Harty sets up shop for the Sheikh

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The Independent Online

If there is one race Sheikh Mohammed would like to win, it is the Kentucky Derby. The Run for the Roses has held a fascination for the world's leading owner from the time the Maktoum cavalcade first arrived in Louisville and discovered there was nowhere to stay. They eventually found a billet in a motel and, the Sheikh remembers with some amusement, the Emirates royal family had to make their own coffee.

These days the accommodation is a little better planned, as is Godolphin's intention to capture America's most celebrated horse race. Following expensive purchases and an abortive attempt on the Derby last year, Sheikh Mohammed has determined to get serious.

Next month, aircraft will leave here bearing 32 two-year-olds bound for a permanent base at California's Santa Anita racetrack. They will be placed under the care of Dublin-born Eoin Harty, the 37-year-old son of Eddie, the successful partner of Highland Wedding in the 1969 Grand National. The jumping that Harty jnr will undertake is through hoops as he attempts to foster a champion for the following season. It is a strategy Godolphin followed last season in Europe with David Loder at Evry racecourse in France.

If Harty was born for prominence then he has also been conditioned for it in seven years as assistant to America's leading trainer, Bob Baffert. "Bob's an easy-going guy who takes winning, but not life, seriously," Harty says. "He realises he's training racehorses and not curing Aids or cancer."

Harty achieved his posting last November in the most surreal of circumstances. "I'd been in Florida for the Breeders' Cup for three weeks and I was bored to death in a place which is just about exclusively a retirement home for the elderly," he said after morning track work here at the Nad Al Sheba circuit yesterday. "I was in Walmart trying to buy a fishing rod when I got a phone call from John Ferguson [one of the Godolphin team] explaining the job.

"As I was walking out to the parking lot to think about it, this little old lady, about 80 with blue hair, fell into a ton of coathangers in front of me and all I could see was her feet. So I picked her out and then confirmed the job with John. It was very bizarre."

Harty is now the supervisor of horses bought largely in the States, bought largely at some cost. They include Breckenridge, a Machiavellian half-brother to Dubai Millennium. "I'm in charge of expensive horses, but they are just horses," he says. "I can't think about what they cost, I've just got to do my best. Maybe time will tell I'm the wrong person and they have to get another person for the job. But the idea is to get a two-year-old good enough to progress and win the Kentucky Derby. It's pretty ambitious."

Harty would like, one day, to train in Europe, but, for the moment, he is concentrating on the American specialism. "Training horses in America and Europe is vastly different," he says. "In Europe, the racing is geared towards endurance. The horses break and everybody automatically takes a pull and settles and then the running comes at the end.

"In America the emphasis is on speed, get out of the gate and get a good position. The last quarter of a race is always run in a slower time than the first. There is no real easy stage of the race and it's survival of the fittest. Speed is the killer and you have to train for that."

There was, however, little speed on offer at Nad Al Sheba yesterday morning during the build-up to Saturday's Dubai World Cup meeting. The hard work has been done in advance of the $6m (£3.75m) feature race, the centrepiece of a seven-race card worth $12m which will be screened in its entirety by the BBC.

Britain's twin World Cup representation of Running Stag and the David Elsworth-trained Lear Spear performed leisurely in tandem over 1400m and Philip Mitchell, the trainer of the former, was glad to secure an early window for his horse. "You have got to get them out before 9.30," he said, "otherwise you might as well work in a microwave."