Racing: Crisford awake to his good fortune in dream job

Richard Edmondson talks to the man with the perfect position, racing manager to Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin team; `Nowadays there's no time for parties, no time for the sort of lifestyle that some people might expect'
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The Independent Online
AS he informed his jockey, Frankie Dettori, and the British press of Cape Verdi's participation in the Derby last Wednesday afternoon Simon Crisford conducted affairs from a presidential desk in an enormous office. It was the sort of space people in London are liable to call a flat.

This setting is quite appropriate, most would say, for the racing manager of the blue chip Godolphin operation. When you see Simon Crisford at the races, in his shades and blazer, the thought always occurs that there must be a yacht around. You imagine him travelling the globe first class at Sheikh Mohammed's expense, entering cars with pennants on the bonnet and pausing just long enough to collect an immense salary.

It appears a tremendous job, even if this description is not one which Crisford himself recognises. He doesn't quite see his posting as a sinecure. "That's complete nonsense," he says. "The job requires a lot of hard work and complete dedication, and there's nothing romantic about the whole thing. There's nothing fancy about it and if people think otherwise, it's a complete misrepresentation.

"I think people had that image of people who worked for the Sheikhs 10 or 15 years ago. But nowadays there's no time for parties, there's no time for the sort of lifestyle that some people might expect. That does not exist." It sounds a bit like being a poor old journalist.

And the racing manager knows what that is like. He's been in the media swamp with the rest of us.

Crisford is 36 years old and comes from Solihull, though his accent was born somewhere else. From the age of nine he was bonkers about racing and by 12 he was climbing into the Goodwood eyrie to get tips on commentating from Peter O'Sullevan.

He's done that got bored in the City thing and subsequently worked for John Dunlop and Sir Mark Prescott. After that he was Newmarket correspondent for the Racing Post, which gives him an insight into the dribbling beasts who approach him after another dribbling beast has won for Godolphin.

There is little doubt that Crisford is the Arab's racing manager most liked by his former colleagues, but then he hasn't got much to beat. Anthony Stroud (Sheikh Mohammed), Angus Gold (Sheikh Hamdan) and Grant Pritchard- Gordon (Khalid Abdullah) are the other notable ministers of non-information and the last named has found keeping his lips zipped so tiresome that he is to retire at the end of the year.

If you say good morning to some of these guys you sometimes need a bunch of heavies and a live flex to illicit a reaction. Crisford has had his "no comment but don't quote me on that" moments himself, but has matured into the most eloquent figure in his trade. He knows the little tricks that make journalists appreciate him. He returns telephone calls and, occasionally, throws an unsolicited fatty bone of information to the pack.

Crisford says he's very lucky and that in every throw in life "the dice has turned up six for me". That may be so, but on many occasions he has also loaded them in his favour. He is hardworking, effective and shrewd.

Stroud surely noted this when he first inducted Crisford into the Maktoum operation as his No 2. What he probably did not anticipate was that Sheikh Mohammed would soon make the substitute his superior.

Five years ago, the Sheikh thought it would be a splendid idea to winter some choice two-year-olds in Dubai and then return them for an assault on the finest races in Europe. He knew he had a man to oversee the job. "When Godolphin was born it all happened very quickly," Crisford says. "One day Sheikh Mohammed told me to come to Dubai and I went with a suitcase for the weekend. Three weeks later I was phoning my wife, telling her to take the children out of school and join me out there."

Karen Crisford first met her husband during Goodwood week in an HMV music shop in Brighton. He went in looking for a single and came out with a couple, and the family, which spreads to a son and daughter, now spends six months in both England and Dubai each year.

Godolphin has prospered from the outset, the choice troops collecting 25 Group One races, including eight European Classics, six of them domestic ones. Simon Crisford has looked relaxed and sunny and ready for cocktails back on the poop deck after each of them, but inside other thoughts have been burning away. "When you get those lucky breaks like I have you've got to take them," he says. "And it's all very well and good taking them, but then you've got to keep your position because there are plenty of other people out there just as good as me snapping at my heels. It's very easy to fall down that slippery pole, and a lot of people who do that never get up again."

If you had a dirham for every time Crisford mentions the team thing, then you could give Sheikh Mohammed a run for his money. He likes to credit the other main men who run Godolphin, Tom Albertrani, the American assistant trainer, and Saeed Bin Suroor, the nominated trainer. Bin Suroor is probably the most successful trainer of modern times, even though many believe his role is not much more than carrying a tray bearing the soda siphon. "They're very wrong to think that," Crisford says, "very wrong, very inaccurate and very unfair."

Sheikh Mohammed's influence, however, is not in any doubt. The owner and Frankie Dettori become knotted together in such rapture after a momentous victory that the temptation is to throw a bucket of water over them. It seems, though, that the relationship with his trusted lieutenant is not quite the same. "It's employer and employee, it's as simple as that," Crisford says. "With the type of investment and backing he has put into Godolphin the results have to be there. As a team we knuckle down and work very hard and nothing less than complete dedication is acceptable.

"We're hard on ourselves because coming second is no good. There is nothing good about coming second in anything in life. And racing is ruthlessly competitive.

"We do discuss things and argue with the Sheikhs and we thrash things out. Of course Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Maktoum have the final say, but they are keen to listen to our opinions and they want a good, lively discussion."

Next Saturday afternoon it might be time for a uncommon, good, lively party. If Cape Verdi does win the Derby, you will see Simon Crisford passing on his thoughts to the press smilingly while looking vaguely nautical. He might then do something seemingly out of character. "I'd love to have some jellied eels," he says. "You can't get them in Dubai."

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