Haggas Has Leger Double in His Sights 

Maureen Haggas with Hamish | Emma Berry

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In 2017 and 2018, Aidan O'Brien won both the St Leger and Irish St Leger, first with Capri (Ire) and Order Of St George (Ire), and the following year with Kew Gardens (Ire) and Flag Of Honour (Ire). Given the dominance of both the trainer and his not-so-secret weapon Galileo (Ire), it has perhaps passed beyond being remarkable that all four of those horses are by the late former champion sire, but it is worth noting nonetheless.

This year, William Haggas will attempt to pull off that same staying Classic double. We'll let it pass that the Irish St Leger has not really been a Classic since 1983 when it was opened up to older horses. It remains an important and prestigious race with a roll of honour populated by some truly special names, including the four-time winner Vinnie Roe (Ire), Ireland's first Melbourne Cup hero Vintage Crop (GB), the brilliant Yeats (Ire), and the subsequent important National Hunt sires Turgeon and Kayf Tara (GB).

The Haggas duo of Hamish (GB) (Motivator {GB}) and Desert Hero (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) will launch respective attacks on the Curragh and Doncaster six days apart. For Hamish it is something of a revenge mission, as he was less than a length behind last year's champion stayer Kyprios (Ire) when second in last year's Irish St Leger. Since that day, the determined and quirky little horse has added another four Group 3 wins to his burgeoning record, including three on the bounce this season. 

Now seven, Hamish's popularity is growing, and he is of special importance to the Haggas family, having been bred by the trainer's 92-year-old father, Brian, in whose colours he races. Hamish is ridden each day by the trainer's wife, Maureen, with former National Hunt jockey Andrew Tinkler stepping in for most of his work mornings. 

Other members of the gelding's family have also been successful for the stable. Hamish's dam, the dual winner Tweed (GB) (Sakhee), is a half-sister to the G3 St Simon S. winner Beaten Up (GB) (Beat Hollow {GB}), who later won the G1 Doomben Cup for Chris Waller, as well as Group 3 and dual Listed winner Harris Tweed (GB) (Hernando {Fr}), and Vow (GB) (Motivator {GB}), who won the Lingfield Oaks Trial before finishing fourth in the Oaks. The Scottish theme in the naming is derived from Haggas snr's former ownership of the Kenneth Mackenzie mill in Stornoway, which is the oldest producer of the famed Harris Tweed cloth in the Outer Hebrides.

A fearless and accomplished horsewoman, Maureen Haggas has worked out that the path of least resistance is key to getting the best out of Hamish. She clearly dotes on him, all the while putting up with his foibles. With nine wins from 17 starts and more than £600,000 in earnings, Hamish can by now be forgiven the odd flash of recalcitrance. After all, what happens on the track is what matters most, and there, once he has deigned to enter the stalls, he is all heart.

“I've ridden him since he was a three-year-old when he was a bit tricky and didn't really want to go anywhere or do anything,” Maureen recalls. “They are all funny about the stalls, the whole family. The first time he ran he went to Redcar and he wouldn't go in, so we always have someone with him at the stalls.”

That said, he still managed to win three times as a three-year-old, breaking his maiden at Windsor over 1m2f before stepping up to 1m6f to score twice at his owner's and trainer's beloved York. Making just one start in the delayed season of 2020, when fourth in the G2 Hardwicke S., Hamish then suffered a tendon injury which kept him off the track for more than a year. When he returned to win the G3 September S. on his first run after a 442-day hiatus, he posted what now looks in hindsight a terrific piece of form, as behind him that day was the subsequent dual Group 1 winner Hukum (GB).

“He's an interesting character,” Maureen continues. “You've got to pretty much let him do his own thing most of the time. You could fight with him from the minute you went in to him to the minute you put him away, if you were that way inclined. But as long as he goes out, does his work and comes home, then I'd rather leave him be and let him do his own thing. It's just keeping him happy, really. He's seven now, so he knows all about it.”

She adds, “He never gets tired, he's a really natural athlete, which not every horse is.  He has a good, easy gait, and it's just easy for him.

“The ground is crucial. He sat all summer last year and did nothing, but we had no option. We've been a bit luckier this year, but it really is important that he has a bit of cut in the ground.”

Haggas's St Leger candidate, Desert Hero, is a horse who has already put him in the good books by providing his owners, the King and Queen, with a first Royal Ascot winner. Then, like Hamish, he struck at Group 3 level at Glorious Goodwood to win the Gordon S. and put himself firmly in the picture for the final Classic of the season.

The last time there was a royal winner of the St Leger was in the Queen's Silver Jubilee year of 1977, when Her Majesty's filly Dunfermline (GB) followed up on her victory in the Oaks. A link to the present day is provided by the fact that Desert Hero is ridden at home by Luke Carson, the grandson of Dunfermline's jockey Willie Carson. 

“What can you say? It's what dreams are made of, that you have a runner for the King at Royal Ascot,” says Carson jnr.

“We went to Ascot quietly confident and he was an absolute diamond. He put his head down. He tried really hard. You couldn't ask for any more.”

Haggas would obviously like to ask for more, and a win in the oldest Classic in his home county of Yorkshire might be just the ticket in the season following the retirement of former stable star Baaeed (GB), who, like Desert Hero, is a son of Sea The Stars. Desert Hero won twice last year and was third to Silver Knott in the G3 Solario S., but he gave his trainer pause for thought earlier this year after not wintering particularly well.

“He had a poor winter and a moderate spring,” Haggas notes. “We ran him at Newbury to try to goad him into action because we weren't getting anywhere, and he ran okay at Newbury actually. 

“Ever since then he has started to thrive. We hoped that the handicap at Ascot might be the right race for him and he did very well to win. They went very fast, and it may have flattered the horses that came from the back, but all the horses in the front at the end came from the back at the top of the straight. Then I thought it was a good win at Goodwood.”

And as the first anniversary of the Queen's death approaches, a week before the St Leger, a major victory for the Royal Studs would be welcomed by plenty in the racing world.

Haggas adds, “I think it's really important for everyone, and it's especially important for the King and the Queen. And the fact that we're training Desert Hero is just lucky for us because it's important that they have some success. Obviously the late Queen bred Desert Hero, so that's poignant in itself, and now they're taking up the mantle with gusto and enjoying every minute.”

 

 

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