Superstar racehorse Al Kazeem a Welsh gem
6:02pm Monday 19th August 2013 in Sport
AHEAD Al Kazeem's run in tomorrow's Juddmonte International, Melissa Jones paid a visit to the place where his incredible journey began
FOR racing's rulers, it’s probably a little puzzling how one of the world’s best middle distance performers began life in Wales.
Al Kazeem, the revelation of the flat season, hails from a small and select breeding operation just outside Chepstow.
Oakgrove Stud, owned by engineering boss John Deer, is relatively unheard of compared to the Coolmores and Darleys of this world.
But having an endless supply of breeding stock is not everything, and, heading down the tree lined avenue surrounded by 300 acres, the place seeps sophistication and grandeur that would not look out of place in a painting.
Al Kazeem, the impressive winner of three of the best races on the calendar this year, was once trotting round in this idyllic setting.
“I still never get tired of coming up that driveway,” smiled South African groom Linden Hargreaves, the lucky chap who helped foal the horse of a lifetime.
That is his claim to fame, a moment that was once again so fresh in the memory when he saw the five-year-old stamp his authority on Group Ones this season.
“When he was born there was just something about him,” he said.
His boss, stud manager Tim Lane, agrees: “He was typical of one of Kazeem’s, kind, very leggy, raw looking physically. He had so much energy, every morning was like Monday to him.”
As in the past with owner John Deer’s horses, including Patavellian, a Group One winner now retired at Oakgrove aged 15, his star matured late.
The bay hinted at his future with a four and a half length pulverisation of the 2012 Jockey Club Stakes opposition.
That was until his career was all but ended by a hairline pelvic fracture and he spent six weeks in a sling in recovery mode under the watchful eye of trainer Roger Charlton.
His upturn in fortunes is therefore worthy of total respect, as most horses are rarely as good following injury.
For all his ability, you’d expect Al Kazeem to be the showman, fiery with plenty of bite.
“He’s not like that. He would be like his mum Kazeem we still breed from here, he’s very laid back. He had to be, he was box bound for months recovering,” said Lane.
While they always knew he was good, the team at Oakgrove were bowled over when Al Kazeem took the scalp of 2012 Derby winner Camelot on his Irish home turf first time out this year.
Then it was on to the Prince of Wales’ Stakes at Royal Ascot and a complete domination in the Coral Eclipse.
Lane, Hargreaves and their colleague Mark Savage have made for a cheering posse alongside Deer and family at the business end of each.
Lane said: “The atmosphere is grand until he jumps out of the stalls. In Ireland I was watching it through a window in a bar. Once he started motoring 2f out it was frightening. He crossed the line and we had a massive hug including two women we didn’t know! While Royal Ascot we just started screaming. To breed a wonder horse at a little stud like ours, it’s amazing.”
The stud used to be the yard of Colin Davies, who trained mighty hurdler Persian War in the sixties.
Deer got the cheque book out to buy it 14 years ago but the joint founder of company Renishaw prefers his home comforts nearer the town centre.
Earlier in Al Kazeem’s career, he was offered over £1 million for the horse to race in Hong Kong.
Everyone at Oakgrove is glad Deer was not swayed by the big offer, especially Lane.
He pays regular visits to the champion at Charlton’s Wiltshire stable, most recently over two weeks ago when the horse returned from a short holiday.
Next stop is tomorrow's Juddmonte International, for which he is hot favourite.
Hargreaves said yesterday: "We are starting to get butterflies. Everyone is so excited at the stud, the news is Al Kazeem did his last bit of work really well. Jockey James Doyle was happy with him and it gives you confidence."
A win may tee the five-year-old up for a tilt at October’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
And Lane says he’s not scared of runaway King George winner Novellist, should the pair meet on French soil: “I would hope we would have him on softer ground,” he said.
If that’s the case, the lingering cloud of happiness over a certain area of Chepstow will be around a little longer.