As Harzand gallantly repelled US Army Ranger’s challenge to land the Derby, the son of Sea The Stars revived memories of a life-changing moment for me. His third dam, Hazy Idea, is a daughter of Hethersett, a colt I saw as a boy on my first ever visit to the races.

Although I struggled to see all the action from the packed enclosure on the inside of the York track, I still vividly remember seeing the dark bay Hethersett and the flashy chesnut Miralgo whizz past me at the end of the 1962 Great Voltigeur Stakes.

The nod favoured Major Lionel Holliday’s Hethersett, who was on a mission to restore his reputation. Hethersett had started favourite in a 26-strong field for the Derby, following an easy victory in the Brighton Derby Trial, but disaster struck as the packed field raced downhill towards Tattenham Corner. The top miler Romulus clipped heels and fell, bringing down Hethersett and five others.

Hethersett, favourite for the 1962 Derby, was brought down at Tattenham Corner

Hethersett, favourite for the 1962 Derby, was brought down at Tattenham Corner

Hethersett fell heavily, suffering some bad cuts, and had to be let down for a while to recover. Consequently, he probably wasn’t at his fittest when he ran badly on firm ground when he finally reappeared in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood.

Fortunately for Hethersett the ground was on the soft side at York, and again at Doncaster for the St Leger. Pulling over his rivals with three furlongs still to race, Hethersett soon quickened away to score impressively by four lengths. In the process he provided the young Dick Hern with the first of his many British Classic wins.

Sadly Hethersett failed to win again in four further starts, though he was second in the Champion Stakes at three and in the Jockey Club Stakes and Coronation Cup at four. Perhaps he wasn’t helped as a four-year-old by having a new trainer (who was sacked by the cantankerous Major Holliday at the end of the year).

Even so, there was good reason for thinking that Hethersett had the makings of a classic sire. In addition to being good enough to be rated 134 by Timeform, he was a very eye-catching individual, with a beautiful head.

The Bloodstock Breeders’ Review stated that “there was little dispute that the outstanding horse in the paddock [before the Derby] was Hethersett.” Timeform was also impressed, describing him as a handsome, deep-bodied, full-quartered colt, and a game one.

His pedigree was equally impressive. His sire Hugh Lupus had won the Irish 2,000 Guineas by four lengths at three and the Hardwicke Stakes and Champion Stakes at four. This son of Djebel also had an interesting pedigree, in that he was inbred 2 x 3 to the outstanding French stallion Tourbillon and 4 x 5 x 3 to Tourbillon’s grandsire Bruleur. Perhaps this inbreeding was something of a hindrance to Hugh Lupus as a stallion, as his fertility wasn’t good, but he also sired a 1,000 Guineas winner in Pourparler. It is worth adding that the Arc-winning filly Coronation V, a filly inbred 2 x 2 to Tourbillon, famously failed to produce a foal.

Hethersett came from the female line which was the basis of much of Major Holliday’s success – and he was so successful that he notched up three titles as leading owner in the 1950s and 1960s. Hethersett’s fourth dam, Lost Soul, had been purchased by Holliday for 4,000gns in 1936. I’ve no idea what that equates to in today’s values, but it must have been a substantial sum, as only two mares made more than Lost Soul at the 1936 December Sales. She had been placed in two important handicaps, the Victoria Cup and the City and Suburban.

Lost Soul was to produce a string of very useful winners, but it was her Windsor Lad filly Phase who developed into a blue hen for Holliday. Phase enjoyed a wonderful partnership with Nearco, producing Netherton Maid (runner-up in the 1947 Oaks), Neasham Belle (winner of the 1951 Oaks), Narrator (Champion Stakes and Coronation Cup), No Pretender (Oaks Trial) and None Nicer (1958 Yorkshire Oaks).

Netherton Maid also enjoyed considerable success as a broodmare, including with Hethersett’s dam Bride Elect. A daughter of the 2,000 Guineas winner Big Game, Bride Elect was fast enough to win the Queen Mary Stakes and finish second in the Cheveley Park, even though she was out of the Oaks second.

In addition to Hethersett, Bride Elect produced very smart sons in Proud Chieftain and Royal Prerogative, the latter a highly successful stallion in South Africa. One of her daughters, Ambrosia, became the dam of Hard Fought (Prince of Wales’s Stakes) and another, Prudent Girl, did even better, becoming the dam of Providential (Washington DC International) and Play It Safe (Prix Marcel Boussac).

Hethersett sired only 79 foals in three crops but did so well that his legacy included 15% stakes winners

As a dedicated fan of Hethersett, it came as a considerable blow when he died in August 1966 at the age of only seven. Stallions in the 1960s weren’t asked to cover a lot of mares and Hethersett started with a book of 32. Consequently he is credited with only 79 foals from his three crops.

I was left wondering what might have been had Hethersett lived longer (just as I was in later years after the death of Troy and the disappearance of Shergar). Hethersett did so well that his legacy included 15% stakes winners. They featured the likes of Blakeney (Derby), Rarity (who went so close to beating Brigadier Gerard in the Champion Stakes), Highest Hopes (Prix Vermeille), Heathen (Greenham Stakes), Dalry (Horris Hill Stakes), Hether (Prix Penelope), Hibernian (Blandford Stakes) and Harzand’s smart third dam, Hazy Idea.

I’m sure Major Holliday would have been proud of the part Hazy Idea has played in Harzand’s story. She was inbred 3 x 3 to Phase’s daughter Netherton Maid, so could be said to embody all that was good about the Holliday breed. Hazy Idea had been an admirable racehorse. Precocious enough to win her first three starts as a two-year-old, she ended the year with a Timeform rating of 118, having finished fourth in the Group 1 Criterium des Pouliches.

She trained on well and was rated 115 at three. After winning the March Stakes over a mile and three-quarters, she finished fourth in the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak and a close second in the Group 3 Prix de Royallieu. Despite having won over six furlongs at two, she stayed well.

Hazy Idea came into the Aga Khan’s studs in the late 1980s, as part of a small group of Holliday broodmares. Already the dam of the high-class Hittite Glory (1975 Middle Park Stakes), she produced Harzand’s second dam, Hazaradjat as her final foal, at the grand age of 22 – reminding us that you dismiss the progeny of veteran proven broodmares at your peril.