Shamardal on trial for Kentucky Derby

One of Sheikh Mohammed's enduring unfulfilled ambitions, that of winning the Kentucky Derby, may come a powerful stride closer on Saturday when the infinitely exciting Shamardal, last year's champion European juvenile, goes on trial for Churchill Downs in the UAE version of the Classic at Nad Al Sheba.

One of Sheikh Mohammed's enduring unfulfilled ambitions, that of winning the Kentucky Derby, may come a powerful stride closer on Saturday when the infinitely exciting Shamardal, last year's champion European juvenile, goes on trial for Churchill Downs in the UAE version of the Classic at Nad Al Sheba.

The nine furlong contest will be the first start on a dirt surface for the unbeaten Giant's Causeway colt, whose last run, before being transferred from Mark Johnston's care to the Godolphin squad, brought victory in the Dewhurst Stakes.

Should Shamardal adapt to the underfoot conditions he will be the sixth Godolphin challenger to run for the Roses. None has yet bloomed; the first was Worldly Manner, seventh in 1999, followed by China Visit and Curule (sixth and seventh in 2000), Express Tour (eighth in 2001) and Essence Of Dubai (ninth in 2002). But Mohammed has a maxim for every occasion and is standing by the one that advises: "In defeat, be adamant."

There is another that avers: "If the vision is clear, then objectives can be achieved easily." If the famous twin towers have been obscured to date, perhaps the road towards them is clearing. "We have learnt from the horses we have taken to Kentucky before," said the Godolphin racing manager, Simon Crisford, yesterday, after 39 of the blues' best hopes for the year showed their paces and wellbeing at their Dubai winter quarters, Al Quoz stables.

"You've got to have the right horse and I think we can admit we haven't had that before. You need a horse with plenty of pace who stays the trip thoroughly. If you get that right then I believe winning the race is achievable."

In the Kentucky Derby's 130-year history, no horse from outside the Americas has won and none has come closer than the first from this side of the Atlantic to try, the Clive Brittain-trained 1986 runner-up Bold Arrangement. For Shamardal, whose sire was narrowly beaten on his first try on dirt, in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and whose dam is a sister to Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry, it is a case of so far, so good on the sand.

"Racing on it will be a whole different ball game," added Crisford, "but he has trained very well on the surface. He is an impressive horse in his faster paces but he has been a bit behind schedule so far and he is sure to come on for this run."

Shamardal is currently second favourite for the 2,000 Guineas on 30 April, run this year a week before the US showpiece. "We will be in a much stronger position after Saturday to decide whether he goes to Kentucky or to Newmarket. But he has a pedigree which suggests he will handle the surface and the stamina to go a mile and a quarter without any problem. He is a horse who has quality and class and we hope the Kentucky Derby will be a live option."

The Dubai Millennium colt Dubawi, also three from three at two, is market leader for both the Guineas and Derby, and will be joined on the Rowley Mile and at Epsom by his paternal half-brother Belenus. The mile Classic will be the first start of the year for both, after next month's Godolphin private trials. The team's 1,000 Guineas prospects are Satin Kiss, already winner twice in Dubai, and Suez.

Dubawi, who took the National Stakes in September on his most recent run, breezed seven furlongs in the sunshine yesterday with Frankie Dettori in the saddle. "I couldn't be more pleased with him," said the Italian. "No serious questions yet, but everything feels good."

An extraordinary 300 horses are due under Saeed Bin Suroor's care at the Godolphin Newmarket base this year. Of the élite older performers, Doyen has the option of starting in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and Papineau in the Yorkshire Cup but St Leger hero Rule Of Law is injured and will not be seen until later in the season. Cherry Mix runs in the Dubai Sheema Classic on Saturday but Grand Hombre, Godolphin's only Dubai World Cup contender, is only 50-50 to make the line-up after bruising a foot.

* Earth Summit, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained 1998 Grand National winner who also, uniquely, won the Welsh and Scottish Nationals, has been put down at the age of 17 after being diagnosed with liver cancer.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Quatrain

(Ludlow 4.30)

NB: Fontanesi

(Wincanton 4.20)

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