Aga Khan Blueblood Warms the Epsom Faithful

The ears have it: Ezeliya with her winning team | Racingfotos 

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EPSOM, UK–With squally showers and a freezing wind, it wasn't really the day for a 99, unless you're the Aga Khan. 

Ezeliya (Fr), the bonny bay filly from a family replete with class and stamina, made the Oaks her own from a long way out, and in so doing broke the Epsom hoodoo of her sire Dubawi (Ire) in becoming the 99th individual Group 1 winner for her stalwart of a breeder.

“Days like this are why we all do it,” said a beaming Pat Downes, manager of the Aga Khan Studs in Ireland, who divulged that Princess Zahra Aga Khan had missed out on this latest Classic winner for her family's celebrated breeding operation owing to a badly timed technical hitch with her flight. 

“She was on her way, but it's very frustrating,” he said. “Hopefully she'll be there for the next one.”

And there surely will be more bright days ahead for Ezeliya, the owner of a stonking pair of ears with the talent and attitude to match. Her trainer Dermot Weld had won his first Classic at Epsom back in 1981, when Blue Wind (Ire) won the Oaks in the hands of Lester Piggott. More than 40 years later, Chris Hayes took his turn in the saddle. He's won a Classic at home in the last two seasons on Tahiyra (Ire) and Homeless Songs (Fr), and now has one in Britain to add to the collection. The mild-mannered Hayes couldn't hide his delight. 

“I actually said if she wins, I'll be real cool, calm and collected like a Mick Kinane,” he said of his celebration as he crossed the line. “But this is unique and it was just a surge of adrenaline in the last 50 yards – I had to do something.”

From the balcony of the royal box, the King and Queen looked on as their own filly Treasure (GB) found the trickiness of Epsom beyond her. There was an upside, though, as within their own broodmare band resides Estimate (Ire), the Ascot Gold Cup winner gifted to the late Queen Elizabeth II by HH the Aga Khan as a foal and from the immediate family of Ezeliya. In the last few years Estimate has returned to the Aga Khan Studs for visits to Sea The Stars (Ire) and Siyouni (Fr).

Epsom hasn't always been a happy hunting ground for the Aga Khan. The disqualification of Oaks winner Aliysa (GB) in 1989 prompted the owner's exodus from Britain, but in the intervening 35 years Sinndar (Ire) and Harzand (Ire) have significantly eased that woe with victories in the Derby to bring the tally of wins to five in that particular Classic for Aga Khan IV, matching the record of his grandfather, whose first Derby victory came in 1930 with Blenheim (GB).

Downes spoke of the enjoyment the perennially successful breeder derives from what he has memorably described as “a game of chess with nature”.

“For him it's all about nurturing families and that's still the case today,” Downes said. “He will get tremendous satisfaction from this. It's a family that's been in his family for so long, and here we have another top-notch filly from the family.

“Between His Highness and Princess Zahra that's now 99 individual Group 1 winners. That's quite a benchmark.”

Indeed it is, and a benchmark of a similar kind was set by the admirable Luxembourg (Ire), who really does deserve a little more love. In days when the top colts are all too readily whisked off to stud, it is becoming rare to see a horse win Group 1 races in multiple seasons but Luxembourg has now done just that at two, three, four and five. A son of the 2012 Derby winner Camelot (GB), Luxembourg looked right at home at Epsom as he added the Coronation Cup to his Futurity Trophy, Irish Champion S., and Tattersalls Gold Cup. 

As Derby Day dawns it brings with it the month of June, and we can but hope that, if not flaming, it is a little less Arctic in conditions than Oaks Day. From the shivering racegoers, however, there was a truly warm welcome for King Charles III, who was back on a racecourse for the first time since watching Desert Hero (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) finish third in the St Leger last September. 

The Sport of Kings it is once more.

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