Godolphin go into the wilderness

Racing

Godolphin last night began scratching all entries for this weekend's racing after five more of the team's runners flopped at York yesterday. Sheikh Mohammed ordered a temporary shutdown following discussions with advisers.

Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said: "Quite clearly something is amiss. We will have to go into the wilderness for a short time. The horses are not running their races, they are dying at the three-furlong pole so something must be wrong.''

Five entries for today have been withdrawn, three at Newmarket and two at Newbury. No runners are expected tomorrow or on Sunday. The Dubai-based operation has made its worst-ever start to a Flat campaign - highlighted yesterday by the failure of Classic Cliche. He was tailed-off last in the Yorkshire Cup despite starting a heavily-backed even-money favourite.

Most of Godolphin's runners so far this season have been three-year-olds whose abilities are relatively unknown, but Classic Cliche, winner of the 1995 St Leger and last year's Gold Cup at Ascot, has proved himself at the highest level, which made yesterday's performance all the more significant.

"Frankie Dettori said he went out like a light but he had been working as well as he had at the same stage last year and looked a picture," Crisford added. "We have had three great years and it was only a matter of time before we were tripped over at some time. But we will get the show back on the road as soon as possible."

The crisis overshadowed a fine Cup victory by Celeric and it was unfair on him that the travails of the runners in royal blue distracted attention from this effort. That Celeric would make the frame, far less finish first, seemed unlikely as he turned for home with all eight of his rivals in front of him, but he is a quirky horse who needs to arrive late, and even though Pat Eddery did not hit the front until well inside the final furlong, his mount still had time to shorten his stride and all but allow Mons, the runner-up back in.

Eddery persuaded him to keep going, but incurred a two-day ban for misuse of the whip in doing so. The Gold Cup at Ascot, and with it recognition as the best stayer around, is now the obvious target for Celeric.

There are ambitious plans too for Symonds Inn, the Glasgow Stakes winner, who is now 25-1 (from 100-1) for the Derby on 7 June. Trained in Yorkshire by Jimmy FitzGerald, the colt would be a hugely popular - if highly improbable - winner at Epsom.

Blue Duster, Godolphin's runner in the Duke Of York Stakes, actually managed to reach the frame, and time may show that her failure to overcome Royal Applause was certainly no cause for shame. Barry Hills's colt was one of the best juveniles of 1995, and he now appears to have found his true vocation. The sprinter that can beat him in the July Cup at Newmarket will surely be the best in Europe.

Michael Hills, his jockey, was an excited man after cruising home a length ahead of Farhana. "It was a real buzz to go that fast on a horse," Hills said, "and I don't think I've ridden anything faster. Gallic League was quick but this horse has more class and he'll be very hard to beat in the July Cup.''

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