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Racing: Britain second-rate for Sheikh

SHEIKH MOHAMMED made an address to the visitors at the new museum to Godolphin's racing achievements here at Nad Al Sheba racecourse yesterday. It was soon clear that an invisible exhibit in the glass cases was his former undying attachment to British racing.

The Maktoum family are not about to retreat entirely from the home of the sport they bestride. Britain, however, is no longer the priority. The best Godolphin horses will no more have the original Classics in their cross hairs. They will be aimed instead at the American Triple Crown. And when Worldly Manner and Aljabr contest the 125th Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, their master will show his preference by being with them at Churchill Downs. Newmarket and the Guineas are second best.

"We know it [the Kentucky Derby] is very difficult to win but unless we try we cannot win," the Sheikh said. "If we don't win this time we will come back, again and again.

"We don't want to see Great Britain getting behind everyone. England feels like a second home. But we want to make it [the racing] better."

The adrenalin which hooked Sheikh Mohammed to British racing has dissipated. He is tired by the sport's finances and has given up on those who rubbished his homeland as a training haven. "We have been buying yearlings in America for a long time," the Sheikh added. "We have always wanted to go back and race for the Kentucky Derby. My trainers in Europe have always said the timing of the race clashes with the English Classics and they wanted to go for those. Now it is different.

"Last year when we went to the Breeders' Cup [at Churchill Downs] we loved the atmosphere, the crowd and the horse people. Godolphin is international now and we go wherever we can.

"When we started here people said it was a mad idea. They asked `are you going to feed your horses on sand?' It was too much for my trainers to imagine it and they said `Sheikh Mohammed, you cannot train a Classic winner from this track'. Maybe that made me determined to train them better here.

"I got more and more advisers until they started pushing me away from my horses. So I got rid of the advisers and came back to my horses."

It was with his horses that Sheikh Mohammed began yesterday as 40 Godolphin horses were sent past his eye. It was probably the most expensive equine flypast there has been. There was the slashing stride of Europe's top- rated horse, Intikhab, the prancing Daylami and High-Rise, the Derby winner, ridden by Frankie Dettori.

Those last two horses will be joined by two stablemates tomorrow evening under floodlights for a Dubai World Cup which is Godolphin versus the United States. The globe's richest race is further notable by the fact that it provides a meeting between winners of the Derby and the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 73 years.

Silver Charm, who won the Run For The Roses in 1997, is favourite even though his form is beginning to unravel. The pattern for the race seems clear. Another American, Malek, runs close to the front and Central Park will be in the vanguard as he tries to force a pace which will bring the stamina of High-Rise into play. That might prove too much for Silver Charm, but it would be ideal for another late-closer, Victory Gallop.

A probable win then for America and a valuable pot goes West. The visitors should take the time to enjoy it. Their most cherished prize may soon make the reverse journey.