Racing: Sheikh's colours may fade out

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The Independent Online
SHEIKH MOHAMMED'S continued fixation with establishing Godolphin as the premier racing unit in the world may mean that his personal maroon and white silks - for long the sport's dominant colours - may disappear entirely.

Three trainers - Mark Johnston, Barry Hills and Luca Cumani - have been dropped from the roster this season as the number of juveniles sent into training and bearing the maroon and white livery gradually dries up.

Sheikh Mohammed will have 178 two-year-olds in his personal colours this year, spread between John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute in this country, plus John Oxx in Ireland and Andre Fabre in France. That figure is down from 246 last year and if the decrease continued at that rate the Sheikh Mohammed colours could be rendered extinct in three seasons.

The Sheikh has become increasingly entranced with Godolphin ever since the experiment of wintering horses in his native Dubai before returning them to Europe began seven years ago. He gains particular pleasure from seeing his string on a daily basis in the Emirates and the consequent increased input he has to their training.

But as Godolphin has thrived, his personal Darley organisation has appeared little more than a feeder station for the boys in Royal blue. "Sheikh Mohammed particularly enjoys the Godolphin operation and Darley appears increasingly like a provider of horses for Godolphin," Cumani said yesterday. "The emphasis is more and more Godolphin and less and less Darley, and it may be that one day it will be wound up completely."

Cumani has enjoyed great success with the Sheikh, most notably Barathea's victory in the 1994 Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. "We have had good horses from him before, for which we are grateful, and we will carry on with what is left, I presume, until they are finished," the trainer added.

"It is sad not to have horses from Sheikh Mohammed but one understands why. I don't believe it is for any hidden reason or any particular dissatisfaction."

The irritation which Sheikh Mohammed is probably more likely to feel concerns the prizemoney in Britain. His words and movements have been monitored far more closely since the Gimcrack speech at York just over a year ago, when he warned that the Maktoums would "massively reduce" their racing interests within these shores unless the sport's finances were improved.

Those at Godolphin have always stressed that the whole operation, which is currently based each summer in Newmarket, could easily be replanted elsewhere. Possible evidence of intent comes this season when around 100 Godolphin two-year-olds will be trained by David Loder at Evry racecourse in France.

Godolphin's attempts to plunder the most lucrative prizes around the globe will continue, including Britain as long as the price is right. "As long as we have the best racing, that ambience and healthy competition Sheikh Mohammed will always race here because he is that type of man," Cumani said.

Although Mark Johnston will be receiving no Sheikh Mohammed horses this season, he will actually train more animals for Dubai's ruling family, thanks largely to the contribution of Sheikh Maktoum, the eldest of the four brothers, and his Gainsborough Stud.

"From an industry point of view the only message we should take from all this is for those people who suggested Sheikh Mohammed couldn't move his horses from Britain," the Middleham trainer said yesterday.

"The message is loud and clear: he can do exactly what he wants. He is quite capable and organised enough to move them anywhere he likes.

"I wouldn't say he was doing it [the allocation of juveniles] with the intention of giving a warning to the industry, but we shouldn't ever tell ourselves that owners like Sheikh Mohammed couldn't move their horses. We should always be aware of the fact that he has got that choice and he has exercised it to some extent by sending some to France.

"We have seen him move 100 to France and he could move more if he chooses to. We have got to try to keep him happy in Britain and make sure he continues to enjoy it here."