Baaeed is looking to round out his career at Ascot on Saturday with that rare but highly coveted day for an ‘undefeated’ racehorse in the Champion Stakes.
His jockey Jim Crowley told AFP he will be sad when he dismounts for the last time.
There couldn’t be a more fitting end to Crowley and Baaeed’s swan song, as the 44-year-old jockey was born “a stone’s throw from the stands at Ascot”.
Crowley says it’s been a “pleasant journey” and compares Baaeed to Sea The Stars, the horse’s sire – the 2009 Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe champion – and Frankel, who won all 14 of his 14 races before bowing out in the 2012 Champion Stakes.
“In a way I will be sad when he’s gone as the chances of finding another like him are slim,” Crowley told AFP in a phone interview.
“I’ve been riding for 20 years and he’s the first one I’ve come across that’s level with Sea The Stars and Frankel.
“He’s the only other one up there with them.”
It has also been a remarkable journey for Crowley since following the advice of his father-in-law, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winning trainer Guy Harwood, to switch from jumps jockey to flat in 2006.
He was crowned Jockey Champion in 2016, securing a prestigious contract with Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum.
Though he says he “doesn’t get caught up in emotions,” he admits Baaeed is riding him at the line with an unbeaten record.
“The pressure is great,” he said.
“I don’t feel it when I’m on him, it’s the entrance to the race that puts the pressure on.
“It’s just a trip and a pleasant one so far. I hope we’ll get the job done on Saturday.”
– “The Old Dog” –
Crowley is too experienced a hand to anticipate a glorious finish in the Ascot winner’s pen.
“Ascot will be his toughest test,” he said.
“He goes up against Adayar, the 2009 Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner, who finished fourth in the Arc last year on heavy ground.
“You want to compete against these top horses. There would be nothing worse than a Champion Stakes with four contestants, that wouldn’t be competition.
“However, nothing is given in racing, nothing is guaranteed.”
Crowley recalled Baaeed’s remarkable performance in winning the International Stakes by 6 1/2 lengths in August, but conceded, “Horses are not machines.”
Even if Baaeed were to win on Saturday, it’s hard to imagine that the William Haggas-trained superstar’s reception would be as big as Frankel’s in 2012.
Frankel’s story was set against the backdrop of his beloved trainer Henry Cecil’s battle with cancer – and as Prince Khalid Abdullah’s horse completed one final victory lap, the parade ring erupted in screams of ‘Our ‘Enry’.
Cecil died in July of the following year and Sheikh Hamdan also left and died in March last year but his daughter Sheikha Hissa took the baton.
Crowley says it’s unfair to compare Frankel to Baaeed.
“It’s very different times,” he said. “It’s like trying to compare boxers from different eras, Jack Dempsey with a modern one.
“He (Baaeed) has beaten 15 Group 1 individual winners who have won a combined 30 Group 1 races.
“Sheikh Hamdan would be very proud to look down now. He bred the horse and it is beautiful, Sheikha Hissa is very engaging and very knowledgeable.
“I talk to her after almost every one of our runners. Her family is also massively involved, so it’s not just a one-woman band.”
Crowley may think finding another superstar will be difficult, but he still has a few years left to try.
“There’s still a lot of life in the old dog!” he said. “(Frankie) Dettori has almost 10 years on me.”