Dubai team bolt in from the blue

Richard Edmondson highlights the key moments from the 1996 Flat season
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The Independent Online
The turf season of 1996 was pulled into its terminus yesterday when Tonka was successful in Folkestone's finale under blackening skies. Another colour, blue, has dominated the main body of the campaign, however.

It probably displeases the old boy network purists that the electric colours of Godolphin Racing have been in evidence at racing's great moments this year. The damn interlopers have come from a warm winter nestling in the Arabian gulf to knock our boys into touch. The quintessential gentleman trainer, Henry Cecil, was usurped at the last in the championship by some cad who used to be a policeman in dusty Dubai.

Saeed Bin Suroor, and the plump entourage that forms a gaggle wherever he goes, were, of course, blessed with animals of no little talent at the season's outset. The statistics show, however, that these horses were not just vehicles benefiting from a sunny start to their year, they ran consistently throughout the whole season. Godolphin have won pounds 3m in prize money this year, eight Group Ones, including prizes in Hong Kong and Japan, and their domestic record shows a pounds 70 profit to a pounds 1 level stake. They are quite pleased by this.

"We've had a 30 per cent strike-rate and 50 per cent of runners finishing either first or second and that pays testimony to the team," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, said. "We've had a great season this year and Saeed has been well supported in his job, particularly by Tom Albertrani [the former assistant to Cigar's trainer, Bill Mott], who has been an invaluable asset to the team. Let's hope Father Christmas brings us some good horses for next year."

The vital passage for Team Godolphin came when Medaaly won the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. Few of the boys in blue were there to witness the occasion though. The chief players, including the man on the highest cushion, Sheikh Mohammed, listened to the race by way of telephone commentary in the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Toronto while attending the Breeders' Cup series.

The North Americans, for once, allowed Britain to take something home from their annual jamboree, and for those who like to think of life as one great big Mills & Boon story, it was pleasantly reassuring that the rider of our winner, Pilsudski, should be Walter Robert John Swinburn. Just nine months earlier Swinburn had been covered not in glory, but ventilation pipes and operating lights following a racing accident in Hong Kong that came unpleasantly close to taking his life.

For Willie Carson, too, the memories of the year will include bruising episodes. A crevice appeared in the Scot's liver when he was kicked by Meshhed in the Newbury paddock, but Willie is not about to let anything as trivial as a near-death experience force him out of the saddle. He will be back, pumping, when the stalls open at Doncaster next spring.

The jockey sitting on the tallest pile of winning figures at the end of the season is Pat Eddery, whose achievement in collecting an 11th championship to equal Lester Piggott's record would normally have had the sirens blaring throughout the sport. This draining and enduring feat was surpassed in most people's minds by the happenings of a single autumn day in Berkshire, however.

On 28 September Frankie Dettori started riding winners at Ascot and never stopped, collecting seven straight victories and a permanent place in racing's history. In a game suffering from serious financial malnutrition, the Italian continues to prove he is the sole figure with the capacity to attract new faces, and new money, to the sport.

Good horses also attract interest to the turf, and winter will not seem as long with the knowledge that the brilliant Bosra Sham, winner of the 1,000 Guineas and Champion Stakes, will attempt to show how good she is without the impediment of hoof problems in 1997. What is desperately needed, though, is for a colt of some consequence to emerge as the Derby winner.

Lammtarra apart, it is a long time since the Blue Riband victor went on to achieve anything of great note. Shaamit, this year's champion at Epsom, recently became the first Derby winner to be boxed to the National Stud since Mill Reef. Unlike his predecessors, many of whom are ensconced in the land of sushi and bullet trains, Shaamit will now be available to British breeders. The sobering truth, however, is that the Japanese, having examined his form, did not really want him.

Shaamit's owner, Khalifa Dasmal, has done rather well for a man whose previous distinctions were to own the biggest car washes in Dubai. But then he is a friend of Sheikh Mohammed, and the year of 1996 taught us that when it comes to influence and power there is no better man with which to be involved.

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