Racing: Godolphin's unsung captain

St Leger: A much-maligned trainer fields the favourite in the Town Moor Classic struggling to live up to its history
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The Independent Online
Saeed bin Suroor

has his detractors

as a trainer but

he could win all

around the world

this weekend.

WHEN HE thought about creating Godolphin Sheikh Mohammed dreamt of weekends such as this, when the royal blue silks will ripple across the racing globe.

Nedawi competes in the St Leger this afternoon, while Swain and Happy Valentine wrestle with Ireland's Champion Stakes. Sea Wave and Central Park crackle in tomorrow's Arc trials at Longchamp, while, over a different stretch of water, Daylami runs in New York at Belmont Park. The international buccaneers have rolled out the map and courses have been plotted for treasures around the world.

The captain on the bridge for these Godolphin ventures is , who, according to some nasty tongues, is the predecessor to the "amateur" rider Angel Jacobs as racing's biggest impostor. Four years on from his appointment, there are still many willing to voice the thought that Bin Suroor is no more than a factotum, the incumbent of a Godolphin chair which Sheikh Mohammed has decreed will always be taken by a Dubaian. Some think he is Jeeves of the desert.

As Bin Suroor has owned horses since he was 11 and trained them throughout his adult life, he finds this attitude puzzling. But he has heard the malice so often that it no longer disturbs him. "It doesn't bother me," he says. "For some reason some people are very jealous of me. Perhaps it's because I get winners and good horses. But I know what I do."

The Maktoum empire may be vast enough to accommodate a few shirkers, but Godolphin is no place for the workshy or incapable. It is Sheikh Mohammed's brainchild, a baby he likes to afford 24-hour surveillance. On this ship there are no passenger quarters. "We work very hard, sometimes 18 hours a day," Bin Suroor says. "It's seven days a week, 12 months a year. I took a week's holiday once."

is 33 and a man, these days, of positive body language. This has not developed because of his achievements, but rather via his integration into British life. In the early days he looked a rather lonely and vulnerable figure in the nation's parade rings, like a child lost in the forest.

"It was difficult for me at the beginning," he says. "I knew nobody here. I had only a few friends in England and they lived far from Newmarket. At the same time there was the language. I couldn't talk in the yard with the riders. I couldn't talk on television or to the press. Now it's much better.

"I'm really so happy here. I feel England is my home now. When I go back to Dubai I always spend the first month wishing I was back here. I like the racing here and the people, who have become more friendly with me. And the scenery is the best in the world. When we go to the races I try to find time to have a look around.

"But most of all I like the cold and rain. One morning I got up at 4.30 and I saw the temperature was minus four. I had never seen this number before. I had to ring and tell my friends in Dubai."

Today Bin Suroor feels confident enough to stick stiff fingers in journalists backs and tell them to put their hands up. He enjoys the medium of interviews. He likes to talk. And he's generous with his time.

A standard Bin Suroor offer is of a personal guided tour of Dubai to journalists visiting the Middle East. Newmarket's top brass are not know to offer a similar courier service in Suffolk.

This is the second time Bin Suroor has worked with the boys in blue. Before his current devotion he was a bobby. "I worked with the horses in the morning and again at night, and also with the police in the middle," he says. "I had two jobs. It's difficult for me to sleep. I only go to sleep for five hours.

"Sheikh Mohammed knew me for some time before he gave me a job. I think I have quite a good reputation not only in Dubai but in all the Emirates, but I had just normal horses to train. Finally Sheikh Mohammed gave me 30 horses. They were not great but I did well with them."

One day in 1995 the Sheikh told Bin Suroor he would be dealing with moderate horses no longer. He also told him to get his suitcase down from the loft. In that first year Bin Suroor finished second to John Dunlop in the trainers' championship. The following season he beat Henry Cecil to the title and he again leads his Newmarket rival in this year's chase, more than pounds 500,000 clear with his 31 victories. Considering Godolphin's high profile they show a remarkable profit of pounds 40 to a level pounds 1 stake.

Such is the investment in Team Arabia that results have to flow ceaselessly. Cape Verdi won the 1,000 Guineas for them this spring and Daylami led home a 1-2-3 in the Eclipse, the only time the first three home in a Group One race have all had the same owner and trainer. But the celebrations were short. "We are given such good horses that we must win all the time," Bin Suroor says. "Second is not a good place to be."

laughs frequently, with good reason, and prays five times a day to his God for the bountiful life he is enjoying. You can never forget he is happy, because he reminds you so often of the fact during the course of a conversation. "I'm not rich and I'm not poor, but I don't do this for the money," he says. "I do it for me and to become happy.

"I just thank God and Sheikh Mohammed. He has been a very important person in my life. Only God knows how long this will all go on for. Nothing lasts for ever, but I hope this nearly does."

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