Widely recognised as the best since Frankel, William Haggas’ son of Sea The Stars has the chance to replicate his esteemed sire by taking the step up to a mile and a quarter in his stride when he bounds up the Knavesmire.
Victory on Wednesday would take the four-year-old’s winning streak to a perfect 10, while it would also be his sixth straight success at Group One level as racing’s latest superstar attempts to cement his place as world number one.
To do so, he has to match the achievements of some of the modern-day greats and turn a fiercely competitive Group One, steeped in history, into a procession.
It is 10 years since Frankel made light work of his first attempt at the distance when sauntering to a seven-length success in front of his adoring fans, and devotees of the sport from across the country are set to make the pilgrimage to the Knavesmire once again as Baaeed puts his stamina to the test.
“It’s well documented the trip is the one part of the jigsaw we don’t know the answer to,” said Angus Gold, owner Shadwell’s long-standing racing manager.
“I’ve gone on record as saying I’ll be amazed if it is a lack of stamina that gets him beat. There might be a better horse, but I would be surprised if it is a lack of stamina.
“Of course you don’t know until you try and I’m very interested in the opinion of some people I respect greatly who have said he’s never going to stay the trip – which surprises me greatly. But he’s a very relaxed horse and his style of racing will give him every chance of getting it.
“His full-brother (Hukum) stays well and gets much further, which doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything and this horse has a lot of speed and a lot of class. But personally I would be surprised if he doesn’t stay.”
It is easy to think that nerves could be beginning to fray as Baaeed’s biggest test approaches. Especially when you add into the mix an uncertain weather forecast and two of Baaeed’s stablemates being ruled out of recent top-level assignments having scoped dirty.
However, Gold confirms the team at Somerville Lodge have done everything in their power to ensure Baaeed makes the trip up the A1 in peak condition, while like most things in life, the weather is in the lap of the gods.
“There’s no point me being nervous as there is nothing I can do about it. We’re just looking forward to seeing him on the track,” continued Gold.
“As long as it (ground) doesn’t get too bad, I’ve heard they’ve had two and a half millimetres and unless they have a three-hour storm, I can’t see it is going to make too much difference to the ground and we’ll take what we’re given.”
On the dirty scopes of Alenquer and Maljoom, he added: “As far as I know, when I spoke to William last he’s fine.
“Obviously it is something you take notice of and as the trainer the only thing they can do is scope him.
“They scoped him and he’s clear. Like you and I though, if something is brewing, you’re not going to perform at your best. So hopefully it is not, but until we know otherwise there’s no point making a thing about that. So far, all the tests have been good and he goes there in as good form as we can have him.”
Although odds-on at the head of the market for the Ebor Festival’s opening-day feature, this is arguably the toughest cast of rivals Baaeed has faced. Alenquer may be unable to line up, but there is still last year’s champion and multiple top-table scorer, a Guineas winner and a Champion Stakes runner-up lying in wait.
“It’s a Group One and you have to respect everyone in it, continued Gold.
“Mishriff was incredibly impressive in the race last year and I think I’m right William Haggas has said if the Mishriff of 12 months ago turns up he would be very hard to beat.
“Native Trail is obviously a very good horse, so you have got to respect them all. But we go there as the horse to beat and if he runs up to form and he stays, I think they all have Baaeed to beat.”
Plenty of water has passed under the bridge since Baaeed first stepped foot on the racecourse for his low-key introduction at Leicester in the hands of Dane O’Neill.
Little did Haggas know that nine races later he would be in possession of racing’s hottest property.
Recalling the early days, he said: “Most of ours run green first time and do much better on their second start, so the fact that Baaeed won first time out at Leicester made me think he could be all right. In his work afterwards he shaped up quite well, and when we ran him in a novice at Newmarket he hosed up.
“He then won a Listed race at Newmarket with authority, and afterwards the BHA senior handicapper Dominic Gardiner-Hill told me he could have put him ahead of the Guineas winner on what he’d achieved there.
“I said to Jim (Crowley) at Goodwood that we had him for two more races and so let’s try to enjoy it. He’ll be off to stud afterwards, and that will be the end of it. We’ll be searching for another one for the rest of my career, and probably for the rest of his.”
Views from the other connections
Connections of both Native Trail and Mishriff know the size of the task in trying to lower the colours of Baaeed in the Juddmonte International – but both have reasons to be optimistic when it comes to a fascinating renewal of the York showpiece.
Trained by Charlie Appleby, Native Trail was last season’s champion two-year-old and while he lost his unbeaten record to stablemate Coroebus in the 2000 Guineas, he did claim Classic glory in the Irish equivalent.
Mishriff, meanwhile, has little to prove – and was a brilliant winner of this race 12 months ago. He was beaten en route in the Eclipse and King George, so the fact he has been so again is not unnerving to the John and Thady Gosden team.
The pair met in the Eclipse, with Native Trail one place behind the unlucky-looking Mishriff in third.
William Buick takes the mount on Appleby’s charge, and feels the Knavesmire will be to his liking.
He said: “I think a mile and a quarter will be Native Trail’s trip going forward. The York mile and a quarter is going to suit him even better. We are obviously taking on Baaeed, who is a horse of a lifetime.
“He is the sort of horse who comes around every 10 years, so it is going to be very hard, but Native Trail is solid and is in good form, and so I am really looking forward to him.”
Appleby is likewise full of respect for Baaeed, while also speaking of his admiration for the physical presence of Native Trail.
“It’s a fantastic race with a rich history and has been won by some great horses,” Appleby told the Godolphin website.
“Baaeed is top class with an outstanding profile, who holds everything in front of him, but we feel we have the right horse to take him on and make a race of it.
“Racing likes to see good horses go at one another and hopefully that’s what we will see at York. Native Trail’s work has been great.
“The condition of this horse is second to none. He thrives on his work, and after giving him a break following the Eclipse last month, we have been winding his work up week by week.
“He is thriving, you can see that in him as an individual. He is progressing with each piece of work. He goes into the race off the back of a very uncomplicated training programme. You ask, and he delivers.”
He added: “Baaeed is the horse we all have to beat and respect. But the confidence we take into the race is that Native Trail has been over the trip.
“He finished a creditable third against some very nice middle-distance horses at Sandown. He’s a champion two-year-old, who has gone on to win a Classic at three, a multiple Group One winner with six wins from eight starts – that’s an impressive CV.”
A tardy start in the King George did Mishriff no favours, and is a trait he also displayed at Sandown.
It is beyond dispute that 10 furlongs is his best trip, and Thady Gosden believes he is in the same form as last year.
“Mishriff has come back from Ascot in very good form and the one-mile-and-two-furlong Juddmonte trip suits him well,” he said ahead of the Qipco British Champions Series contest.
“Giving away ground at the start of a race of the King George’s quality is a serious hindrance, but he’s got plenty of speed and the shorter distance is what he’s best at.
“It’s interesting, and Baaeed is obviously brilliantly talented. He relaxes well and you would be shocked if he didn’t get the trip, but he’s taking on top class mile-and-a-quarter horses and I think it’s fair to say that it’s a stronger division than the miling division at the moment.
“Mishriff seems to be in similar form now as he was when he went to York last year. He ran a huge race in the Eclipse and was perhaps unlucky there. His work gives us a pretty good measure of where he’s at, and he’s in very good form.
“It’s great to see these horses take each other on. Whatever happens, it’s going to be an exceptional race.”
If many in attendance will be hoping to see Baaeed cement his place as one of the greats, there will also surely be plenty who would love to see the admirable Sir Busker spring a surprise.
So often there or thereabouts in big races over a mile, the six-year-old proved well worthy of a first try at this trip when upsetting Dubai Honour in a tight finish to the York Stakes over course and distance last month for his first Group-race success.
“He has given everyone a lot of pleasure over those last four years,” said trainer William Knight.
“The feeling when they called him the winner was just fantastic. There was a good team from Kennet Valley (Thoroughbreds, owner) up there to watch him. He’s got some loyal supporters who have been out to all his meetings – been in Dubai with him; he has given them all just so much pleasure as well. He’s the sort of a horse of a lifetime for people like that.
“I think York really suits him, his run-style – that nice long straight, they get racing quite far out. He has run some big races there, so I think that’s very much in our favour.
“Look, I’m not saying we’re going to make up six lengths on Baaeed (from the Queen Anne), but I think we can definitely finish closer to him this time around. And it is fantastic prize-money – it pays so well down to third, fourth – and I think it’s worth a punt.”