Despite the Royal family’s long history of success on the race track, you have to go all the way back to 1977 for the last time they celebrated a Classic winner, yet that wait could well be ended on Saturday.
That’s the task for trainer William Haggas and jockey Tom Marquand in the Betfred St Leger at Doncaster, live on Sky Sports Racing, with Royal Ascot hero Desert Hero.
The Sea The Stars colt, who has landed the King George V Stakes at Ascot and Goodwood’s Gordon Stakes en route to Town Moor, will bid to emulate the great Dunfermline and carry the famous purple, red and gold silks to victory.
Speaking to Sky Sports Racing on Tuesday, Haggas said: “He’s in good form. He worked this morning and went nicely.
“He was impressive at Goodwood with cut in the ground and won on top of the ground at Royal Ascot so I don’t think that bothers him too much.
“Obviously, the softer it is, the more focus there is on the stamina and he may not be a strong stayer at a-mile-and-six furlongs but we’ll see. I think he will.
“I liked him at Goodwood – he showed a bit of speed, which you need.
“Ascot was only a handicap and they went very fast which suited the horses that were played late but he did nothing wrong and it was only his second run of the year.
“This will be his fourth run so I think he’s a pretty fresh horse and has been doing very well physically since Goodwood.”
Reflecting on Desert Hero’s Royal connections, Haggas added: “It’s wonderful that they’ve taken up the mantle from The King’s late mother and are enjoying it with great gusto.
“It’s terrific that they’ve got a horse that is quite useful and I know they’re enjoying him enormously.
“Everyone who is involved in horse racing would like to win a Classic, whether they breed, own, train, ride or look after horses. The Classic is everyone’s dream and they [The King and Queen] are no different.”
Desert Hero looks set to face a small but select field, with John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien bringing the chief opposition, including Gregory, the likely mount of the departing Frankie Dettori.
“It really looks a quality renewal. John [Gosden] has the strongest hand with Gregory, Middle Earth and Arrest and Aidan’s horse [Continuous] was very impressive in the Great Voltigeur.
“I suppose Gregory and Continuous are the front two, but Chesspiece is very solid and we’re pretty solid too. It’s a good renewal and a fun race.”
While a lot of the media attention will be on Dettori’s bid for a final Classic success, Haggas has his own riding star in Tom Marquand, who recently celebrated his 1,000th British victory.
“Tom is getting a lot of opportunities in top races now and it’s good because there’s no doubt they put a little bit of extra pressure on any jockey,” Haggas said.
“He’s a world class jockey and has proven that in Australia and Japan. Anywhere he goes, he does well. We’re very lucky to have him.”
Should Desert Hero bring the house down on Saturday, international targets could be next on the agenda, with the Melbourne Cup a possibility.
Haggas said: “It’s in our minds but much will depend on what happens on Saturday.”
Hard To Resist carries Royal hopes in May Hill
Haggas sends a strong squad to Doncaster for the entire St Leger Festival, which kicks off on Thursday, all live on Sky Sports Racing.
The Royal silks could also be carried to victory in the May Hill Stakes with exciting two-year-old filly Hard To Resist.
“She ran well at Goodwood, staying on behind Darnation, who runs again and unfortunately has as good a draw as we have,” Haggas said. “Hopefully we can do a bit better but Darnation is the one to beat.
“After each of her last two runs the jockey has reported she’ll be better on nicer ground so if it does dry up a bit that will suit her.”
Later on the card, Haggas has two chances of Group Two success in the Park Hill Stakes.
“Crack Of Light has been running in France this year – won a Listed race and was placed in a Group Two and Group Three – so she’ll probably run another good race.
“It’s the first time at a-mile-and-six furlongs which I’m not so sure about and Mr Oppenheimer [owner] isn’t either but we came to the conclusion that we’ve got little to lose by trying and quite a bit to gain.
“Tom [Marquand] has plumped for Golden Lyra, who was useful last year at the back end of the season on the soft ground and she should relish the step up in trip.
“She ran a much better race in France last time – her best effort for a year – staying on all the way to the line so I think she’ll run a good race, especially now the rain has come.”
Watch every race from the Betfred St Leger Festival at Doncaster all live on Sky Sports Racing from Thursday, September 14.