the feeling that things were going almost too much according to plan and, although he lost a length or so swinging down to Swinley Bottom towards the turn, Crowley, though further back in sixth than he may have wished, still looked ultra confident on the rail.

For those in the stands, however, an anxious pall descended, at first briefly. Then for several endless, breathless seconds, the striped blue and white cap, upon which our gaze was fixed, disappeared behind a wall of horses.

As Baaeed swung into the short Ascot straight, there were at least five, and maybe as much as six lengths of ominous daylight showing between him and the leaders.

And so the stage was set. The pacemakers had disappeared, Stone Age was beaten and on Baaeed, doing his utmost though he was, and gaining on all the rest, Crowley knew a furlong out that an unbeaten career was no longer on the cards.

The stage was set, there were only four actors were left. But shaking binoculars and dropped jaws were fixed on Baaeed, as he agonisingly, excruciatingly, ran out of real estate.

Up front, the battle raged. A couple of taps was all the encouragement Bay Bridge needed to ease past the ultra good-looking Adayar, who had won the Derby and King George so conclusively last summer. What happened then was the unmistakable fact that, when he hit the front approaching the two-furlong pole, there was no way he could be beaten.

The whole operation was carried through with an admirable maximum economy of effort, Richard Kingscote beautifully poised and streamlined.

A great race was won, as it should be, by a great horse with a thrust of speed and enough stamina to see out a very testing 10 furlongs. By barely half a length in the end.

It is often and truly said that instant acceleration is the hallmark of any great racehorse, yet there were plenty in this race who had it, and used it twice, yet those who got first run in ground they appreciated, fared better than the 1-4 favourite.

Anyone who likes to see a job well done, a constant and abiding pleasure, would have looked at Jim Crowley and Baaeed this summer and nodded knowingly.

Yet this was not his day. Autumn ground, perhaps one race too far. Hearts sank. It even brought tears to the eyes of Shadwell’s racing manager Angus Gold, his easy, relaxed smile an hour before the race, saved for another day. And there will be better days. For this is racing. Heroes fall and rise.

Yet this sizzling summer has also been about Richard Kingscote and a resurgent Sir Michael Stoute.

Desert Crown had meted out a deeply impressive demolition to his Derby rivals and one could not long have failed to notice the superlative horsemanship which is the solid foundation of Kingscote’s art.

His silken hands which calm the hardest puller, the almost flawless judgement of pace and, above all, the uncanny skill with which an ounce or two is saved for the only place that counts.

And he made it count on the day, Bay Bridge showing plenty of bravery to prove he was back to the form that saw him win so impressively in the Brigadier Gerard at Sandown in May.

“He is a lovely horse and on ground like this he is a beautiful animal,” said Kingscote. “They have always had faith in him and that’s why he won.

“He was enthusiastic and gave me a lovely spin.”

He was as prudent with his words as he was economical in the saddle. Yet he will catch his breath long enough to look back on a glorious summer as the season he really arrived.

There are times when he has made mistakes and yet Kingscote is his own biggest critic, and when he makes one, he acknowledges it with a smile that would disarm the harshest critic.

“He gave him a good ride,” added Stoute. “It was a very brave performance and we are delighted with him. He was very brave and I’m absolutely thrilled.”

This was Stoute’s third Champion Stakes after Pilsudski (1997) and Kalanisi (2000), yet it is the one many will remember for the horse that did not win, rather than the one that did.

In his softly-spoken trainer, grateful jockey and dedicated groom, Baaeed is lucky in his friends, and even luckier perhaps never to know the downward sag to mediocrity and failure to which is, inevitably, the lot of so many. He is far too good for that. Very good, in fact.

He will sadly not be regarded as great as Sea The Stars or the more exuberant Frankel.

Nor will his name be entered into racing folklore like Arkle – and even he tasted defeat four times.

The truth is Baaeed is a high-class colt who beat what was put in front of him, but was beaten – into fourth in the end – by a colt who was better suited to the conditions on the day.

Sea The Stars, ratings be damned, was superior in his trip versatility and the foes he vanquished, Frankel and his trainer Sir Henry Cecil was a story that tugged so poignantly at the heartstrings.

The arguments can rage, of course. Yet despite the defeat, Baaeed deserves to be appreciated as the gift from the gods that he was. Incomparable in so many ways. Bowed but still brilliant.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox