Racing: Testing time for Sheikh's squad

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The Independent Online
The only team in blue with any chance of success this afternoon will be the one from west London, following the decision of Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation to keep its string at home in Newmarket until a reason emerges for a series of disappointing performances this season.

For the perfectionists who created Godolphin, nothing could have been more painful than the sight of their royal blue silks finishing last in two of the major events at York on Thursday, and Simon Crisford, their racing manager, said yesterday that all running plans will be on hold until tomorrow at the earliest.

"We are carrying out all the usual tests to try to get to the bottom of the problem," Crisford said. "Obviously we are all working as hard as we can. We will have no runners this weekend, but by Sunday morning we should be in a position to update everyone about the short-term position."

Godolphin has sent out just three winners this season, a desperate record given the almost unlimited success of recent years. "We have had three great years," Crisford said, "and it was only a matter of time before we were tripped over, but we will get the show back on the road as soon as possible.

"The horses are not running their races, they are dying at the three- furlong pole so something must be wrong. We test them before they leave Dubai and before and after each race, so if there had been an identifiable problem we would know about it."

If the latest series of tests does reveal a bug in the Godolphin system, it might almost come as a relief to its connections, since the only other explanation for their poor run of form is that its latest generation is simply not good enough. A complete shutdown of operations until any infection clears would be frustrating for all concerned, but would at least hold out hope of a successful campaign during the second half of the season.

The downward turn in Godolphin's fortunes is also a disappointment for Lanfranco Dettori, who is more used to making flying dismounts from their runners in the winners' enclosure than sliding quietly from the saddle among the also-rans. The former champion is only third in the title race at present, though it seems unlikely that he will not find alternative employers.

"It means I've got to work now and get him some rides," Matty Cowing, Dettori's agent, said yesterday. "But we've got some good stables, John Gosden of course, Luca Cumani, Ian Balding, David Loder. Frankie's still happy with the way things are going and we'll be all right."

As to the possibility that Dettori might take over from Oliver Peslier on John Gosden's Benny The Dip in the Derby if Godolphin does not field a runner, Cowing is admirably diplomatic. "That's a difficult one," he said. "At the moment, it's Ollie's ride, and I wouldn't know about that."

Dettori's best chance of a big winner this weekend will be in Italy tomorrow, when he will partner Nicole Pharly, expected to start favourite for the Oaks D'Italia at San Siro. Peslier, meanwhile, will have another important ride for a British stable at Longchamp, where he will be aboard Grey Shot for Ian Balding in the Prix Vicomtesse Vigier.

The most significant event in the racing world, however, is the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, the middle leg of the American Triple Crown, in which Silver Charm, the Kentucky Derby winner, will continue his attempt to become the first horse for almost two decades to complete the Classic hat-trick.

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