“I pressed the button,” Jim Crowley said after finishing fourth aboard Baaeed in the Champion Stakes on Saturday, “and it just wasn’t there.”
It was a simple elegy for what will still be remembered as an outstanding career, one that saw Baaeed carry all before him until this first defeat in 11 starts. But there was no denying the bitter disappointment, both for the colt’s connections and many thousands of fans in the stands, that he will not retire to stud as an unbeaten champion.
Instead, it was the 10-1 shot Bay Bridge, trained by 76-year-old Sir Michael Stoute, who led them home, with Adayar, last year’s Derby winner, and My Prospero, a stable companion of Baaeed at William Haggas’s Newmarket yard, filling the frame, on a Champions Day that started well for the punters, with three winning favourites, but concluded with three shock results.
“It is deflating, but he is still a good horse,” Haggas said. “I’m sad he didn’t win for him and his connections, as well as all the people at the yard who have worked tirelessly to get him here. There you go, it’s horse racing.”
Fingers immediately pointed towards the Ascot turf after Baaeed’s unexpected defeat.
“Jim said he just could not quicken when he pulled him out,” said Angus Gold, racing manager to Sheikha Hissa al-Maktoum, Baaeed’s owner. “He simply couldn’t quicken on that ground like he has on faster ground.
“I’m sad that he hasn’t gone out unbeaten but he’s still given us some fantastic days.”
The going was officially good-to-soft, soft in places, and so not too far removed from the good-to-soft on which Baaeed won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on this day last year. That race, though, is staged on the straight mile, where the drainage is much improved since the track was relaid about 15 years ago. Saturday’s contest, over another two furlongs, was on the round course, the majority of which was soft according to the track’s going map, and there was no point at which Baaeed looked likely to justify his cramped odds.
The favourite was a little slow to stride and then settled towards the rear as Stone Age cut out the running. Five furlongs out, Bay Bridge was travelling well in third, within a couple of lengths of the leader, with Adayar two lengths further away and Baaeed following behind in seventh.
William Buick, on the strong stayer Adayar, was the first to strike, surging around the outside on the final turn, but if he hit the front, it was only for a stride, as Richard Kingscote, on Bay Bridge, was also going through the gears. Baaeed, by contrast, was struggling to be involved and was booked for fourth by the furlong pole as Bay Bridge bravely defended a half-length lead to the line.
The winner was racing for the first time since finishing fifth of six as favourite for the Eclipse Stakes in July. “He came back from Sandown with a knock,” Stoute said.
“He’s been very consistent this year with the exception of that race. We thought the favourite was unbeatable, or I did, but I thought he had a great chance of being second.”
Baaeed’s defeat followed the eclipse of Inspiral, at 11-10, behind the outsider Bayside Boy (33-1) in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, after the Frankie Dettori-ridden favourite conceded several lengths to the field with a very slow start.
There was much more for the punters to cheer earlier on the card, however. First as Hollie Doyle and Trueshan edged out Coltrane in the Long Distance Cup and then as Dettori completed a double on the 3-1 favourites, Kinross and Emily Upjohn, in the Sprint and Fillies & Mares Stakes respectively.