Just deserts for Sheikh

The Derby: Godolphin stable's Classic triumph is certain to revolutioni se the pattern of thoroughbred training
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The Independent Online
IT MAY not have been the result that everyone was expecting but nobody should be in any doubt that the 1995 Derby was an historic horse race. When Sheik Mohammed first announced in 1993 that he was going to send a number of his best juveniles out to Dubai for the winter there was much ridicule in Newmarket. Nobody is laughing now. Lammtarra's thrilling victory may come to be looked on as a crucial turning point in the story of European thoroughbred racing.

Not since Morston in 1973 has a horse won the Derby on only its second racecourse appearance. At least Morston had been in action at Lingfield some three weeks before Epsom. Lammtarra, conceived by the 1970 Triple Crown winner Nijinsky when the late, great stallion had reached the ripe age of 24, hadn't actually set foot on a racecourse since August of last year. His triumph inevitably induced a mood of sadness as well as elation as many people reflected on the fate of the chestnut's original trainer, Alex Scott, who was gunned down in Newmarket last autumn. But there was no shortage of admiration for Lammtarra's present connections.

For years, the top racing stables in places like Newmarket, Lambourn, Arundel and elsewhere have been run like a mixture of autocratic fiefdoms and traditional public schools. And for years we've grown used to hearing these big battalions explaining why it's been impossible to get their horses ready for the classic races because of the usual winter catalogue of rain, cold, frost, leaves on the line, the wrong kind of snow and so on. It was often suggested that the Guineas, Oaks and Derby should be run later in the year to make things easier for them.

Now Sheikh Mohammed, who has invested squillions of petro-dollars in these august establishments, has found a way of circumventing the English weather by setting up a purpose-built training centre in the balmy climate of his own back yard.

Last year, Godolphin Racing, the banner under which the Dubai graduates run, carried off the Oaks and Irish Derby with Balanchine. This season they have been unstoppable. On 14 May, they scooped three Group One races in three different countries. Now they have carried off the biggest prize of all in only the second year of the operation's existence.

Last winter there were signs of friction between the Sheikh and Henry Cecil, who had charge of Friday's Oaks winner Moonshell among others. Cecil was unhappy about horses he had looked after since they were yearlings leaving his stable for months at a time and then continuing their racing careers in somebody else's care. But in the toughest statement the Sheikh has ever made about his horses, he made it clear that he regarded Godolphin as a brave experiment and that he would tolerate no criticism of plans. Not many racehorse owners will be affluent enough to follow in his path but the more visionary or prosperous have already started wintering some of their younger horses in the Gulf and before long there could be many more holding yards set up there.

Way back in 1967, Vincent O'Brien shipped Sir Ivor off to enjoy a bit of blue sky and sunshine in Italy during the Irish winter and on his return he won two classics. Few people will want to bet against Lammtarra's adding to his Group One toll after yesterday's triumph.

Some at Epsom, witnessing the eclipse of the hot favourite, Pennekamp, concluded that if Celtic Swing had opted for Epsom instead of Chantilly we might have had a different result. But don't listen to them. Celtic Swing's owner, Peter Savill, had his judgement vindicated by that victory on the soft in France last Sunday. Yesterday's lightning-fast ground would almost certainly have been Celtic Swing's undoing. A possible clash between Lammtarra and the son of Damister will, if the ground can ever be right for both of them, surely be the defining moment of the 1995 Flat-racing year.