Halling running for a second term at the top

YORK EBOR MEETING: The opening day brings an opportunity for a hardy turf campaigner to establish a popular front; Richard Edmondson on the Godolphin runner with International ambitions
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Halling would make a poor politician. The chestnut who has already retained his Eclipse Stakes crown attempts to complete the double-double at York this afternoon with success in a second consecutive International Stakes. Yet it seems Godolphin's five-year-old has developed the vote- losing tendency of being remembered for his worst moments.

Halling, like Godolphin itself, has perhaps not received due recognition. When his name is brought up by those with beer froth on their upper lip it is inevitably linked with defeats at the hands of the American equine colossus, Cigar, both at the Breeders' Cup in New York last autumn and in this spring's Dubai World Cup.

It should be pointed out that both those reverses were on dirt, a surface which Godolphin now realise does not suit Halling. This should not detract from the horse, as the sport is replete with animals who can perform with much greater facility on either grass or dirt. Cigar himself was close to nondescript on turf, while a small example from this country is Clive Brittain's Mister Fire Eyes, who is rated 95 on his all-weather form but whose grass performances suggest he is a two stones and more inferior performer in that sphere.

Halling himself has won his last seven starts on turf and will be favourite this afternoon on the Knavesmire to extend that sequence. The opposition, which includes First Island, Bijou D'Inde and Grape Tree Road, will hardly be throwing petals in the chestnut's path to herald his coronation, but there is a feeling in the Halling camp that he will not surrender lightly. "It's an awful lot to ask of him, but he has been campaigned with this specially in mind," Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said.

As long as he does not disgrace himself on the Knavesmire, Halling will then be asked to contest races such as the Champion Stakes and possibly the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe for his Arab owners.

That Godolphin achieve success should be no surprise. They hardly select animals from the milk depot. In addition, the blue-bedecked animals they gather receive the sort of winter pampering that the rich treat themselves to in St Moritz. What is arresting, however, is the frequency of triumphs within the organisation.

It was said last year that the nominal assistant, Jeremy Noseda, was the trainer in all but name and that Saeed Bin Suroor, the team's designated trainer, was little more than a good operator with a chammy on Sheikh Mohammed's fleet of vehicles. Noseda, though, has long since loaded up his truck and gone to California, and his replacement, Bill Mott's former assistant, Tom Albertrani, has done little to slow Godolphin's locomotion.

The pervading thought this season seems to be that Godolphin have somehow failed, but if they have descended from last year's achievements it was only because those results could never be replicated. "We had our campaign spearheaded last season by Lammtarra, who was a once-in-a-lifetime type of horse," Crisford said. "I have to say that following that we've been absolutely delighted with the way things have gone this year."

The scroll shows that Godolphin have collected five Group One titles this year via Halling (who won the Prix d'Ispahan in France as well as the Eclipse), Classic Cliche, Overbury and Mark Of Esteem, who delivered Classic success in the 2,000 Guineas. There have been several other Group winners such as Heart Lake and Charnwood Forest, the Queen Anne Stakes victor at Royal Ascot, horses who have contributed towards a 28 per cent strike-rate and a worldwide pounds 1.8m in prizemoney. Do not stay awake tonight with worries for Sheikh Mohammed.

Dubai's crown prince still considers the Godolphin experiment to be in its infancy, and fit and sleek horses from the Emirates will be arriving on these shores for many springs to come.

If there is to be a tinkering within the system it will come in the equine staffing of Godolphin. Sheikh Mohammed considers his finest moment in racing to be the Derby victory of Lammtarra, who was bred by his family in America and nurtured by his team in the Gulf. He would like to relive that cradle-to-podium experience. "We're concentrating more on home-bred yearlings now," Crisford said. "I'm sure we will buy a few horses, but certainly not in the numbers that we've bought previously."

A different policy may be on the way, but Halling should show at York today that the results remain the same.