Taghrooda: 'She turned towards the stands and everyone was going absolutely mad'
Fans Favourites' is a weekly feature in the Racing Post Weekender in which we talk to those closest to racing's most popular horses and find out why they tug on our heartstrings. This week's subject: Taghrooda.
Taghrooda, a filly named after a form of traditional Bedouin chanted poetry, captivated the sport during a sensational 2014 season that left everyone wanting more.
Owned by the late Hamdan Al Maktoum, the daughter of Sea The Stars became just the second filly to complete the Oaks and King George double after Pawneese in 1976 and paved the way for the mighty Enable to do the same three years later.
Taghrooda's record after Ascot stood at an unblemished four wins in four starts and although she was subsequently beaten in the Yorkshire Oaks and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, she retired at the end of a scintillating season as one of Sheikh Hamdan's greatest racemares.
The esteem in which she is held is greater still, as she rose to prominence at a time her connections needed her most.
Sheikh Hamdan had gone four years without a European Group 1 success before Taghrooda's Oaks victory under Paul Hanagan, who was having his first ride in the race.
The two-time champion jockey clinched a first Classic win and remains eternally grateful to Taghrooda for igniting a great period of success as the sheikh's number one rider.
"When I took the job a couple of years earlier, they were having a quiet time and it took me a while to get going," Hanagan recalls. "It's like the old saying 'they come along like buses', and once Taghrooda won there they all started coming, the likes of Muhaarar and Mukhadram.
"I'd watched all the Classics growing up and dreamt one day of winning one, like a footballer winning the FA Cup final. As a lad from Warrington without much of a racing background, to win a Classic at Epsom meant a helluva lot."
Hanagan was recruited into one of racing's most pressurised roles following the retirement of Richard Hills and had been waiting for a star to emerge. Following a successful debut under Dane O'Neill in a backend Newmarket maiden on her only start at two, Taghrooda showed the first glimpses of her outstanding potential with a six-length romp in the Pretty Polly.
"She came to life in the Pretty Polly and I really hit it off with her that day," Hanagan says. "To win the way she did, going away from them, you knew she was going to stay. Her temperament really stood out and it was the perfect stepping stone for the Oaks.
"She went for a gallop round Epsom at Breakfast With The Stars, and that was huge. Not only did it give her confidence to go round there, but I knew she'd handle the track, which was a big plus.
"I went to the Oaks pretty confident and she was just phenomenal. A lot of horses can lose their heads in the preliminaries with the big crowd there, but she took it all in her stride. She was perfect in the race."
Sheikh Hamdan also ran Tarfasha, who was marginally preferred at 9-2 to Taghrooda's 5-1 SP, but she was no match for the winner in second, nearly four lengths adrift.
The sheikh's racing manager Angus Gold says: "Taghrooda worked really well leading into Epsom and we went there with big hopes. We also ran Tarfasha, who was second for Dermot Weld, but we were pretty hopeful this filly was really good and she proved it.
"She was a superstar for us. We'd have a quiet time for a while and she took us back to the top table. She was a highlight for us, she came along when we needed her most. She was very talented and tough. She was a beautiful, neat, well-balanced filly with a lovely head. She was everything you'd want in a good horse."
The best was yet to come for Taghrooda as connections deviated off the traditional route of going on to the Irish Oaks, with a less conventional crack at the colts and older horses in the King George.
With sex and age allowances she received 15lb from runner-up Telescope, and she made it count by powering clear to win by three lengths to resoundingly vindicate the brave decision to miss out on the proverbial penalty kick in Ireland.
"I thought I was going to go round the Curragh in the Irish Oaks on the bridle, but then Angus Gold came up with the great idea of running her in the King George getting all the allowances," says Hanagan.
"She was in great form, so I knew we had every chance. She was good at Epsom, but she was electric at Ascot. They went flat out, but I was always confident she'd pick them up. I gave her one flick and her response was amazing – she was electric.
"The reaction of the crowd was something I'll never forget. We had pulled up and I was stroking her ear and she turned towards the stands and everyone was going absolutely mad. I was delighted for John Gosden, Sheikh Hamdan, Angus Gold and the whole team as they did a fantastic job with her."
The one regret of a historic and magical afternoon was her owner could not be there to soak up the atmosphere.
"Sheikh Hamdan couldn't be at the King George as it was Ramadan, which was a shame, but she gave him an enormous thrill," recalls Gold. "The Oaks did the same, but to go out and prove it against the best older horses around was extra special. She was impressive on the day and that was her highlight, partly because it's such a wonderful race.
"For her to beat the colts was fantastic. For me growing up, there were two huge races – the King George in England and the Arc in France – and to win one with a three-year-old filly was very special."
Following Ascot, Taghrooda was an extremely warm order at 1-5 switching back to her own sex in the Yorkshire Oaks, but she was surprisingly turned over by Tapestry.
Hanagan describes the race as one of the low points of his career, although the filly was found to be in season the day after York.
Taghrooda was back to her normal high-class self in the Arc, but she was undone by a wide draw when staying on for third behind Treve and Flintshire.
"She was very unlucky not to have gone really close in the Arc as we were drawn in the car park," says Hanagan. "I thought we'd get away with it, but when I got in the stalls and looked to my right, I knew it wasn't going to be easy. She didn't quite handle the track as well, but she still ran an absolute blinder.
"To win the Oaks and King George, she was one of the outstanding fillies of her time and I was lucky enough to ride her. She just oozed class and was such a good-looking horse with an amazing temperament.
"I've been lucky enough to ride a lot of nice horses but she was easily one of the best, if not the best. She was perfect."
Hanagan was not the only one to ponder what might have been after Taghrooda was retired shortly after the Arc.
"John Gosden was keen to keep her in training but Sheikh Hamdan thought she'd done enough and that as a Classic winner, we needed to breed from her," says Gold.
"She's not had much luck so far in her breeding career. She got off the mark with Almighwar last year, but we need to get others to run on the track to kickstart her career."
Reflecting on what set Taghrooda apart, Gold says: "She was a homebred and such a beautiful filly to look at. We were lucky with Salsabil and Lahudood, who won at the Breeders' Cup. You don't get many of her class and she was right up there for us."
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