By Jon Lees
GB: Victory for Youth Spirit in the Chester Vase has given his owner Ahmad Al Shaikh another chance of realising his Derby dream – to lead his own horse into the hallowed Epsom winner’s circle 32 years after the first Dubai-owned colt won the Classic.
As part of the Maktoum family entourage, Al Shaikh was present at Epsom for the triumphs of Nashwan (1989), Erhaab (1994) and Lammtarra (1995).
Those experiences helped fuel his own ambitions of having runners in the race – an ambition he is set to fulfil once more with the Andrew Balding-trained 25-1 chance Youth Spirit, a year after 50-1 outsider Khalifa Sat carried his colours into second place.
Youth Spirit earned his place at Epsom when defeating the Aidan O’Brien-trained Sandhurst by a length and three-quarters in the G3 Derby trial at Chester on Wednesday under Tom Marquand.
“We ran him at Chester to see if he could make the distance,” said Al Shaikh, 58. “We knew from the pedigree that he would stay a mile and a quarter, but were not sure he would stay a mile and half, but he has proved himself now.”
Youth Spirit will be the owner’s third Derby runner. Marhaba Malyoon finished last as a 100-1 chance in 2011 before Khalifa Sat claimed second place behind Serpentine in 2020, but Al Shaikh’s involvement stretches further than just those races.
“I have owned horses from 2006 but I’ve been going to UK racing since 1987 when I was working for the Maktoum family,” said Al Shaikh, a former Dubai government official who is now a media adviser. “I was there with Nashwan, Erhaab, Lammtarra, all of these horses who won the Derby.
“So it was always my dream to be in that small, round winners’ circle in Epsom with my horse as a winner. I buy my horses for the Derby distance. I have 16 horses in training and buy a maximum one or two sprinters, but the rest are for the mile and a quarter, mile and a half distance.
“I think Youth Spirit, who is by Camelot, has a better pedigree than Khalifa Sat who is by Free Eagle. That’s why I think he has more chance.”
He went on: “I pushed for Khalifa Sat to run last year. My trainer had Kameko, who was the favourite, and he didn’t want to run Khalifa Sat, but I said, ‘Please run him. I feel this horse can do something better.’ He came second and Kameko came fourth. This year we are going to the Derby for sure!
“I think he is better than Khalifa Sat. We thought he was a two-mile horse when we bought; this one we thought was a mile-and-a-quarter to a mile-and-a-half-horse”
Khalifa Sat has run only once since the Derby, finishing fifth in the G3 Gordon Stakes won by Mogul, but he will not be seen this year.
“Khalifa Sat will miss this season so I think I am lucky to have Youth Spirit to carry my silks in the top level,” Al Shaikh said.
Because of the pandemic which resulted in a delayed 2020 Derby being run in front of empty stands, Al Shaikh had to forgo his regular trip to the Downs but he hopes to be present this year.
“I will try my best to be there with my family,” he said. “The UAE is still in the red list. I need to go to another country for ten days and then quarantine for eight days in my house in England. Then I will wait for the announcement that the UAE is off the list.”
Cazoo Derby betting (Ladbrokes): 11-4 High Definition, 6 Bolshoi Ballet, 13-2 Mohaafeth, 8 Van Gogh, 12 Mac Swiney, 14 Adayar, Sir Lamorak, Wordsworth, 16 Wirko, 20 bar.