reports from Epsom
If there is a queue in the High Street this morning it will probably be leading to the travel agents and in particular to the rack holding brochures for Dubai. For the second year running, the salubrious properties of the Emirates were advertised when Moonshell yesterday followed Balanchine as a filly to winter in the Middle East before winning the Oaks.
Moonshell continued the fruitful fortunes of the hothouse horses, which run under Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin banner, on only the third start of her life. Success here provided well-timed succour for those who believe either Vettori or Lammtarra, others who have been through the Dubai programme, will run big races in this afternoon's Derby.
Despite her relative naivety, Moonshell was at no time considered a callow aspirant by the men behind her. "We never thought that lack of experience was going to be a problem because throughout the winter she was an ultra- professional performer," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, said yesterday. "She knew what the job in hand was today.''
''Few people, however, seemed to know that a Classic was being run here yesterday, with an attendance of 8,100 comparing starkly with the packed scenes of bygone days. In the archive sepia prints it appears as if it would be difficult to force a football between the crowd in the infield. Yesterday several pitches could have been accommodated without human disturbance. On the other side of the rails a five-piece band pumped out what was suitably close to a lament.
Those that did turn up were left with the choice of Aqaarid, Moonshell and Pure Grain, isolated at the head of the betting.
For once in racing, the Big Three were on the race track itself and in the early stages Pure Grain and Aqaarid patrolled either flank of the field. Moonshell, meanwhile, was tucked in neatly by Lanfranco Dettori.
By half-way, Aqaarid's prospects were looking dim as Willie Carson tried to wring some response from his filly. There was none. When the Scot returned a well-beaten fifth, he gave a shorthand assessment. "Never going," he said. "Too firm.''
Dettori's debriefing could never be like that. "I gave her a breather coming down the hill and then she quickened up really well," he said. "Once we were in the straight it was time to go. She showed great courage and is an exceptional filly.''
For those left in the jockeys' room without a ride there was a clue to the result as the Italian returned to his quarters. He bellowed like a town crier.
There was also a further warning cry for the trainers employed by Sheikh Mohammed. This autumn Dubai's crown prince will again sift through some of his better British-based horses and annex them to his homeland if he sees fit.
"Sheikh Mohammed has supported British racing for the last 15 years and the Maktoum family have basically restored the balance of power to European racing," Crisford added. "Godolphin operates only for the horses' interests and if he believes a horse will have a better chance of winning a Classic if it follows his programme in Dubai, then that is what he will do. The trainers have to accept that.''
Others still refuse to accept that Dubai makes any difference and that the Godolphin animals that have succeeded this spring would have done so even if they had spent the winter under a wet tree in Newmarket. "Some people say you cannot prove that these horses have an edge, that they do have an advantage, and that there is no proof," Crisford said. "We haven't been doing it long enough to have conclusive evidence and I think this project needs at least five years under its belt.''
Those who witnessed Moonshell's victory yesterday and Balanchine's the year before may be already tempted to give the scheme the benefit of the doubt.
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