This is the time of year when any trainer with a decent juvenile owned by the Maktoum family tries not to answer the phone.
This is the time of year when any trainer with a decent juvenile owned by the Maktoum family tries not to answer the phone. But the bell tolled yesterday for Mark Johnston with the news that the unbeaten two-year-old Shamardal, who galloped to 2,000 Guineas favouritism with his thrilling Dewhurst Stakes victory nine days ago, has been transferred to Godolphin as part of the blue team's annual end-of-season trawl of talent.
The man with the job of sending out the requisition orders is the Dubai-based outfit's racing manager, Simon Crisford, aka the Grim Reaper in these circumstances. Other two-year-old names on the dread slip are those of Windsor Knot from John Gosden, Layman from André Fabre and Suez from Michael Jarvis, but Shamardal is by far the highest-profile recruit. "We are very pleased to take charge of such talent," said Crisford. "Mark Johnston has done a wonderful job and we are hoping to continue his excellent work."
Shamardal's removal from Middleham to Al Quoz for the winter was never going to be a huge surprise; he won the Dewhurst in the colours of Maktoum Al Maktoum's Gainsborough Stud, and Sheikh Mohammed was in the thick of the admiring victory party. The Giant's Causeway colt, a bargain 50,000gns yearling, will be joined on the plane to the sun by another under the Gainsborough banner, the high-class three-year-old Lucky Story.
Johnston put a brave, resigned face on the situation yesterday, bowing graciously to the inevitable. "We will be sad to say goodbye to the horses," he said, "but we wish Godolphin the very best of luck with them. We always knew there was the chance of the switch to Dubai, but we are grateful to have had the opportunity of training them until now."
The two-year-olds Layman, Windsor Knot and Suez have all been running in the colours of Godolphin's founder Sheikh Mohammed. Layman has won two from four and most recently finished a close third to subsequent Dewhurst runner-up Oratorio in the Grand Criterium at Longchamp. Windsor Knot has won two of his three starts, including the Solario Stakes, and the filly Suez was inched out in the Cheveley Park Stakes after winning her first two starts.
The Godolphin stable now has the winter favourite for both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby, the latter the home-bred Dubawi. But Sheikh Mohammed is unlikely to be able to get his hands on the latest colt to challenge them in the ante-post lists, Saturday's easy Racing Post Trophy winner Motivator. The son of Montjeu has 230 owners, members of the Royal Ascot Racing Club and their hero was reported in fine fettle yesterday by trainer Michel Bell. "He ate up fine when he got home," he said, "and seemed very pleased with himself when he was out for a pick of grass this morning."
The Flat pattern season is over in Britain, but continues in France, where Westerner confirmed his status as the best stayer in Europe with a second successive success in the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp. The five-year-old took back-to-back Prix du Cadrans three weeks previously.
With the young princes of the Flat game now heading for their winter pampering, the jumpers are now raising their rugged heads for closer inspection. And yesterday at Aintree it was Farmer Jack who quickened the pulses with a superb front-running exhibition in the first Graded contest of the domestic season, the Wigan Chase, which is also the first contest in the BHB's newly-instigated Order Of merit seasonal points series. The Philip Hobbs-trained eight-year-old was one of the best novices two seasons ago, but had a dull time of it last term. His jumping yesterday, though, was breathtaking, blowing highly-regarded Take The Stand away over the last few obstacles. "We're convinced he's back to his best now," said rider Paul Flynn. "He's done it all himself today, but with a horse like him you're wasting your time holding him up, because you'd be wasting his jumping."
The best jumper, though, seen in Britain this autumn so far will be at Newmarket today, when French champion Kotkijet, a purported challenger to Best Mate's Cheltenham crown, comes under the hammer at the Tattersalls horses-in-training auction to dissolve the partnership which owns him.
¿ The Rising Moon looked a horse of enormous potential when cruising home under Tony McCoy in the two-mile maiden hurdle at Aintree yesterday. The 10-length victory earned Jonjo O'Neill's charge a quote of 14-1 for the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. The powerfully-built gelding won an Irish point-to-point last year before taking a bumper at Newbury in December.Reuse content