Angus Gold: 'You Could Never Underestimate The Significance Of Baaeed'

Angus Gold | Tattersalls

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In this week's Starfield Stud-sponsored Q&A, Brian Sheerin speaks to the long-standing Shadwell racing manager Angus Gold, who explains why Baaeed (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}), recently crowned the highest-rated turf horse in the world, came along at a hugely important time for the operation and much more.

 

Brian Sheerin: To what degree do you think Baaeed (GB) helped to secure the future of Shadwell given he reached his pomp during a difficult time for the operation?

Angus Gold: I don't think it could be overstated how important Baaeed coming along–and the timing of it–was. It was extraordinary, really, as Sheikh Hamdan spent a lifetime in this business and had been trying to breed these top horses. He sadly died in March but then Baaeed came along in June and turned out to be a real champion. I was quoted on this before and I appreciate it might sound weird to some people but it was almost as if Baaeed had been sent to help his family to take on the mantle and show them what could happen when you get lucky and get a top horse in this sport. The timing of it was extraordinary and very relevant.

Obviously Sheikha Hissa is fascinated and very interested in the business but I'm not sure the rest of her family were as interested as she was from the outset. Racing and breeding was very much Sheikh Hamdan's thing but she was very keen to learn and get involved whereas I'm not so sure the rest of her brothers and sisters shared that enthusiasm. For them to be able to share a horse as good as Baaeed, when they are now all doing it together, I think it was extraordinarily important. To have a proper horse like Baaeed come along, it gave everyone a lift. Everyone was struggling when Sheikh Hamdan died as he was a remarkable man. To go back to it, the timing of Baaeed was hugely significant and you could never underestimate the significance of Baaeed to everyone, and particularly Sheikh Hamdan's family.

 

BS: You could say that the Aga Khan was placed with a similar dilemma when his father died so it's fantastic that Sheikha Hissa has continued the legacy.

AG: It would have been terribly sad if they decided not to continue the legacy. But, let's be realistic, it costs a lot of money to run an operation the size of Shadwell so it was understandable that they didn't want to continue with the numbers that they had before. As well as everything else, it is important that we generate a bit of income to help finance the whole show. With Minzaal (Ire) at Derrinstown, Baaeed at Nunnery, to go with Tasleet (GB), who has had an encouraging start, Eqtidaar (Ire), who we need to try and get more mares to and Mohaather (GB), who has had some nice foals, we can start to get a bit of income in which should offset some of the costs involved in running the operation. That will help them going forward.

 

BS: I saw William Haggas speaking the other day where he mentioned that he felt he ran Baaeed in the wrong race on Champions Day. What way do you look back on Baaeed's career? Is it tinged with regret, like William, or is it more closely related to thanking your lucky stars for coming across what was officially the best turf horse in the world last year.

AG: How could you be disappointed? Maybe William is looking for perfection. I wouldn't say we ran him in the wrong race at all. To me, it was the ground that was against him in the Champion S. Pure and simple. Other people might have different theories but it was very obvious early in the straight at Ascot that it wasn't going to happen. He was struggling and couldn't pick up on that ground.

It's very rare in my experience to find a horse who is as effective on heavy ground as he is on top of the ground. Obviously, Frankel (GB) won on very bad ground, which shows how remarkable he was. But, for me, I would never say it was the wrong race to have run him in. I would have loved to have run him in the Arc because it's the greatest race in the world. But that would have been completely the wrong race to run him in as it turned out with the way the ground came up. I think we ran him in the right race but the conditions went against us.

I always wanted to step this horse up in trip because that is what his pedigree suggested but we didn't get to do it because he kept winning top-class races over a mile. It was his class and his speed that made us keep him over a mile for as long as we did. It wasn't until York until we got the chance to step him up in trip and everyone saw how brilliant he was that day. I was disappointed for the horse. I would have loved had he gone to stud unbeaten. But how could anyone be disappointed with a horse who had done so much for us, the operation and the general public? He won 10 out of 10 before [his] first and only defeat. Not many do that.

 

BS: John Oxx took part in this Q&A at the beginning of the season where he explained how happy he was for Sea The Stars (Ire) to have a top-class miler. I know you are quoted as saying you were surprised by the speed Baaeed possessed given his pedigree. With all of that in mind, what do you think the overriding influence Baaeed will have at stud and what type of mares have been booked in to see him this year?

AG: His pedigree is more middle-distance but, as John said, Sea The Stars had the class to win the 2000 Guineas. Slow horses can't do that. He was an extraordinarily classy horse who was able to carry his speed over a-mile-and-a-half. I was purely surprised by how much speed Baaeed had for his pedigree but, then again, he looked a sharper horse. Physically, he's a strong, powerful horse who looked like he might be more of a shorter runner but then his full-brother [Hukum (Ire)] stays a-mile-and-a-half well. I'm not clever enough to tell you but I would imagine he will breed plenty of middle-distance horses but, equally, if he breeds them like himself, obviously he's going to put a bit of speed into them. I would imagine he will get a selection but I have learned over the years that you should never ignore pedigree and he's by a horse who had the class and speed to win a Guineas but also won a Derby and an Arc and is from a staying female line. I would expect him to get a lot of high-class middle-distance horses, like Frankel and Sea The Stars. If he is half as good as they are, I think we'll be doing alright.

 

BS: You touched on Minzaal. I was at Derrinstown for the Irish Thoroughbred Stallion Trail where nominations manager Joe Behan spoke of the massive buzz that he has created there and how he has proved something of a tonic for the place after the passing of Sheikh Hamdan.

AG: Firstly, we all miss Sheikh Hamdan, and I spoke to him most days in my life. We also missed his guidance and nobody knew what was going to happen after he died. Also, we had to sell a lot of horses in a short space of time when he died. Again, that is not a secret. For Derrinstown, Tamayuz (GB) had just retired so they needed fresh blood and it was lovely to get a horse like Minzaal, a very good sprinter, who will hopefully attract a lot of mares and breathe new life into the place.

 

BS: Was that the thinking behind sending Minzaal to Derrinstown? Was it that there was a void that needed to be filled or did you think that he was a stallion who would do particularly well in Ireland over anywhere else?

AG: I used to say to Sheikh Hamdan that our responsibility is to feed the studs. Whether that's England, Ireland or America, although that is a bit more polarised now, it's imperative that we try and blood new stallions but everyone in the business will tell you hard it is to do that. I've done this job for 36 years now and I've seen how few good horses manage to get retired to stud. It's vital when you have an operation the size of Derrinstown, you need to be getting stallions in there. It was really important and, as Joe said, it should give them all a lift and hopefully we can get a lot of decent mares into him.

 

BS: Speaking about the stallion roster, you must have been thrilled by how Mohaather's first foals were received last year?

AG: I don't like to beef horses up because I am old-fashioned and I prefer to let them do the talking but, in my experience, Mohaather was out of the ordinary as a racehorse. What he did that day in winning the Sussex, I haven't seen a turn of foot like that since Kingman (GB) won the Sussex himself. I think he was a well above average horse. I mean no disrespect, but I think if he was trained by a John Gosden or an Aidan O'Brien, I think more people would have realised how good he was. Just because Marcus Tregoning has a smaller string, I don't think people appreciated what a good horse he was.

He's an important horse for us but you've got to see that transferred and people liking the offspring, and right throughout the year, even before the sales, I kept getting good feedback on the foals he was producing. That was a lovely thing to hear but obviously you want to get to the sales and see them for yourself. I think we saw athletic, strong-bodied foals with a good walk and attitude by him. Physically, they looked the right type, and to see some of the people who bought them was important. It has been a very encouraging start for him.

 

BS: At what point were you given the green light to go and buy yearlings again last year?

AG: There wasn't a point. Sheikha Hissa said to me that she was hoping to come to the sales and, when she did come over, she expressed how she wanted to mainly concentrate on fillies because the stud is the most important thing and we needed to get some fresh blood in. We only bought one colt, who funnily enough is by Showcasing (GB) and is closely-related to Mohaather, but the rest were all fillies. We bought two well-bred fillies for a lot of money in Book 1 and then Sheikha Hissa came back and we bought some more in Book 2. It's going to be a long and slow process building everything back up. We were so lucky last year the way everything came together but obviously we are going to miss the superstar Baaeed this year. We know we are going to be quiet for a while but it was lovely to see Sheikha Hissa's commitment to building the studs back up and hopefully we'll get the odd stallion along the way.

 

BS: You bought a good mixture of yearlings. There were Showcasings and Siyounis (Fr) but you also bought some of the progeny by the unproven stallions as well. Was there a particular type of horse you targeted?

AG: There's never a set policy. Some people say that they don't want to touch horses by unproven sires but Too Darn Hot (GB) is a beautifully-bred horse and was obviously a high-class racehorse. Look, we don't know if they can run but you've got to go with your gut instinct and there's every reason why he'll make a good stallion. We also bought a couple of fillies by Land Force (Ire) who is a beautifully-bred horse who showed plenty of speed. He probably didn't retire to stud with the race record that they would have hoped for initially but he's a very good-looking horse and I loved the stock by him. I see no reason why he won't get runners.

You have to take a chance on some of these things and hope they come off. It's very interesting, I've been in Australia for the past few weeks and I've been keeping an eye on how the Too Darn Hots and Blue Point (Ire)s have been selling. They have sold really well. In a perfect world, you would go with proven stallions, but I have found that over the years we have done well with going for unproven horses. As long as they come within budget and are within reason, you've got to give it a go.

 

BS: You've been Shadwell's racing manager for 36 years. Who would you say have been your biggest influences?

AG: I can never think of a clever answer. I got very lucky in that I started off working in the racing business and then I went to London to work in the city in insurance for four years. I decided that it wasn't for me and I wanted to get back into horses. Michael Osborne, who ran the stud at Sandringham, was good enough to take me on and give me a chance. I spent two seasons there, so he was hugely important in my life and pushed me in the right direction.

You need to get lucky along the way and so many people helped me, including Hubie de Burgh, who interviewed me for the job with Sheikh Hamdan. I was 27 years old when I was interviewed for the job and had absolutely no experience at all. I have just kept my head down and they have let me learn from my mistakes. You just hope to learn from the many top-class people along the way. I've just been very lucky to have worked for such a patient man who was so passionate about the business.

 

BS: It takes a bit more than luck to hold down that position for such a long time. For such a big job, you've clearly had a lot of fun and still do have a lot of fun doing the job.

AG: Sheikh Hamdan was my boss and I did what I was told within reason. If I felt we were doing something wrong, I would tell him. We had a good working relationship and he was passionate. That was probably the best thing of all; the passion he had for racing and breeding. There aren't many people in his position who are willing to put in the time that he did. He used to watch the videos of the mares and foals that he would be sent from America and Ireland and he watched every single race and then go back and watch the replay when he was finished work.

He was the minister for finance, so he was working hard during the day, but he managed to fit in time to keep on top of the whole operation. He was incredibly hands on and every mating went through him. You learn that, the great thing about this game is, once you start to think you know something, something will come along and prove you wrong. You learn never to get too big-headed and to take what comes. You could buy the most beautifully-bred horse for an awful lot of money and it could get a respiratory infection and never be the same again. That's why, when you get a horse like Baaeed, he needs to be celebrated.

I enjoy working with people and was just very lucky to work for a man like Sheikh Hamdan for so many years. Every time I think I'm having a bad day, I think back to the time I was sitting on a tube train going to work in London with a lot of people who hated doing what they were doing for a living, I realise that I am lucky enough to wake up in the morning and go looking at horses on the gallops or do whatever it is that I am doing on a given day. It's been a big lesson in life for me to try and enjoy what you do in life. If you're lucky enough to have something that interests you in this game, you are well ahead of the rest of the field already. We're not curing cancer or doing anything particularly clever. In this case, all we are trying to do is buy and breed horses who run faster than others. I'm still fascinated by it and still love it. I'm very lucky to do something that I do love.

 

BS: When you speak of this game having an unrelenting ability to tame lions, there was a story you shared about Makfi on the TDN Aus Podcast that illustrated best how this game can humble you and how loyal Sheikh Hamdan was as well.

AG: His phrase was, 'we had no luck with this horse.' It was an emotional time for me. I felt very small and felt awful for the people at Derrinstown who bred the horse. I was told to get rid of a lot of 2-year-olds who weren't looking as though they were going to measure up and, at that stage, it didn't look like Makfi was. He came out and made fools of us by winning the 2000 Guineas the following year. It was a huge learning curve but to have Sheikh Hamdan in my corner, and for him to behave in the way that he did, he was unbelievably classy and said, 'we had no luck with this horse now forget about it.'It was the most humbling thing that happened in my professional life. I felt so bad for so many people. I offered to resign at the end of the year and he got very angry. He told me to forget about it and that was the class of the man that he was.

 

BS: Last year proved that life after Sheikh Hamdan is not all doom and gloom for the Shadwell operation. What can we expect to see from Shadwell this year in the sales ring?

AG: It will be built up slowly. We've trimmed it down, as the family wanted, and they are learning. I don't expect to be back buying to the level that we were. Sheikh Hamdan was extraordinary. He supported this business immensely. Even I was taken aback by the amount of horses he would buy and the support he showed people. People like him are one in a million. All I want to do is help Sheikha Hissa and her family for as long as they want me and to build things back up again. I don't mean numbers, I mean quality. I want to get it on a sound footing for them to take forward and enjoy long after I am gone.

 

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