Racing: Magic returns for Godolphin

The talk about Godolphin has been so funereal recently that it was a little surprising that Team Dubai did not turn up for play this week with the accoutrements of black armbands added to their piercing Royal blue colours.

The impression that a thousand deaths have been visited on the brigands from Arabia is nothing but a historical illusion. When a Lottery winner fails to follow up the following Saturday it is hardly considered a surprise, yet Godolphin have been mourned simply for falling behind the quite unsustainable standards of recent years. We can now stop spraying them with pity following a double for Saeed bin Suroor and the boys yesterday which made the former bobby the leading trainer at the meeting. Royal blues now refers exclusively to the Godolphin silks.

Godolphin did not accept the reverses of a fledgling campaign as the wish of Allah. They did not wander off dolefully into the desert interior, but immediately culled what are considered to be the four-legged cadgers in the system, while introducing some promising juveniles. The class of '97 was found to be wanting and the underachievers were summarily expelled.

"The reaction to our setbacks was quite understandable because for three years we have had a fantastic time," Simon Crisford, the racing manager of Godolphin, said yesterday. "As soon as things got a little bit sticky, people wondered what had happened and what had gone wrong.

"But we always knew that the horses were of an inferior quality than the ones we had in recent years. In addition, a lot of the horses last year had a hard time because they were campaigned very aggressively and it may be that a lot of them didn't come back, didn't recover from what we asked them to do last season."

So badly had the Godolphin horses run, in fact, that extensive tests were conducted on them. They all returned clear. Sheikh Mohammed, the group's sponsor, eventually took his predicament to the temple of a retiring guru. "When I visited Dick Hern he said `Sheikh Mohammed these things will come and go and you will never know'," the owner reported. "So I just stopped, looked and waited and this is what has happened."

What happened first yesterday was that Asfurah bolted forward in the Windsor Castle Stakes and then Predappio beat the millionaire Pilsudski in the Hardwicke Stakes. Both should have been ridden by the suspended Frankie Dettori, whom some thought unlucky. He wasn't, in the same way a burglar is not unfortunate when he gets free cinema tickets after he has been put under lock and key. He wasn't either because he still managed to win the trophy for the leading jockey at the meeting with four wins.

Gary Stevens was hardly an inconsolable figure himself after Predappio's victory. The jockey was later banned for two days for excessive use of the whip on Danetime in the Wokingham (a similar ride would have been punished under the non-triers rule in his native America), but the memory he will carry home is of his mount's fightback to win the Hardwicke. "Fortunately I found a horse with a bigger heart than I've got," he said. "That rates right up there with my Kentucky Derby wins. The thrill, the fanfare, has been just great all week long and to be part of walking into the winners' enclosure is a big thrill for me."

Following the feast of Royal Ascot we get the hiccup this afternoon in the shape of the Heath meeting, so called because it is not as important as it thinks it is.

An interesting contestant here is Bishops Court (next best 2.30), who was raised 13lb for a Chester victory over some moderate opponents, the sort of assessment that threw logs onto the fire of injustice which burns fiercely within Jack Ramsden. The husband of trainer Lynda was so pessimistic before the gelding ran at York last Saturday that it must have been a source of astonishment to him that the horse returned home alive. Now the message is rather more upbeat. "We don't think he quite got home over six at York last week and this stiff five should suit him better," Lynda Ramsden said yesterday. "I'm happy with his draw (stall six) and we know he likes this ground because he won on it at Chester."

Neither will the ground be a major discomfort to WINTER ROMANCE (nap 3.35), who is ready to win, while others to consider for those box-bound this afternoon are Selfish (2.00) and Monza (3.00).

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