Championship Leader Hammer-Hansen Bids for Derby Glory

Thore Hammer-Hansen, right, with his father Lennart at Baden-Baden | Emma Berry

The unforgettably named Thore Hammer-Hansen bade farewell to British racing at the end of last season to take up a retainer with leading German owner Eckhard Sauren. On Sunday he will go to post for the G1 Deutsches Derby as the leading rider in the country. 

In many respects it was a homecoming for the young jockey, who was born in Cologne and spent some of his formative years in Baden-Baden, where his Danish-born father Lennart was riding and later training. It can also be regarded as a wise move. 

Hammer-Hansen was noticed for more than just his name during his time as an apprentice with Richard Hannon, whose stable he joined in 2017. In six years riding in Britain, he partnered 124 winners, 40 of those coming in 2021, the year in which he rode out his claim. 

In a famously competitive racing jurisdiction, it gets tougher for young jockeys when joining the senior ranks, no matter their talent, and the quietly-spoken Hammer-Hansen is not lacking in that regard. His father had been a successful jockey in Germany and Scandinavia, and with his parents still resident in Iffezheim, home to the racecourse better known as Baden-Baden, he started to take advantage of some of his contacts with increasingly frequent visits to Germany.

“I had been going backwards and forwards for the last two years but I only signed my retainer last October so I am now based fully in Germany and this is my first full season since moving back. It's been going very well so far,” says the jockey, who is now back where it all started for him, in Cologne, close to the country's largest training centre.

With 28 wins to his credit so far this season, Hammer-Hansen has five in hand over the second jockey in the championship, Leon Wolff. He has won two Group 3 races this year for one of the country's leading trainers, Henk Grewe, for whom he will also ride Palladium (Ger) (Gleneagles {Ire}) in the Derby. All nine of the jockey's stakes wins to date have been in his home country, where he landed his first group win back in 2022 on Dapango (Ger) in the G2 Oettingen Rennen. His revered father joined him on the winner's podium, much to the delight of the huge crowd at Iffezheim on the day that Hammer-Hansen Jr notched a treble. 

He says of Grewe, who has twice been champion trainer in Germany, “I've been riding for him for a couple of years and have built quite a good relationship with him.

“A couple of good horses got injured in the run up to the Derby and I was without a ride for a while but then I got the call from Lars to ride Palladium. I won his maiden on him, so it's nice to be back with him.”

The Lars in question is Lars-Wilhelm Baumgarten, co-founder of Liberty Racing, the ownership group which will be aiming for back-to-back wins in the Deutsches Derby after the victory last year of Fantastic Moon (Ger) (Sea The Moon {Ger}). Like last year's winner, Palladium is a graduate of the BBAG Yearling Sale, having been bought from his breeder Gestut Fahrhof for €80,000. He finished just over two lengths behind the winner Narrativo (Ger) (Adlerflug {Ger}) when fourth in the G2 Sparkasse Koln-Bonn Union Rennen at Cologne on June 16, and the first five home that day will all meet again at Hamburg on Sunday.

This will be a second ride in the Derby for Hammer-Hansen, who rode the 11th-placed I Fight For Lips (Ger) for Andreas Suborics last year.

“I have been placed in a couple of Group 1s but I'm still waiting for that first Group 1 win,” he says and, after pausing mid-speech, he continues with a laugh, “I'm about to forget my English.”

The jockey continues, “I was apprenticed to Richard Hannon for three and a half years and then was offered a job with Sir Mark [Prescott]. 

“I do miss the English style of racing. It's higher calibre and there's racing every day compared to only one or two race days a week here. Mr Sauren also has horses in training in France so I am lucky enough to ride there sometimes. 

“I was in England for seven years so this is a new environment for me, even though it's my home country. 

“There aren't as many jockeys over here and most of them are quite a bit older than me and it does get a bit lonely at times, especially as I had a lot of friends in England outside the weighing-room who were working in racing.”

However, the 24-year-old is relishing his link with some of Germany's biggest names, not least Baumgarten, who, as well as being the syndicate manager of last year's Derby winner, also bred the 2023 G1 Preis der Diana winner Muskoka (Ger) (Sea The Moon {Ger}). Now one of the major buyers at Germany's main yearling sale at BBAG, he is driving the idea of shared ownership in Germany, which remains a relatively rare concept in comparison to other nations.

Hammer-Hansen says, “The horses that he has bought over the last couple of years have been very successful so it's great to be riding for them and I have had some luck for Liberty Racing in the past.

“It's an adjustment being back in Germany but it is all going well and I am really thankful for the opportunity I have been given here.”

Notes on Sunday's Classic

Twenty horses look set to line up for the 155th running of the Deutsches Derby, which also features as a World Pool race. 

In what appears to be quite an open contest this year, the aforementioned Narrativo is likely to start favourite for champion trainer and six-time Derby winner Peter Schiergen and owner-breeder Gestut Ittlingen, who are also represented by Alleno (Ire) (Nathaniel {Ire}). 

Narrativo is one of three Derby runners for the late German champion sire Adlerflug (Ger), who died mid-covering season in April 2021, meaning that this year's three-year-olds are from his last full crop. Being responsible for 15% of the runners is an indication as to just how much the son of In The Wings (GB) is missed in Germany. 

Along with Narrativo, Adlerflug is represented by the French raider Mister Gatz (Fr), who is trained in Deauville by Stephanie Nigge, and Tiamo Hilleshage (Ger). The latter, as a full-brother to Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner and Deutsches Derby second Torquator Tasso (Ger) and half-brother to G1 Prosser Preis von Bayern winner Tunnes (Ger) (Guiliani {Ger}), is of particular note. He is racing in the colours of that trio's Dutch breeder Paul H Vandeberg.

 

Paul H Vandeberg, left, breeder of Torquator Tasso and Tiamo Hilleshage | Emma Berry

 

The Listed Premio d'Italia winner Queimados (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) races for Gestut Fahrhof, the breeding operation responsible for the above-mentioned Palladium, while G2 Derby Italiano winner Borna (Fr) (Saxon Warrior {Jpn}), who is trained by Markus Klug for Darius Racing, takes aim at a second Classic this season. 

Klug's successor as trainer for the powerful Gestut Rottgen operation is the former jockey Maxim Pecheur, who will saddle his first two Derby runners, Anspruch (Ire) (New Bay {GB}) and the sole filly in the field, Weltbeste (Ger) (Soldier Hollow {GB}).

With a name that translates to 'World's Best' she has plenty to live up to and is notable not just because of her gender but also as a full-sister to the 2018 Derby winner Weltstar (Ger) and a half to the previous year's winner Windstoss (Ger) (Shirocco {Ger}). Those two were the first two foals for Wellenspiel (Ger) (Sternkoenig {Ire}), who is also the dam of the dual Group 3 winner and Group 1 runner-up Well Disposed (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}). A third winner in the Derby for the 16-year-old mare would take her past even the great Sacarina (GB) (Old Vic {GB}), whose Monsun (Ger) offspring Samum (Ger) and Schiaparelli (Ger) both won the colts' Classic in which their sister Salve Regina (Ger) finished second. She later atoned by winning the Preis der Diana against her own sex.

The only other runner aside from Mister Gatz who is trained outside Germany is Mina Rashid (GB) (Almanzor {Fr}), who represents Andrew Balding and Ahmad Al Shaikh. The Chester maiden winner is dropping back in trip after finishing ninth behind Illinois (Ire) in the G2 Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot.

 

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