William Haggas is aiming to fulfil a career ambition tomorrow by becoming top trainer at York for the season. The Skipton-born, if Newmarket-based, trainer has recorded 12 winners on the Knavesmire in 2017 – three more than his fellow Yorkshireman and nearest rival, Tim Easterby.
Both stables will be well represented at York’s season-concluding two-day meeting – worth £465,000 – which gets underway today. Haggas, 57, said: “I always wanted to, one day, be leading trainer at York one season. We nearly did it a couple of years ago and got done on the last day when David O’Meara had four winners in the last two meetings. This year, it looks as though – with a bit of luck – it’s only Tim that’s the danger.”
Haggas expects to run “three or four each day”, including The Grand Visir in the £100,000 Unibet Handicap today and, the following afternoon, Raucous in the £100,000 Coral Sprint Trophy. He is also planning on being double-handed in the coral.co.uk Rockingham Stakes – a six-furlong listed event for 2-year-olds, worth £50,000.
He said: “In the past, we’ve not really had a plethora of runners – we’ve just been very lucky. But this time, we’re going to run a few, primarily because we’d obviously like to try and win. I think we’ll have three or four each day. But it’s quite late in the day.”
Tulip Fever, who won at Yarmouth last time, is declared in today's opener – the TSG Paul Beioley Memorial Nursery Handicap. Zwayan, successful at Ascot last Friday, is turned out quickly again for the second race on the card – the unibet.co.uk Handicap.
In today's feature, the mile and three-quarter Unibet Handicap, The Grand Visir returns to York after finishing fifth over course and distance in the Betfred Melrose Handicap during the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival. Haggas said: “The Grand Visir ran a very good race in the Melrose. He hasn’t run since but he’s in good form and we’ve had this race in mind for a while.”
Tomorrow’s Coral Sprint Trophy is the plan for Raucous, who has run well in a series of high-profile races this summer without getting his head in front. His last success was back in April on the all-weather at Chelmsford.
Haggas said: “He has got plenty of talent – it just hasn’t fallen his way. We’ll just see how he goes but he could easily surprise – he’s one of those. He’s in really good form and looks great, too.”
Barton Mills, winner of a Kempton novices’ race in late September, will come back in trip for the coral.co.uk Rockingham Stakes. Stablemate Island Drive – beaten favourite at Nottingham two months ago on her last start – is set to join him in the race. Haggas said: “Barton Mills has run twice and run well over seven furlongs. The jockey [Martin Harley] is very keen to try him at six, so we’re giving it a go in a listed race.”
Haggas has been in contention to land the Charles Clinkard-backed top trainer crown for 2017 since the Dante Festival, where he landed a big-race triumph with Tasleet. The sprint ace was successful in the G2 Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes. “He was marvellous,” said Haggas, nominating Tasleet’s win as his favourite from his dozen so far at York this season.
The trainer summed up: “York means a lot to a lot of people. It’s a great track, always packed and just a very good atmosphere. It’s a very fair racecourse; very few hard luck stories and very often the best horse wins. Now they’ve got the track drained properly, it has made it so much better. We race on lovely ground. They do a great job. It’s first class.”
Full coverage of every race in the conclusion of the season long championship is available on Racing UK.