Much of the early success enjoyed by Sheikh Hamdan, who died on Wednesday at the age of 75, came courtesy of an extremely fruitful partnership with Willie Carson.
Carson was appointed retained jockey during the late 1980s and duly became a vital cog in the careers of Nashwan, Dayjur, Salsabil, Erhaab and Bahri among many others.
Paying tribute to the owner, he said: “We will all miss him. He was very much involved as an owner and knew his horses well.
“It was during the late-80s and Dick Hern was thinking of giving up training and I thought I might give up too but I saw Angus Gold at Newbury one day when I was riding work on one of Hamdan’s good horses, possibly Nashwan, and asked if he would consider hiring me as retained jockey. About a week later I got the job.
“Nashwan, Dayjur, Salsabil – they were all wonderful horses. Nashwan was the best middle-distance horse I rode and Dayjur was the fastest – in fact he might have been the fastest anyone rode. Salsabil was a wonderful filly who only had to be ridden hands and heels. She was brilliant the day she beat the colts in the Irish Derby. I was convinced she would win the Arc but she wasn’t right and it didn’t work out. I rode two Group 1 winners that day – Shadayid and Dayjur – and because of that I still left Longchamp with my tail between my legs.
“There is a lovely story after Battaash broke Dayjur’s track record at York. He was told afterwards when they came in and he just said ‘but Dayjur had a head wind’. I think that showed how much Dayjur meant to him.”
Carson had to be at his best on Erhaab in a rough renewal of the 1994 Derby, as he navigated a daring run up the inner aboard his willing partner, and was again clever in his handling of Bahri in the 1995 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot; chartering a solo early wide course under the trees in search of better ground, he crossed over turning into the straight with such an advantage that Bahri ultimately won by six lengths.
“Sheikh Hamdan was always interested in how they should be ridden but he particularly liked them to be on the outside,” recalls Carson. “Before the Queen Elizabeth, I had this idea to go wide on Bahri – Richard Hills [riding pacemaker Muhab] was in on the plan but I hadn’t told Sheikh Hamdan. I saw him standing in the paddock before the race and thought ‘well I better tell him’. And so I said that I thought we couldn’t beat the filly, Ridgewood Pearl, but that this plan might work. There was a 20 second delay while he thought about it and then he just said ‘do it’. John Dunlop wasn’t aware of what we were thinking and I can’t imagine he was too pleased during the first couple of furlongs but it worked out.”