Racing: Naheef leads Godolphin's annual curtain-raiser

It has become something of a rite of spring, like the harbinger cuckoo and play-off agony. The first Godolphins of the season were sighted on the Newmarket gallops yesterday morning, emerging from their summer quarters at Moulton Paddocks with riders resplendent in royal blue waterproof blousons and horses sporting pristine white legwraps. By any standards, they cut a sartorial dash. But it is that on the track which the racing world awaits.

It has become something of a rite of spring, like the harbinger cuckoo and play-off agony. The first Godolphins of the season were sighted on the Newmarket gallops yesterday morning, emerging from their summer quarters at Moulton Paddocks with riders resplendent in royal blue waterproof blousons and horses sporting pristine white legwraps. By any standards, they cut a sartorial dash. But it is that on the track which the racing world awaits.

The blustery grey dawn may have been something of a climatic culture shock to the migrants, who flew in on Monday from their regular winter in the Dubai sunshine. The ultraviolet-induced inner glow on the equine coats was largely hidden under striped woollen layers as the two 2,000 Guineas candidates, Naheef and Meshaheer, led the blue train at a sedate pace up the steep all-weather strip on Warren Hill.

The exercise was no more than a leg-stretch before the serious business starts on the Rowley Mile tomorrow, the first day of the Guineas meeting. "No bullet works needed at this stage," said Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford, "they're fit and ready to rock and roll." Derby entry Moon Ballad will be the first on the dance floor in the Newmarket Stakes, followed by Marienbard and Kutub in the Jockey Club Stakes and the filly Spring Oak in the Dahlia Stakes. But although the team will be multiply represented in the colts' Classic on Saturday, its sole 1,000 Guineas entry Kazzia will miss Sunday's feature in favour of the French equivalent a week later.

One of the Godolphin signatures is expertise with older horses but in the days when Al Quoz and Nad Al Sheba were not even on the drawing board John Dunlop was giving masterclasses in that particular branch of the trainer's art.

Yesterday at Ascot his five-year-old charge Give Notice did just that as far as the stayers' division is concerned with a smooth three-and-a-half length defeat of ever-gallant Persian Punch in the Sagaro Stakes.

David Elsworth, trainer of the runner-up, did say beforehand that the nine-year-old's enthusiasm was likely to be in excess of his fitness on his seasonal debut. But even allowing for that accurate prognostication, the old warrior may be hard pressed to deal with thrusting juniors in future, particularly when their jockeys steer as canny a course as did Frankie Dettori on Give Notice yesterday. The Italian gave Persian Punch no chance to engage his renowned battling qualities by challenging wide and late.

Give Notice, third in the Cesarewitch last year, easily coped with the step up to Group 3 company and will be back at the Berkshire venue for the marathon crown at the Royal meeting in June. "He is a tough, improving horse who has done very well physically since last year," said Dunlop. "There aren't that many races for his type so I suppose we will look at the Gold Cup."

Persian Punch is arguably the best-loved horse in training and certainly the popularity of stayers with public and professionals has been undergoing a revival in recent years. The 44 entries for the Gold Cup announced yesterday compare most favourably with last year's 36 but the Ascot authorities are equally delighted with events at the other end of the distance spectrum. Four US-trained horses, included dual Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Caller One, have been put in the six-furlong Golden Jubilee Stakes, the former Cork and Orrery Stakes that has been upgraded to Group 1 and will be run on the one-off celebratory fifth day of the Royal extravaganza.

Yesterday, Dandy Nicholls' scattergun approach to valuable handicaps paid dividends in the Victoria Cup when one of his quintet, Scotty's Future, powered home under Ian Mongan to turn what should have been a competitive charge into a rout.

And in Rome, first Classic blood of the season went to the Newmarket trainer William Haggas and jockey Darryll Holland when Dupont took the Italian 2,000 Guineas by a nose.

Michael Roberts, 47, champion jockey here in 1992 after 11 titles in his native South Africa, has retired on medical advice, having not ridden since damaging his neck in a fall at Wolverhampton in September. His finest moments came on his two "King George" winners Mtoto and Opera House, on Intrepidity in the Oaks and Mystiko in the 2,000 Guineas.

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