Racing: Godolphin begin campaign with Kentucky the target

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The Independent Online

It is the inclination at this freezing time of the year for those in racing to feel sorry for themselves. Yet before we ponder the dearth of domestic turf action and the domestic burst pipes, we must think of others, such as Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager.

It was Crisford's lot yesterday that he had to supervise, in the 80 degrees temperature of Dubai, the splashing of Godolphin horses through a swimming pool at the Al Quoz stables of Sheikh Mohammed. And it's supposed to be a dog's life.

The Godolphin racing machine resumes after the shortest of hibernations tomorrow, when Divine Task becomes their first runner of 2003 in The President Cup at Abu Dhabi. He is a symbolic horse in a symbolic year for Godolphin, their 10th since the supposedly madcap escapade kicked off in 1994 with the exploits of Balanchine.

Hilal Ibrahim was the nominal trainer in those days, but the results started as they meant to go on. Balanchine won the Oaks and the Irish Derby and Godolphin had arrived. Now the Dubaian team stands on the threshold of a remarkable statistic. After five more Group or Grade One successes they will have recorded a century of victories at the highest level.

It is a remarkable record, as it should be considering the colossal fortune Sheikh Mohammed has sunk into the project. Godolphin is a world-class enterprise established at a world-class cost and the Sheikh's belief that the stable spreads a message of his nation's excellence around the globe will be truly tested only after he has gone.

A part of Godolphin's evolution has been a drift from European competition. "Sunday is the start of the roadshow for us, a show that is increasingly international," Crisford says. "As Sheikh Mohammed pointed out in his Gimcrack speech, that means a knock-on effect on our European campaign. Our ammunition is increasingly spread around the globe, which dilutes our European stable.

"We are a Dubai-based company spends summer in Newmarket because the climate here doesn't lend itself to training horses. Champion trainer or champion owner in England was the No1 goal 10 years ago. It isn't any more." Sheikh Mohammed has been there, done that, got the dish-dash.

The No1 goal these days is the Kentucky Derby in May. This has been characterised as the Sheikh's Ahab quest for satisfaction and certainly he has already spent wildly on the trail of the Run For The Roses.

By the end of next week Saeed Bin Suroor, Godolphin's trainer, will have sieved the Churchill Downs pretenders from the chaff at Al Quoz. Last year there were 17 entries at this stage. There will be another block booking and final preparation in the UAE Derby on 29 March, Dubai World Cup night. In the United States, no Derby horse preps over the full distance of 1m 2f, which is the Emirates' Derby trip. When told of the arrangement, Bob Baffert, America's leading trainer, referred to it as "pretty stupid".

However, there will be no strategic change from Godolphin. "We won't do things any differently this year," Crisford says.

The same attitude prevails, more rewardingly, in Godolphin's policy of keeping a battery of older horses in training. Marienbard and Kazzia, the standard bearers last year, have gone, but Grandera is still at his post and new old blood renews the system, including Dubai Destination, Rock Of Gibraltar's conqueror as a juvenile.

There are also thoughts on the first major checkpoint of the season, the Dubai World Cup. "Sulamani and Moon Ballad may come into the picture for that," Crisford says. "Sulamani is in light training and it remains to be seen if he can be a dirt horse, but he's building up nicely. His pedigree leads you towards turf, but, sometimes, very good horses adapt to sand."

Frankie Dettori will again become an active part of Godolphin personnel in February, when he will begin two months of building a rapport with the team's best horses.

A second considerable figure will disappear at the end of the year when David Loder terminates his appointment as ringmaster to Godolphin's juveniles in Europe. The matter of filling his job has yet to be decided.

"The two-year-olds can either filter into the system with the Sheikh's other trainers or he may choose a specific trainer to do the job," Crisford says. "There is no rush."

Otherwise the charge is on, starting with Divine Task tomorrow and five Group One victories as swiftly as possible.