Haggas aiming high as Honour swings for FWD QEII Cup glory
There is still a trace of jet-lagged huskiness in the voice of William Haggas as he reflects on his early days as a teenage cricketer.
“I wasn’t that good and didn’t defend much” is the Newmarket handler’s modest review of a career that peaked when he scored 87 not out at Lord’s while captaining Harrow school against arch-rivals Eton.
Five decades as a trainer have taught Haggas the value of patience but, as any old batsman will testify, when the right ball comes along the temptation to give it a lash is hard to resist.
And, fresh from slaying Australia’s best twice in three weeks, the 62-year-old Yorkshireman is back at the wicket as the globetrotting Dubai Honour returns to Sha Tin this Sunday (30 April) for a compelling clash with Romantic Warrior and several Japanese stars in the HK$25 million G1 FWD QEII Cup.
Pandemic restrictions meant Haggas was unable to travel to Randwick when his popular chestnut warhorse Addeybb got the better of Chris Waller’s star mare Verry Elleegant in the G1 LONGINES Queen Elizabeth Stakes of 2020 and 2021.
But Haggas was determined to see Dubai Honour take on local hero Anamoe this year and, jet lag or no jet lag, the joy of capturing one of Australian racing’s crown jewels for a third time in four years comes down the line loud and clear.
“It was a great triumph, really,” he says. “People may crab Dubai Honour for not being top notch in Britain but you can’t go down to Australia and win two G1 races if you’re not talented and, at just turned five, he looks to be reaching the peak of his powers.
“Preparations for a trip like that begin in November with a lot of things to focus on before you even get to Sydney, such as working horses in the afternoon when they’re in quarantine while it’s frosty and half dark. My wife Maureen was there every day checking everything was in place and, after all that, the race itself is the icing on the cake.”
Or five cakes given that Addeybb won the Ranvet Stakes and his pair of Queen Elizabeths before Dubai Honour captured the same two G1 contests this year.
Knowledge gained sending Addeybb down under wasn’t lost on Haggas, who feels Dubai Honour has also been helped by Mother Nature. “He had a much better winter this year,” he reports. “Last winter he looked like a sheep but we never had to clip him this year and we knew if he took the long flight well then we had him in the best possible shape.”
Honour takes down The Big A
It didn’t take long for the Pride of Dubai gelding to show he had taken his long journey very well indeed.
Ryan Moore replaced regular rider Tom Marquand when he powered clear of previous Ranvet winner Montefilia at Rosehill in March. The stakes were higher on softer ground as Marquand returned from injury at Randwick three weeks later and local riding legends Glen Boss, Jim Cassidy, Corey Brown and Malcolm Johnston all came out firmly in favour of Anamoe for the Queen Elizabeth.
Godolphin’s champion was bidding for the tenth Group 1 success of a stellar career but Dubai Honour charged past ‘The Big A’ and James McDonald entering the final 200m, prompting racecaller Darren Flindell to shout “William Haggas has done it again” as Marquand stood high in the stirrups to salute a packed crowd.
British racing fans have grown used to seeing Haggas do it again and again since he started training in 1988 and, if his cricketing philosophy tended towards the carefree, his attitude to training racehorses has always been precise and meticulous.
Quantity is important but quality and consistency are paramount, hence the fact that his Somerville Lodge team have recorded ten consecutive UK centuries in at a strike rate approaching one in four.
Dubai Honour, Addeybb and exceptional filly Sea of Class have led the G1 charge but 2021 and 2022 saw Haggas scale even greater heights as the brilliant Baaeed dominated Europe’s best mile races before running clean away with York’s Juddmonte International Stakes.
Haggas reflects on how his whole team “marvelled at what Baaeed achieved” but training
the world’s best turf horse brings added pressure and last year also featured significant family stress, with Maureen losing her famous father Lester Piggott before narrowly escaping serious injury in a gallops accident when the horse she was riding was scared by a dog.
“Funnily enough, I mentioned this to Maureen during the winter,” adds Haggas. “It’s hard to get close to the top and even harder to stay there, so we certainly won’ be taking our foot off the gas, but this is an intense job and we do want to enjoy the good days as much as we can.”
Can Haggas end Britain’s Hong Kong drought?
Haggas doesn’t need reminding that his old friend and rival Andrew Balding has already tasted Group 1 success in Hong Kong thanks to Phoenix Reach’s Hong Kong Vase win.
Cricket-mad Sir Michael Stoute is also on the Sha Tin scoreboard through Soviet Line in the Hong Kong Bowl and Daliapour in the Vase, while Newmarket neighbour and keen batsman Ed Dunlop has three LONGINES Hong Kong International Races wins thanks to Ouija Board, Snow Fairy and Red Cadeaux.
It’s jarring to note that no British-trained horse has won a race of any description in Hong Kong since Red Cadeaux’s dramatic success under Gerald Mosse in the 2012 Vase.
Haggas’s Oaks winner Dancing Rain faded after cutting out much of the running for Johnny Murtagh that day but with an international rating of 122 – just 2lb below Romantic Warrior and 4lb ahead of Danon The Kid – perhaps Dubai Honour can scratch an eleven-year itch.
“We love to win anywhere in the world but Hong Kong is a box I’d love to tick,” adds Haggas. “We haven’t fired many bullets there, six all told, but maybe this is the one. Dubai Honour was doing his best work late in a race that wasn’t run at a true gallop when he finished fourth in the Hong Kong Cup in 2021 and it was a commendable run.
“It’s possible he’s a bit better now and this year’s QEII Cup will certainly tell us as Romantic Warrior has looked like a hell of a good horse.
“But Dubai Honour has a sound temperament and a good turn of foot and we found out in Australia that he’s able to handle relatively quick ground, which is important with Hong Kong in mind. He has a lot of positive things going for him and having a realistic chance in another major international contest like this is what it’s all about.”
Down the wicket with William Haggas
Training for the late Queen
There are so many memories but training a winner for the Queen when she was present was always marvellous. We couldn’t quite get a winner for her at Royal Ascot but I do remember Call To Mind winning in the royal colours at Newbury’s spring meeting six years ago this week. She had such passion for breeding and racing, breeding especially, and winning with one of the royal home-breds was always great for everyone involved.
Stable jockey Tom Marquand
It’s evolved very well since he left Richard Hannon and started riding more and more for us. Tom is strong but not whip happy – which suits me well – and he’s a lovely young guy who has confidence in the horses. I think becoming champion jockey is very much on his bucket list and he’ll achieve that one day for sure but for the moment he’s enjoying riding nice horses for us and plenty of other trainers.
Becoming champion trainer
We’d love to but I fear that ship may have sailed last year when we finished second to Charlie (Appleby). Sheikh Mohammed bought a lot of the top yearlings last autumn so there’s no slowing down there. You can never forget John and Thady (Gosden) as they have a very strong stable and then you have younger guys like Andrew Balding who’s been having a great run. The competition is fierce but that’s a good thing and we’ll never give up trying.
The Hong Kong connection
We’ve had a few who’ve done well in Hong Kong but Collection was great. I really fancied him at Doncaster early in his three-year-old season and couldn’t believe it when he got beat but he won his next two, including the Hampton Court at Royal Ascot, before winning the 2009 Hong Kong Derby for John Moore and Darren Beadman. I saw Darren down in Australia recently and he remembers Collection fondly, for obvious reasons.
Branching out to Australia
Andrew and I were both losing horses to Australia and he raised the subject of a satellite yard there about four years ago. We were going well with the idea and then Covid came along. To do it properly it would have to be a long-term project and I’m three years older now but Andrew is still keen so we’ll have to talk and revisit the idea.
Graham Cunningham chose a career in racing ahead of the law thirty years ago and has never regretted it for a moment.
Nine years with the world-renowned Timeform organization paved the way for a lengthy spell as a reporter and columnist in various newspapers, starting with the Sporting Life and followed by the Racing Post and the London Evening Standard.
Graham also spent a more than a decade on television in the UK as a lead analyst for Racing UK and Channel 4 but moved to Hong Kong early in 2017 and was once employed as Senior Racing Media Content Specialist for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.