Racing: Fortune deserts Sheikh's Derby favourite

DUBAI WORLD CUP: Strength behind the Antipodean Juggler but a Classic contender is not yet ready to tread the boards
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The Independent Online
Happy Valentine has been displaced as favourite for the Derby at Epsom in little more than two months' time after Sheikh Mohammed, founder of the Godolphin operation, disclosed yesterday that the colt has suffered a blood infection from which he is yet to fully recover.

During a tour of Godolphin's immaculate training complex at Al Quoz, Happy Valentine was clearly not as close to his physical peak as many of his stablemates, most of whom looked in magnificent condition. "He doesn't look well and that's why he'll miss the Guineas," the Sheikh said.

Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, added: "He's back in training and he's about to start cantering, but he had a blood disorder which really knocked him back." Happy Valentine is 12-1 (from 8-1) for the Derby with both Ladbrokes and William Hill, and as Crisford pointed out, "we can't afford another setback. It's 46 days to the start of the Dante meeting, where he could go for the Dante or the Glasgow Stakes, but he's got to put weight back on and even to get that far will be very tight."

None the less, Godolphin appears stronger than ever, with two-year-olds now forming a significant proportion of its string and several other three- year-olds with Classic potential. When asked to nominate five horses of which much is expected this Flat season, the Sheikh's list included Moonlight Paradise, 5-1 second-favourite for the 1,000 Guineas, and on closer inspection, the filly did indeed appear to be in superb condition. "I hope she can also be an Oaks filly," her owner said, "we will hope to run well in the Guineas and go on from there."

So too did Shamikh, Godolphin's principal hope for the 2,000 Guineas, and an 8-1 chance for the first colts' Classic with Ladbrokes, who offer 25-1 for the Derby. The owner also expects Haltarra, 40-1 for both the Guineas and Derby,to improve significantly on his juvenile form, while among Godolphin's older horses, Classic Cliche, the Gold Cup winner, and Alhaarth are thought likely to have rewarding campaigns.

From his juvenile team, meanwhile, the Sheikh selected Atuf, Sinan and Sea Wave, a full brother to the Derby runner-up Tamure, who are expected to run well in the early, middle and later stages of the season respectively. All plans are fluid, however, until Godolphin's "trial day" in the near future, when all the runners will be seriously tested and plans finalised as to where each will go.

There are still plenty of horses carrying Sheikh Mohammed's maroon and white silks, but he takes a personal interest in the horses stabled in his homeland and the Godolphin string is growing all the time. About 100 animals are now housed at Al Quoz, while Godolphin's stable in Newmarket has boxes for only 48.

As a result, the Kildangan Stud in Ireland will now be used as a stopping- off point for runners returning to Britain, while others (two-year-olds, you suspect, in particular) may remain in Dubai before being sent on to Europe when they are ready, rather than arriving with all their stablemates as has happened in previous years. When asked who will oversee the Kildangan end of the operation, the Sheikh would say only that it will be "a good man." And also, we must assume, a very happy one.