Racing: Sheikh rebuilds Godolphin's foundations

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The Independent Online

If you want to put up the world's tallest building, the first thing you have to do is dig one of its biggest holes. Certainly you could fill the Albert Hall several times over with the mountain of earth that has appeared alongside Al Quoz, the winter home of Godolphin's own ground-breaking operation.

Both projects have their roots in the same spirit of adventure. In the old days, among the nomads, restlessness was a way of life. Now it finds less literal expression in the questing ambition of Sheikh Mohammed.

On Saturday his aspirations for his horses and homeland become entwined. For those charged with the preparation for the richest race meeting ever staged the stakes are even higher than usual. Godolphin's keynote runners are Discreet Cat, who would enter the equation for Churchill Downs if he can win the UAE Derby, and Electrocutionist, hot favourite for the 11th Dubai World Cup. The stable needs these races, because it may struggle to gain alternative momentum from the European Classics this spring.

It would be overstating matters to say that Godolphin have ignored ancient counsel against building a house on sand. But the foundations that sustain their élite runners have struggled to support some clumsier additions to the edifice. At the stable's open morning yesterday, under overcast skies, there was a sense of ongoing repairs.

Though the Godolphin management would be affronted by suggestion that 2005 was a year of stagnation ­ Shamardal and Dubawi contributed to nine Group One wins and $9m in prize-money ­ none could dispute that their enormous juvenile team had been a calamitous failure.

The chances are that the horses were simply inadequate, which is pretty humiliating for those entrusted with selection of yearlings at the sales, or mates for so many priceless mares. But there have also been one or two significant shifts in policy. Of the 250 horses now in Saeed bin Suroor's care, 85 are juveniles ­ about half as many as last season ­ and Simon Crisford, the Godolphin manager, expects numbers to come down again next year. The vast majority of the two-year-olds, moreover, have spent the winter in Newmarket, and not here.

"The idea was to reduce the amount of travelling they would have to do at a young age," Crisford said. "As it turned out, we could not have picked a worse winter to do it, because it has been one of the coldest for a long time in Newmarket, but it should stand them in good stead later in life."

Reflecting on last year's juveniles, he said: "They were very backward, and we're still waiting for something to come through. We couldn't muster a colt to run in the top races.

"It could be difficult again this year. We haven't got Shamardal and Dubawi. What was disappointing was that so many looked all right winning their maidens, but failed to go on. There was only one reason those horses were getting beaten: they just weren't good enough."

To coppice this unproductive juvenile wing is a healthy solution to a problem traced to the closure of the academies under David Loder in Europe and Eoin Harty in the United States. "Quality will be diluted, the more horses you have," Crisford conceded. "But once the two-year-old trainers left, we were always going to start off big. It would be lovely to concentrate on quality, not quantity, but that will take a couple of years."

In the meantime, it has been necessary to draft in quality from elsewhere. Godolphin did not appear to have the best of luck on the juvenile market last season, with only Discreet Cat generating excitement. But they did recruit some spectacular older horses ­ notably Proclamation, who is being aimed at the Lockinge Stakes; Shawanda, lame with a stone bruise yesterday but likely to resume in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh; and Electrocutionist, who completed a successful reconnaissance on dirt at Nad al Sheba last month.

Crisford was dismayed, however, when Electrocutionist was berthed against the rail in stall one. "That's a shocking draw," he said. " He's never had sand kicked in his face but he's going to here, for sure. By no means can he be considered a natural on the surface. I'm sure he'll run a huge race, because he is such a willing horse and has loads of class, but there's no doubt the draw has compromised his chance."

As for Discreet Cat, he was purchased after melting stopwatches at Saratoga last August. "It's too early to be talking about the Kentucky Derby," Crisford cautioned. "He is short on experience and long on hype. If he wins well ­ and that is a big 'if' with that Chilean monster in the race [Simpatico Bribon] ­ then Sheikh Mohammed will make a decision. But he does strike us as a colt that will get better as the year goes on."

If this sleek colt happened to win on Saturday, Sheikh Mohammed will find it hard to resist the Kentucky Derby. But he, of all people, should not need reminding that the taller the building, the deeper the foundations must be.

McGrath wins racing's top tips prize

Chris McGrath, The Independent's Racing Correspondent, became Britain's top tipster yesterday when winning the Racing Post Naps Competition.

McGrath beat tipsters from 50 other news-papers. The Naps Competition is by far the most coveted tipping contest in the country. He lifts the Racing Post Challenge Cup, and first prize of £4,000 from the sponsors, the Racing Post and Coral Bookmakers.

The competition, which ended yesterday covered 20 weeks in the 2005-2006 jumps season. McGrath, former agent to last year's champion Flat jockey Jamie Spencer, gained a profit of £23.97 to a £1 win stake. Only nine of the 51 tipsters finished with a profit.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Ramsgill (Lingfield 5.05)

NB: Didn't We

(Lingfield 2.55)

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