Godolphin adds ennui to victory

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The Independent Online
The word sounds insulting, but it is in fact the highest compliment. But like Martin Pipe and Steve Davis before them, the men from Godolphin will probably not break down at the suggestion that their victories are "boring".

Boring in sport usually means consistently successful and the Dubai-based team certainly falls into that category. Halling's victory in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on Saturday made him the eighth horse wintered in the Emirates to have won a Group One race since Red Bishop, who finished third at Esher, started the roll of honour at Hong Kong in April.

Halling was pencilled in for the Eclipse after victory in the Cambridgeshire last October, which, in terms of realism, seemed the equivalent of retiring your boy after he had become school prefect so that he could run for Prime Minister. It is a mark of the giant strides that Godolphin has made that the colt was reasonably well fancied for his first race in Europe since Newmarket.

Paddock watchers are always struck by the condition of Godolphin horses. The sunshine team appear to be months ahead of their rivals in terms of maturity. This should not surprise too much as they were exercised every day of winter in the Emirates. In the Gulf the main question when the blind slats are opened is how strong the sun is; in Britain, at the same time, as the thick curtains are drawn, bets are taken on the angle of the sleet.

"The climate in Dubai guarantees consistency with the training surface, and you are not suddenly going from firm ground to soft ground for example," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, said yesterday.

"The horses that winter in Europe continue to train as well but they have to encounter adverse weather and that can make it difficult to get any momentum into their conditioning and preparation. And at that time of the year momentum is very important."

Halling's victory took Saeed Bin Suroor, Godolphin's nominated trainer, further ahead at the top of the trainers' championship despite the fact that he has won only six races; the chestnut also led home a full frame for Sheikh Mohammed, Godolphin's top man, as runner-up Singspiel ran in his individual colours. Neither the Sheikh nor anybody else in the project will take full credit for the successes and rely, routinely, on the "team effort" escape clause. This may be the first time a committee has got it right.

Godolphin's riches are such that they appear to have had to invent a top race for their horses to compete in. The inaugural Dubai World Cup, over 10 furlongs on dirt next March, will be worth winning. Its value to the victor will be pounds 1.5m.

Some have voiced the thought that the race is little more than a game of family pass the parcel, a nice little prize for one of the boys to pick up. Crisford disputes this.

"If we put up Halling and Cezanne, I don't think they'd be good enough to win at the moment because the real professional dirt horses are going to be really tough to beat," he said. "The race isn't an Al Quoz [the stable where the Godolphin horses are trained] or a Maktoum benefit. If, as hoped, the top 10-furlong older horses in the world come, and we're looking at horses like Bill Mott's Cigar, it's going to be hot competition."

Before then, though, there are other events heavier on tradition, if not funding, such as the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Godolphin have Lammtarra and Balanchine for that and also biting news for those who believe the string will soon hit a brick wall.

"The horses have had careful programmes which means they're not geared up to be over the top just after they've arrived in England," Crisford said. "There is no reason at all why they should not maintain their form all the way throughout the year."

Early evidence will come at Newmarket's July meeting this week when Heart Lake and So Factual will carry the peacock blue colours into battle in the July Cup. They were yesterday quoted at 12-1 and 9-2 respectively in William Hill's horribly overround ante-post book.

There will also be considerable interest tomorrow in Phantom Creek, the half-sister to Arazi who makes her racecourse debut in the Cherry Hinton Stakes. "I think she'll run very well because she's a professional and she knows the job," Crisford said. "She's been going nicely, but it's a big question running in a Group race first time out." There was a similar bulletin before Lammtarra and Halling ran.

And yesterday came the greatest flattery a racing outfit can receive and the moment that Godolphin knew they had truly arrived. Without throwing out a leg in earnest, Phantom Creek is already a prime consideration for the 1996 1,000 Guineas as she has been reduced from 40-1 to 20-1 with Hills.