Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum’s Shadwell Stable already had one major 2016 Kentucky Derby (G1) contender in Mohaymen. But another has arrived on the scene in Shagaf, who bids to remain perfect in Saturday’s Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct.

Unlike Mohaymen, a $2.2 million yearling purchase, Shagaf is a Shadwell homebred. So was his dam, Muhaawara, and that all-in-the-family feel adds another layer of meaning to his Derby hopes.

“It’s very special,” commented Rick Nichols, the vice president and general manager of Shadwell Farm near Lexington, Kentucky.

Shagaf was “always a good-looking colt, very handsome, very classy,” and Sheikh Hamdan “really liked him as a foal.”

That favorable impression was renewed during Sheikh Hamdan’s visit the following year.

“When Sheikh Hamdan comes in September to see the yearlings is when he decides to name them,” Nichols noted.

Still quite taken with the colt, Sheikh Hamdan named him “Shagaf,” meaning “fond of” in Arabic.

Although the name reflects Sheikh Hamdan’s personal feelings, it has a coincidental allusion to his granddam, Habibti. Her name is translated as “beloved.” The winner of the 2001 Del Mar Debutante (G1) and Hollywood Starlet (G1) for the late Prince Ahmed bin Salman’s Thoroughbred Corp., Habibti was purchased by Shadwell for $2.9 million as a broodmare.

Muhaawara, whose name means “dialogue,” always had a good disposition – like Habibti’s other daughters.

Habibti’s colts, on the other hand, were “very studdish” – even as babies. Nichols recalled how one tried to get a little too amorous with a mare out in the field, and she killed him with a lethal kick to his head.

Muhaawara’s best-known half-brother, Eldaafer, was notoriously studdish too, but his tale has a happier ending.

“The first time we ran him at Keeneland, he actually tried to breed the starting gate,” Nichols said. “Ran the first quarter-mile fully drawn. It was very embarrassing!”

Needless to say, Eldaafer ended up being gelded. Subsequently dropped into a claiming race (where other connections can acquire a horse for the listed price), he was claimed for $20,000. A more mature Eldaafer ultimately reached his potential for new connections, earning more than $1 million while winning such major events as the Breeders’ Cup Marathon (G3) and the Brooklyn H. (G2).

Eldaafer’s success played some role in the breeding of Shagaf, Nichols confirmed. Since Eldaafer is by A.P. Indy, “it was the obvious thing to try going back” to that same sire line with Habibti’s daughter. Thus Muhaawara visited A.P. Indy’s champion son, Bernardini, and Shagaf is the result.

Fortunately, Shagaf didn’t inherit the uncontrollable studdishness of his close relative Eldaafer. But he does have some quirks all his own.

“As a baby he was OK, but as he grew into a yearling,” Nichols said, he went over to the “ornery side.”

In this respect, Shagaf was once again different from Mohaymen. 

These contrasting tendencies surfaced during the colts’ early training days. In the fall of their yearling year, they were sent to Shadwell’s trainer Kevin Kahkola in Camden, South Carolina. Here they began their lessons in how to be a racehorse, from the breaking process – getting acquainted with the saddle and accepting a rider – to standing in the starting gate, galloping, and recording their first timed work, or breeze, as 2-year-olds.

(In the combined picture, the gray Mohaymen is on top and the bay Shagaf is below.) 

Mohaymen and Shagaf

“When Mohaymen came in, he had the $2.2 million price tag” and the “high expectations” that went along with it, Kahkola recalled. As if to live up to that billing, Mohaymen “did everything effortlessly” and was “mentally ahead of Shagaf.”

Shagaf was “the opposite” – a “very quirky” colt who “got loose seven or eight times.”

One minute, Shagaf would just be walking down the horse path, on good terms with the world, until he noticed something that spooked him. Then, all of a sudden, he would lurch away, unseat his rider, and be gone in a flash.

“He would overreact sometimes,” as Kahkola put it. “He would just bolt at a full gallop and the hotwalker couldn’t hold onto him.”

The silver lining, however, was that Shagaf was showing real ability in his training.

“He was very businesslike on the racetrack,” Kahkola said, describing him as a “big, strong” colt who would train “like an older horse.”

Indeed, Kahkola ranked Shagaf as “the pick of the litter down here,” although he was “mentally a step behind Mohaymen.”

Shagaf and Mohaymen did have something in common: both needed a little extra time before being cleared to begin breezing.

Kahkola explained that the 2-year-olds usually begin recording timed works in March and April. To make sure they’re ready for that next step, their knees are X-rayed. If the bones are already closed, they’re given an “A” grade, and are good to go breezing. But if their bones are still open, and haven’t fused yet, they’re given a lesser grade according to the varying degrees of openness.

Of all the juveniles in Kahkola’s barn, only two were graded a “C-minus” – Mohaymen and Shagaf.

Both were fine to keep galloping while their bones matured, and their progress was carefully monitored by follow-up X-rays. By June, they received their all-clear to breeze. And they did so together.

“They were breeze partners,” Kahkola said. “They worked really good together.”

After breezing in Camden, the 2-year-olds graduate to join their racetrack trainers. This allocation is made with input from another member of Team Shadwell, assistant racing manager Joe DeSantis, who observes the youngsters breeze. Taking into account their pedigrees, physique, and training, he’ll consider how to allot them among Kiaran McLaughlin, Chad Brown, or Danny Peitz. The final decisions, of course, rest with Sheikh Hamdan.

Nichols recalled that Sheikh Hamdan’s usual policy is for the dam’s trainer to train her progeny as well. But in this case, McLaughlin trained the dams of both Shagaf and Mohaymen. Instead of giving McLaughlin both well-regarded colts, however, Sheikh Hamdan wanted to give Brown one. With Mohaymen always earmarked for McLaughlin, Shagaf went to Brown.

“He’s still strong of mind,” Nichols said of Shagaf. “He had to do things his way. He’s been that way through his training. He’s given Chad a lot of sleepless nights.”

Nichols credits Brown and his team for helping Shagaf get “better about various things at the moment.

“Just hope that his quirks don’t get in the way of that talent.”

Photo credits:

Shagaf as a yearling, courtesy of Matt Wooley/

Shagaf and Mohaymen in training, courtesy of Kevin Kahkola