Racing: Sheikh Mohammed's Derby dreams depend upon Dubawi

At the dawn of the Turf's Flat season Richard Edmondson pinpoints the names likely to make the biggest impact in the major events ahead

As the crowd squeezed away in the aftermath of Cheltenham's County Hurdle and the garbage blowers replaced the roar of the crowd, it was easy to believe an entire season was being blasted away.

As the crowd squeezed away in the aftermath of Cheltenham's County Hurdle and the garbage blowers replaced the roar of the crowd, it was easy to believe an entire season was being blasted away.

The Grand National still beckons after the end of a Cheltenham Festival, but the feeling is always one of expiry, as if the National Hunt campaign has come to an end. You can almost feel the seat of government changing, from the Somerset heartland which dominates the winter sport, back to the rolling plains of Newmarket, where Charles I ran his Flat horses back in the 17th century.

It is a change of pace and, in the modern era, a change of attitude. Jumps racing is largely sport, while Flat racing is largely business. That fact largely defines which is the more uplifting of the two.

Nevertheless, the great Classic battles lie ahead and also the prospect that we may find a new Nijinsky to go with the new Arkle which emerged, perhaps, in the Cotswolds. Flat racing has, yet again, not fallen into the trap of starting its season with pyrotechnics. An uninspiring card at Doncaster usually provides an all-grey starting grid for the campaign, but this year we have an uninspiring card at Kempton tomorrow, led off by the Masaka Stakes.

It is perhaps a sign of the times that there will be only four more Flat turf meetings at Sunbury. After the Jubilee Handicap meeting on 2 May it is all over for the course's Flat, turf track. Fashion has to be met and the understanding is that the venue's new floodlit, all-weather course may become London's night out.

Also under the lights, but increasingly out of the spotlight these days, comes tomorrow's 10th running of the Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba. The money, as one would expect with a Sheikh Mohammed enterprise, continues to flow, even as his race, and the card which surrounds it, become less significant. Only C-list Americans turn up now, and the moment of Cigar, the first winner of the riches, seems a long time ago.

On what is usually a starry night in the desert, the World Cup may not even be the pivotal contest. That honour could go to the UAE Derby, in which the acquisitive Sheikh debuts Shamardal on dirt after his purchase from Mark Johnston's yard.

Shamardal is unbeaten in three starts and has been adeptly handling the surface at the Al Quoz training facility. This, though, is D-(for dirt) day and the opportunity to see if the son of Giant's Causeway has the capacity to at last satisfy the Sheikh's deepest craving.

The Kentucky Derby remains his white whale, and while Sheikh Mohammed's boat has been in other waters for the last two seasons, he now expects to be back at Churchill Downs on 7 May with the highest quality animal Godolphin has ever fielded for the Run For The Roses.

The Godolphin sledgehammer should retain the owners' championship in Britain and the trainers' version for Saeed Bin Suroor. The boys in blue will soon flood 300 of the best-bred horses around into Newmarket, which means that Frankie Dettori's odds-on quote to retain his title is well merited. A more specific desire for the Italian will be a first Derby.

A vehicle for that could be Dubawi, a son of Dubai Millennium, another Sheikh Mohammed fixation. Such was the Crown Prince's obsession with the sire that Dubai Millennium might be a consul now had he not died after a first breeding season.

Dubawi may also be a near mystical figure with the Sheikh as the first of Dubai Millennium's progeny to hit the track and the first to hit it successfully. He will go for a Godolphin private trial and then the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on 30 April.

There will be another first by then, Powerscourt's run in the Emirates undercard, a first Dubai runner for Aidan O'Brien, potentially his first Group One winner in harness with Kieren Fallon. The partnership and the Irish Flat season are already successfully under way. Kitty O'Shea was a winner for them at the Curragh on Sunday.

It was an unusually poor campaign for Ballydoyle last year. The horses were not as good as expected and the experiment of Jamie Spencer as stable jockey ended in explosion.

It will be interesting to learn how O'Brien and Fallon gel. Behind the serene carapace of the trainer is a man who wants his jockeys to be as painstaking as he is. There have been disagreements with Spencer and his predecessor, Mick Kinane.

Kinane is one of many linked with the vacancy provided by Fallon's relocation, as regular rider for Sir Michael Stoute. The old sphinx of the Bury Road is not giving away much, and while Johnny Murtagh, Ryan Moore and Robert Winston will also come in for rides, it may be that the master of Freemason Lodge will go through the year without an official stable jockey.

Winston rides Stoute's first big runner this season, next Saturday's Lincoln favourite, Stream Of Gold. Winston is a graduate of the Jack and Lynda Ramsden academy. For that, and his riding style, he has similarities to Fallon. He too, he admits, "has been off the rails". Stoute seems to like them with a whiff of danger.

Winston and Fallon will also have to ride nearly the entire season under a shadow. They are among six jockeys bailed until October in the police investigation of race-fixing. By then it will be time for the Cesarewitch, which usually throws up a few prospective jumping candidates. By then we will be back to the future and the tapes will be up on discussion about the next Cheltenham Festival.

¿ Racing takes its Good Friday break but returns tomorrow.


GRAND CENTRAL Unbeaten son of Sadler's Wells and chief hope of Aidan O'Brien for the 2,000 Guineas and Derby.

DISCUSS Well backed for 1,000 Guineas since gallops work restarted. Her trainer, Michael Stoute, has a dazzling record in the Classic.

ANDREW BALDING Already trained a Classic winner in Casual Look in the Oaks. Now has the numbers in his care to take on biggest yards.

MARK WALLACE Former assistant to Mick Channon has the ambition and ability to make big impact from Newmarket stable.

ROBERT WINSTON In the frame for Stoute job but did well enough anyway last year, finishing with 114 wins and seventh place in jockeys' list.

JEAN-PIERRE GUILLAMBERT One of the best apprentices, who has already been in fine form on all-weather tracks this spring for the Nick Littmoden stable.

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