Lester's word is still law

The Derby: Piggott magic helps son-in-law Haggas to train his first Blue Riband winner with Shaamit
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The Independent Online
The shadow of Lester Piggott still looms large on this track. Thirteen years after the old maestro rode the last of his nine Derby winners to victory, Shaamit, trained by his son-in-law William Haggas, took a thrilling 217th running of the premier Classic.

The son of Mtoto, ridden by Michael Hills, burst to the front a furlong and a half from the line and stayed on strongly to beat the fast-finishing favourite Dushyantor and the outsider Shantou.

Shaamit was Haggas's first Derby runner and, remarkably, it was the second year in succession that a horse achieved the rare feat of winning the race on his seasonal debut. It was only on Piggott's advice that the colt took his place in the field at all: after partnering him in a spin on the Newmarket gallops earlier this year, the man who knows best advised Haggas to put him in the race at the April entry stage. "Marvellous", Piggottsaid, "It feels as good as riding a 10th Derby winner."

Jack Jennings led from the stalls, and still held the call as the field of 20 swept down the hill and round Tattenham Corner. A quarter of a mile out Glory Of Dancer, perfectly placed on the rails, shot past, but it was only a matter of strides that his head was in front as Shaamit, who had handled the descent as if on rails, swept through with a fine turn of foot. And although Dushyantor, who had been chopped back in scrimmaging on the hill, was by now back on an even keel and in full flight, Pat Eddery's and Henry Cecil's bid for a Derby-Oaks double were thwarted by a length and a quarter.

It was the same distance back to Shantou, with Glory Of Dancer, who did not stay the mile and a half trip, a length back in fourth. Alhaarth ran a creditable fifth, a head behind, followed by Mystic Knight, Jack Jennings and Acharne. Of the other fancied horses Even Top finished 13th and Storm Trooper 15th.

Haggas, a 35-year-old Yorkshire-born Old Harrovian who trains from one of Newmarket's smaller yards, deserves the utmost credit for getting Shaamit, owned and bred by Saudi businessman Khalifa Dasmal, ready for his date with destiny.

The colt is only the third this century to win first time out and after Lammtarra's victory last year showed that if the horse has the talent, Suffolk is as good a place to train as Dubai.

Shaamit, who had run only twice as a two-year-old, missed his run in his trial, the Dante Stakes, because of an injured foot, but his homework had been impressive and was well-backed to 12-1 after beating Glory of Dancer in his last serious gallop eight days ago.

Haggas said: "I have always thought he was a good horse, but this is a result I hardly dared dream. We knew he was fit and, as there is only one Derby, we had to have a go. They didn't go much of a gallop early, which suited us, and although Michael gave me heart failure by hitting the front as soon as he did, it all went entirely to plan."

It was also a first Derby triumph for 33-year-old Hills, at his sixth attempt. He said: "There was bumping coming down the hill, but I was able to keep my position. He's an inexperienced horse, but was good enough to glide round them coming out of Tattenham Corner.

"He quickened like a champion to hit the front, and my only worry was that he might get tired in front. The last 100 yards was the longest of my life, but I just put my head down and prayed. And the moment I've been waiting for all my life happened."

If there was a hard-luck story, it belonged to Dushyantor. Eddery said: "It got very tight coming down the hill and I was bumped. He wasn't quite down on his knees, but he was carried for two or three strides. But to be fair I was only a length behind the winner three furlongs out, then whoosh - he was gone."

Alex Greaves, making history by being the first woman to ride in the Derby, made no impact, finishing last of 20 on Portuguese Lil. But the Yorkshire-born rider said: "I hope I will be back next year. It is nice to go down in the history books."

Later Swain gave Sheikh Mohammed and Frankie Dettori some compensation for Shantou's near-miss by beating his fellow-colourbearer Singspiel in a two-furlong sprint for the Coronation Cup, but the day belonged to Shaamit. Haggas summed it up by saying: "This Epsom Derby is the most wonderful event in the racing world."

The sad thing was that there were not more there to witness his marvellous moment of glory. There was just about room in the underpopulated members' enclosure for England to have played Switzerland, and the open spaces on the Downs would have comfortably accommodated a Test Match. The sooner Derby Day reverts to its special midweek slot the better.

Racing results, page 29

How they finished

1. SHAAMIT M Hills 12-1

2. Dushyantor Pat Eddery 9-2 fav

3. Shantou L Dettori 25-1

20 ran. 11/4, 11/4. (W Haggas). Tote: pounds 16.60; pounds 4.90, pounds 2.80, pounds 4.60. DF: pounds 36.50. CSF: pounds 57.00. Trio: pounds 313.50. NR: Clever Cliche.