Imported stayer The Taj Mahal has given owner Lloyd Williams his latest winner in a race close to his heart and provided Robert Hickmott his final winner as trainer for the operation.
The Taj Mahal ($5) strode to the front 1000m from home in Saturday’s Group Two Zipping Classic (2400m) at Sandown and was never headed from there.
He defeated stablemate Almandin, the 2016 Melbourne Cup winner, by 3-1/2 lengths with 1-1/4 lengths to Big Duke third.
The Zipping Classic is named for Williams’ former star galloper Zipping who won the race four times between 2007 and 2010 when it was known as the Sandown Classic.
Zipping was on track on Saturday to parade before the race.
The Taj Mahal was trained by Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien for his first two starts this spring in Melbourne, including his fourth in last Saturday’s Emirates Stakes, before heading to Macedon Lodge.
Saturday’s meeting was Hickmott’s final meeting as trainer for Williams at Macedon Lodge.
Lloyd Williams’ son Nick, who is also a part-owner of The Taj Mahal, said Hickmott had done a fantastic job for the operation.
“Liam Howley, who is here today, is taking over from Rob,” Nick Williams said.
“Rob has done a fantastic job for us.”
He added Hickmott had worked with the team for 15 or 16 years, the past eight as trainer which started at the corresponding meeting in 2009 when Zipping won his third Classic.
“We’re parting on very, very good terms,” Williams said.
“Rob’s a great man but he wants to have a go at it himself out on his own and he’s going with our absolute blessing.”
Williams said a reason for running The Taj Mahal on Saturday was that it was a chance to get to know the horse better.
“He’s a nice horse,” Williams said.
“It’s a great credit to the team. They’ve only taken him over in the last seven days so they’ve done a good job to get their head around him, and Almandin ran well as well.
“It’s a race that’s very dear to our heart.”
Jockey Ben Melham said The Taj Mahal can sustain a good gallop from a long way out so he made it a staying test.
“The plan today was to make them chase from the 1000 metres and I increased the tempo from there,” Melham said.
“He was solid to the line and through the line.”