Racing: Cautious route to Kentucky may suit Discreet Cat
Monday 27 March 2006
Though the richest race meeting of all time was a dazzling culmination of many dreams, it was only a beginning. David Junior, who won more than any British horse in history, was Brian Meehan's very first runner from Manton. Heart's Cry, the Japanese horse who beat Ouija Board, will run over the new course at Ascot this summer. And not even Electrocutionist, who won his stable a fifth Dubai World Cup, could open up more bewitching horizons for Godolphin than the magnificent performance of Discreet Cat.
Both were among the horses recruited by Godolphin to plug holes that began to appear beneath the waterline last summer. Shamardal and Dubawi had been retired, and no obvious successors were emerging from a sluggish juvenile team.
No final judgement can be passed on those horses until the more backward ones come out of the woodwork. But the Godolphin team's own, decisive response in the autumn acknowledged an urgent need for fresh blood. The success of Electrocutionist and Discreet Cat at Nad al Sheba on Saturday delivered an instant £3m dividend, and a priceless sense that the ship is back on an even keel.
In a way, the stable has gone back to basics. Its original pioneers were assembled as an élite corps of proven runners. Perhaps what happened on Saturday will confirm that it is easier to let others sort out the wheat from the chaff on its behalf.
There are those who profess some kind of peculiar moral distress over Godolphin's acquisition of horses from other yards. That attitude is not merely squeamish. It is childish, sentimental and downright ignorant.
Funnily enough, you never hear even a whisper of indignation over the voracious trade in young jumpers. The biggest National Hunt owners compete greedily for French hurdlers and Irish point-to-pointers. And, lest we forget, no horse is ever bought without being sold. The owners of David Junior and Sir Percy resisted enormous offers during the winter. Plainly their interest in the sport is not merely commercial, nor even pragmatic. But there are a lot of smaller operators - owners, breeders and trainers alike - heavily indebted to Godolphin.
The grass roots of the Turf are nourished not by fantasists, but by such professionals, governed by precisely the same commercial imperatives as Coolmore Stud itself. Only the Maktoums can afford immunity, but it is wrong to expect them to suspend absolutely every business principle as a result. Godolphin are perfectly within their rights to exploit their strength in an open marketplace. And their endeavours with the horses they recruit from other yards mean that the public wins too.
No stable has ever been more adventurous. When a top runner joins Godolphin, the objective expectation should not only be that the horse will be handled with dexterity - witness the way mature specimens in Swain, Daylami and Fantastic Light flourished under Saeed bin Suroor - but also that his talents will be deployed with riveting bravado.
Would Electrocutionist ever have been risked on dirt for any other stable? The chances are that he is indeed a turf horse. He was off the bridle almost throughout on Saturday, and only his generosity and class got him home.
Paradoxically, however, it is precisely the same instinct for adventure that casts a delicious dread over the next move for Discreet Cat. Sheikh Mohammed has made his craving for the Kentucky Derby too plain for many to believe that he might, just this once, consider discretion to be the better part of valour.
This race, above all others, could wreck this colt as soon as make him. It presents a savage test of stamina and maturity, and Discreet Cat has not come off the bridle in three starts. His physique remains adolescent. As a May foal, walking behind the beefy Chilean runner in the parade ring, he looked positively delicate. With that rival failing to run his race, moreover, the strict form is only a foundation.
Discreet Cat has as much charisma as any horse in the stable since Dubai Millennium, but if he does stay 10 furlongs at the top level then it would be kindest to postpone his first trip to Churchill Downs to November, for the Breeders' Cup Classic. On the way he could pick off exhausted Triple Crown horses in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, and he could even start off in its second leg, the Preakness Stakes - over a shorter trip, just a fortnight after the Derby principals have slugged it out in Louisville.
But it is hard to see his owner favouring prudence and caution over adventure and ambition. As a true horseman, he will abide with the stable's dictum to see how Discreet Cat has taken his race before making any decisions. As a sportsman, however, he has probably made up his mind already.
Nap: Wise Owl (Kempton 4.40)
NB: Indian Edge
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