Racing: Godolphin search for Kentucky contender

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The Independent Online

While the heartbeat of the National Hunt season is still detectable, the pulse is beginning to grow ever weaker in the aftermath of the Cheltenham Festival.

While the heartbeat of the National Hunt season is still detectable, the pulse is beginning to grow ever weaker in the aftermath of the Cheltenham Festival.

By the time of the Grand National on 6 April it will, in effect, be time to pay our last respects, and it is appropriate that on the same day there will be some sort of handing over the baton of attention, at Lingfield.

If, as promised, last year's champion juvenile Johannesburg does run in a £50,000 race over the Polytrack at the Surrey course, it will be the sentimental if not ceremonial start to a new Flat turf season which kicks off somewhat dolefully at Doncaster on Thursday.

The colour this week is provided by the build-up to the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race at the end of the world's most serious week of horse-related razzmatazz. The meeting itself has significance beyond the main race itself these days however, as the accompanying UAE Derby is now the starting point for Godolphin's premier three-year-olds.

The message for this year seems to be that while Coolmore's Johannesburg superficially appears to have intoxicating prospects in the Kentucky Derby, their great Godolphin rivals are struggling to just stump up a runner. And this, we must remember, is the race which Sheikh Mohammed covets above all others.

The filly Tempera, winner of the Juvenile Fillies at last autumn's Breeders' Cup in New York, has already blown out in the Emirates this winter, finishing runner-up in the UAE 1,000 Guineas. The victor in the colts' equivalent now appears to be Godolphin's standard bearer, but the hue of the flag is close to being white. Essence Of Dubai was last, his face full of dirt, as Johannesburg won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in October.

"We don't even know if we have got a Kentucky Derby contender until Saturday," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, admitted yesterday. "If we've got a genuine contender we will see it then.

"Essence Of Dubai would be top of the pecking order. He is a pretty straightforward type of colt who won a Group Two [the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita] in California last year. He beat Firebreak in the UAE Guineas and it was a hard-fought, inconclusive victory, but then he's not the type of horse to win races by a wide margin. He's progressed since. Hopefully stepping him up to a mile and a quarter will work in his favour.

"This is a colt by Pulpit and he's going to stay. If you look at all the Kentucky Derby trials it seems to be all speed, but ultimately staying is going to be the name of the game. Our horses have had a pretty active winter. We've been on the go since the middle of January with a lot of them. A horse like Essence Of Dubai is hardened."

There are six Godolphin entries for the UAE Derby, but they do not include Dubai Destination, who appeared the team's best prospect for future glory while attending David Loder's Newmarket creche last season. The colt damaged a hind leg before a proposed run in the Dewhurst Stakes and is feeling his way back.

"He wouldn't be ready for a race like the Kentucky Derby because he'd be unable to have a race beforehand but, if everything went right for him, he might be a consideration for the 2,000 Guineas," Crisford added. "It's an obvious race, but he would have to be right at the top of his game to go there."

The shifting emphasis of Godolphin means that when they take up residence once again at Newmarket's Moulton Paddocks in the late spring it will be as much for global geographical expedience as willingness to campaign locally. "We have to spread our troops so much about the world that certain areas where we used to be so strong are not so," Crisford said. "That includes England, because so much of the top ammunition is taken further afield.

"There's a nice bunch of older horses and some Classic prospects this year, though there might not be tremendous strength in depth among our three-year-old crop." And no tremendous confidence behind Essence Of Dubai.