"We could never imagine that would happen at York, where things went from bad to worse," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, said yesterday. "It was like a horror movie for us, a nightmare in slow motion."
There are snippets of information, however, which suggest those dark, bright days may be over for the Sheikh. Not only does he have a definite starter in the Derby a week on Saturday in his own colours, but there may also be two combatants bearing the Royal blue livery of his Godolphin brainchild.
Until Sandown on Tuesday, Godolphin had gone 22 days without a winner, but then Predappio was a battling second to Bosra Sham in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes and then Bold Demand severed the dreary sequence. The immediate reaction was that Bold Demand would miss the Derby, but he is now under consideration for the Classic, and could be joined at the start line by Stowaway, another recent runner-up for Godolphin, at Doncaster. "Apart from the red hot favourite [Entrepreneur] it's an open-looking race and both of ours have shown enough to us to justify taking their chances," Crisford said. "I think we need a few more runners before we start feeling comfortable about our situation because these things have a nasty habit of doing U-turns. But we hope we're not still out in the woods, in the cold."
After a series of dreadful displays, Godolphin made the decision to withdraw their horses from the racecourse. Each one was examined, and each returned a clean bill of health. "We are still taking tests, but all the ones that we have taken so far have come back negative," Crisford said. "We have tested for everything, and in a way it would have helped if something had come to light. We would know what was wrong and therefore what to do to put it right. The end result is a tailed-off position, but we don't know what's causing it.
"Everything has been the same as it has been in previous years but maybe this time some of the horses have not been good enough. Some, like Classic Cliche and Tamayaz, have definitely run way below expectations because we know where those horses belong. But Predappio showed the other night that he is a promising sort for later on and we've got some good older horses, like Alhaarth, to come through and some nicer younger horses as well. All is not lost yet because there are five months of the season to go and we just have to learn to be a little bit patient."
Sheikh Mohammed is also to be represented in his personal maroon and white colours at Epsom by the Prix Lupin winner Cloudings, trained in France by Andre Fabre. The bare form of the colt's efforts so far would not win a chutney contest at the local WI, but there are expectations that Cloudings will behave like another progeny of Sadler's Wells when he reaches Epsom. "Cloudings is a nice horse with speed who never does more than he has to," Anthony Stroud, the Sheikh's racing manager, said from France yesterday. "Andre thinks he is very much like Intrepidity and she was very stop and start so it was remarkable that she won the Oaks [in 1993]."
Derby day may also be the jollier for the presence of The Fly, who could well join his stablemate at Barry Hills' yard, Musalsal, on the Downs. Students of history would doubtlessly be amused to see both The Fly and Merry Hampton on the Derby scroll of honour.