Horse Racing: Trainer Haggas will be flying the flag for Yorkshire in the Derby

William Haggas.
William Haggas.
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BROWSE through the trainers of today’s Epsom Investec Derby runners and it’s easy to assume there is zero representation from Yorkshire.

Alongside solitary raiders from Germany and France, five of the runners are trained in Ireland with two from Lambourn yards and the other three hailing from racing’s HQ at Newmarket.

Yet one of those Newmarket trainers – William Haggas – remains proud of his Yorkshire upbringing that frequently took him to Elland Road. Only trouble is he ended up supporting Burnley.

Haggas, 54, saddles the Pat Cosgrave-ridden 25-1 shot Storm The Stars in what will be his third Derby runner since setting up training ranks at Newmarket’s Somerville Lodge.

His first Derby runner – Shaamit – was victorious in 1996 while 50-1 shot Our Channel was 13th in last year’s renewal. And success for Haggas has been success for Yorkshire with the trainer born in Skipton in 1960 and educated in Bedale before relocating ‘down south’.

Haggas, the son-in-law of multiple champion jockey Lester Piggott, says he was around 21 when setting up life in Newmarket and is now well into his fourth decade away from ‘God’s Country’. But there’s little chance of the trainer forgetting his Yorkshire upbringing which included sitting in the crowd at Leeds United games, even though the racing ace instead ended up supporting a team on the opposite side of the Pennines.

Haggas told the YEP exclusively: “I was born in Skipton and I grew up in that part of the world and the Dales – I went to school near Bedale and went to ‘big school’ in London. But I am a Yorkshireman – I was brought up there and I’m very proud of it.

“I actually had a game for Yorkshire 2nds in cricket once, a long time ago. I opened the batting with Ashley Metcalfe but that was a long time ago!

“But I was never into Leeds United funnily enough.

“As stupid as it sounds, if I follow a team where all of my mates go it’s Burnley and that sounds daft doesn’t it?

“I went to Elland Road a few times and I’ve got lots of pals who are fanatical Leeds United supporters but Burnley was as close as it got to Skipton.

“I’ve sat there in the cold a few times – or stood there in the old days – and a few of my mates still go there now and I keep in touch with them. I’ve been away from the north for so long that it’s a joy to come back and that’s why I race a lot there.

“I have a lot of runners at Ripon and Thirsk and Doncaster and York and we had a winner at Ripon this week which was a popular win.”

Success for Storm The Stars in today’s Epsom showpiece would be even more popular in God’s Country with Haggas alone in flying the flag for the largest county in England.

The likes of Middleham’s Mark Johnston, Nawton’s David O’Meara and Malton’s Richard Fahey are all enjoying decent seasons but there is no Classic representation this weekend.

Haggas joked: “There aren’t many trainers in Yorkshire that are actually from Yorkshire any more. They are either from Ireland or Scotland.

“There’s David O’Meara, Fahey, (John) Quinn, Kevin Ryan – they’re all Irish!

“Anyway, they obviously like it there and I’m very, extremely proud of my roots. I love racing in Yorkshire. Am I flying the flag for the north in the Derby? Possibly, I feel like I am. I have been down here a long time now but I’m very much a Yorkshireman and proud of it.”

Yorkshire, too, can be proud of Haggas who was recently added to the roster of handlers who train for Her Majesty The Queen. Royal runner Pick Your Choice was victorious in the famous scarlet and purple silks at Chelmsford on Wednesday with Haggas operating at a 31 per cent strike rate for June ahead of today’s Derby bid.

The trainer also has a fine strike rate in Epsom Classics as a whole with Dancing Rain winning the 2011 Oaks while Vow, his only other Oaks runner, was fourth in 2012. It means Haggas has had two winners and a fourth from four Epsom Classic runners but the modest trainer said: “I wouldn’t make a meal of it. We’ve had two runners in the Derby – Shaamit and Our Channel last year.

“And we’ve had two in the Oaks – Dancing Rain obviously and then the following year we had a filly called Vow who finished fourth. We’ve done okay. “Winning the Derby was great and it’s something that you cherish for ever more, for a lifetime really. But that was a long time ago and most people weren’t alive when we won the Derby. I’ll never forget it but everyone else has so we must get another one to show that wasn’t a fluke. It’s fantastic to go with a runner and a chance, of course it is. It’s the biggest race for an English trainer in the country, it’s a huge race for us.

“Very few people have the firepower to have a horse to have a chance of running in the Derby and a realistic chance.

“Storm The Stars is 25-1 and that’s about indicative of his chance.

“But it’s a funny place Epsom and you can get some strange results.

“If the horse handles the day and handles the track then they can outrun their odds – as has been proven many times.”

Jeddah, Signorinetta and Aboyeur were all 100-1 winners in 1898, 1908 and 1913 respectively while Psidium collected at 66s in 1961. More recently, Snow Knight obliged at 50-1 in 1974 while High Rise was a 20-1 victor in 1998. Terimon was also runner-up to Nashwan at 500-1 in 1989. Should Storm The Stars cause an upset in the 2015 renewal, Haggas will be honoured if punters are rasing a glass to him and his family in Yorkshire. Haggas is married to Maureen and the couple have two children – Mary-Anne and Sam who have grown up down south. It was the opposite end of the country for Haggas who admits he misses Yorkshire’s simple charms such as the hospitality upon popping in for a pint.

Asked how life in Newmarket compared to life in the county of the White Rose, Haggas admits: “It’s different and it’s not like Yorkshire – they don’t understand down here.

“The south is different and the pace of life is much quicker as the pace of life is slower in the north and much nicer for it.

“It’s just different. You can go into a pub here and no-one will talk to you. You can drink a pint of beer on your own.

“You go into Yorkshire and you can never ever drink a pint of beer on your own. There’s always someone who’ll talk to you. That’s the mentality of Yorkshire people. They’re different and they’re great – to me anyway.”