Sheikh Hamdan’s Mohaather confirmed himself as a miler of the highest order in Wednesday’s Sussex Stakes (G1) at Glorious Goodwood. Last at one point when strung up in traffic in the stretch, the Marcus Tregoning trainee produced a sparkling turn of foot to outkick favored Siskin and collar front-running Circus Maximus.
A “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Keeneland, the Sussex offered as much intrigue in the running as it did on paper. Circus Maximus figured to use his early speed and go forward, but less predictably, his Aidan O’Brien stablemate Vatican City attended his pace. Fellow Ballydoyle runner Wichita stalked behind Vatican City, pocketing Mohaather who was just about midpack in the compact group.
Kameko was tailing Circus Maximus, a sensible idea from a pace perspective except he could never get off the fence. Three others launched bids in succession as Kameko was locked up, apparently full of run. At one point, he had a seam, but it was short-lived while he was trying to organize himself. When the door closed, regular rider Oisin Murphy took care of him.
The first to attack was San Donato, cruising from the rear of the field to loom a threat. Trained by Roger Varian for Sheikh Mohammed Obaid al Maktoum – the same connections of Defoe who sadly died from an injury in training Wednesday morning – San Donato would have been a most poignant winner for the grieving yard. But the longshot could not sustain his move and ultimately faded.
Siskin, reserved at the back early on the inside, swung out to follow San Donato. As the latter stalled, Siskin picked up strongly to challenge, but the dogged Circus Maximus was not succumbing.
Meanwhile, Mohaather was finally getting a chance to play his hand. Jockey Jim Crowley realized that there was no inner path, angled out after Siskin, and delivered Mohaather widest of all. Hitting overdrive in deep stretch, the son of Showcasing surged past Circus Maximus by three-quarters of a length.
Circus Maximus had to settle for a gallant second in the Sussex for the second year in a row, having been nabbed by Too Darn Hot here last summer. Siskin, the hitherto unbeaten Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) winner, was another half-length back in third. Although coming up a little short in his first try versus elders, Siskin had the consolation of faring best of the sophomores who were all in receipt of eight pounds.
Fourth-placer Kameko, the 2000 Guineas (G1) hero, didn’t have a clear shot at upholding his Newmarket form. Wichita, the 2000 Guineas runner-up and St James’s Palace (G1) third, had his chance but wound up fifth. San Donato came next, followed by the tailed-off Vatican City.
Crowley recapped the tactical situation, noting how well Mohaather did to overtake Siskin while spotting him weight:
“It was sweet. It was a bit of redemption after Royal Ascot. The race today didn’t really go to plan as I would have liked. I was quite well marked throughout and Mohaather really got me out of that.
“We went forward today on him and the plan was to sit one off the rail. I didn’t think the pace was very strong and then Frankie (Dettori, aboard Wichita])came up on the outside and I ended up following Vatican City and I wasn’t in a great pitch all of a sudden.
“I was in a bit of a pocket and I knew I was going to need some luck. I knew I wasn’t going to get a run and I knew Siskin was going to play his cards late so my option was to get on the back of him and follow him through.
“We had to let the race unfold before him and then pull around Siskin. When he saw daylight, he just absolutely flew. He showed the most electric turn of foot. To give weight away to younger horses and pick them was just special really.
“I had gone forward in the race and then been taken out of the race and had to go round the field. Obviously giving weight away, I thought that was a very special performance. The way it panned out, he was exceptional.”
The trainer had a few anxious moments until Mohaather extricated himself.
“It was a tactical race today, and we thought it would be,” Tregoning said. “He struggled to get out, he is not the biggest horse and he struggled to find a gap, but Jim kept his calm and with the knowledge that he has that massive kick.
“It was a little bit of a nightmare to watch, but I knew if Mohaather got out, he would have the speed; he has got a very good turn of foot, as you can see. I know it’s a well-used expression, but he does find heaps under pressure, and I couldn’t have been happier with the way he came into the race – the team have done a great job. Obviously, I am lucky to train horses for Sheikh Hamdan, because he has been an avid supporter, so we are all thrilled.”
Murphy was characteristically hard on himself in speaking of his own nightmare aboard Kameko.
“I couldn’t find any room up the straight and I felt like the best horse didn’t win on the day,” Murphy said. “Unfortunately, these things happen sometimes and it is jockey error. I hope the horse is sound in the morning and he lives to fight another day. Apologies to his connections. A lot of hard work goes into preparing these horses and nobody wants hard luck stories.”
Mohaather covered the mile on a good course in 1:38.75 in an arguably overdue first Group 1 tally. The winner of the Horris Hill (G3) as a juvenile, the bay stamped himself as a classic contender with a smart score in the 2019 Greenham (G3). Unfortunately he missed virtually the rest of the season, reappearing in time for the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day. In the circumstances – heavy going, plus a tough task off the layoff – Mohaather performed creditably to close for fifth.
His 2020 debut was no soft target either, the June 16 Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot. So it was significant that Crowley chose Mohaather over the more experienced Mustashry. His judgment was correct in that Mustashry was a well-beaten 11th, but that was cold comfort since Mohaather was seventh after a frustrating passage. Although five lengths behind Circus Maximus at Royal Ascot, Mohaather could claim that wasn’t a true bill, and he definitively won his case at Goodwood.
“Royal Ascot ate away at me for a few days,” Crowley confessed.
“After Royal Ascot, I was gutted and I was gutted for Marcus, but he took it on the chin and I was just so pleased Mohaather could come and do this today. He is a great trainer and it is great to repay him.”
In between, Mohaather had burnished his credentials in the July 11 Summer Mile (G2) back at Ascot. Crowley was on duty at the Newmarket July Festival, so Sheikh Hamdan’s second rider, Dane O’Neill, picked up the mount. On the round course rather than the straight mile of the QE II and Queen Anne, Mohaather rolled by 3 3/4 lengths over San Donato, Duke of Hazzard, and comebacker Lord Glitters in a useful cast. That performance suggested Group 1 quality.
His last two victories around a turn bode well for his Breeders’ Cup prospects, and Tregoning is already thinking along those lines:
“The Breeders’ Cup Mile is a possibility. We know one thing – tactical speed round those tighter tracks is what you have to have. This horse has so much pace; I love watching him. He will work on his own if you wanted him to – he’s just a pleasure to be around – but he would have the speed for it, I am sure.
“There’s also Champions Weekend at Ascot. He is in the Prix Jacques Le Marois (G1), but that might come a bit quick for him, we’ll have to see. But it is entirely up to Sheikh Hamdan, Richard Hills and Angus Gold and so on. I will come up with a plan but I am sure Sheikh Hamdan will have his say.”
Mohaather’s not the only one entertaining the idea of Keeneland. Siskin’s trainer, Ger Lyons, indicated that he “probably has Breeders’ Cup written all over him.” Considering that Circus Maximus was fourth in last year’s Mile at Santa Anita, and punched his return ticket in the Queen Anne, O’Brien likely has it on the radar too.
Mohaather’s pedigree also connotes stateside success. The 110,000 guineas Tattersalls October yearling purchase is a full brother to Prize Exhibit, a multiple Grade 2 vixen on the Southern California circuit. Their dam, the English stakes-placed Inchinor mare Roodeye, is also the second dam of mercurial miler Accidental Agent who stunned the 2018 Queen Anne. Accidental Agent is still owned by their breeder, Mrs. R.F. Johnson Houghton, and trained by daughter Eve, who took over the helm from her father, Fulke Johnson Houghton.
Tregoning commented on the personal connection.
“It’s very special that Gaie Johnson Houghton bred Mohaather – they are a lovely family and Eve’s done amazing well. She’s like her grandmother Helen (Fulke’s mother) and firing in the winners left, right and center. She is a great trainer and we are good friends. I have known the family for a long time and it’s really great that she’s bred another top-class horse.”