BHA tests at second Godolphin yard
The process of restoring public confidence in Godolphin was extended to the Newmarket stables of Saeed bin Suroor, whose horses were tested by British Horseracing Authority officials as an unexpected sequel to their work in the nearby yard of the disgraced Mahmood al-Zarooni.
When Zarooni was banned for eight years last week, several of his horses having tested positive for anabolic steroids, the BHA stressed that it had no grounds for suspicion about his former boss. Bin Suroor had soon been supplanted as Godolphin's principal trainer after his assistant was promoted to supervise a stable in his own right three years ago. But Sheikh Mohammed's promise that every horse in Zarooni's care would be tested "clean" before he reopened Moulton Paddocks has now proved only a prelude to a more thorough programme.
Robin Mounsey, the BHA spokesman, told the Racing Post: "We can confirm that, for the sake of completeness, we are conducting testing in training at the yard of Saeed bin Suroor, although there was no reason to link the two yards because of the common ownership."
As its trauma continues, British racing could borrow resilience tomorrow from an industry far more hardened in the sort of crisis that has convulsed its own professional community. The Kentucky Derby has in recent years become a crucible of America's heartache over the use – and abuse – of medication. It was the Triple Crown campaign of Big Brown in 2008 that finally provoked most states to outlaw the sort of steroids that last week caused the downfall of Zarooni. Big Brown's trainer has since begun a 10-year suspension for serial violations, but last year the Derby success of I'll Have Another raised questions about the record of Doug O'Neill. The woman whose silks were once carried by Secretariat even declared that the owner of the latest Derby winner should be "embarrassed" to employ such a trainer.
Other respected voices feel O'Neill has been unfairly maligned. He does accept that his return to Churchill Downs tomorrow, with Goldencents, opens the door to fresh whisperings. "Last year, for every couple pats on the back, we got one kick in the groin," O'Neill admits. "But I would rather have a good horse and answer the tough questions, than a slow horse and nobody asking anything."
But Goldencents himself also represents one of many avenues, within the 20-strong field, towards deliverance. He is ridden by Kevin Krigger, hoping to become the first black jockey to win the Derby since 1902, and the first to ride in the race since Marlon St Julien ended a 79-year blank when seventh in 2000.
Then there is Rosie Napravnik, who could become the first female to win the Derby on Mylute. Only one other American jockey has ridden more winners than Napravnik in 2013. Another potential fairy tale centres on Gary Stevens, the Hall of Fame rider who ended a seven-year retirement during the winter and now seeks a fourth Derby at the age of 50. He hooks up with another legend who refuses to be written off, Wayne Lukas, himself seeking his fifth at 77.
But the colt who could light a path for the British sport in its present gloom is Orb. He is trained by Claude "Shug" McGaughey III, an old school horseman long associated with the Phipps family – whose breeding operation has endured as one of the last genetic quarries of stamina and durability, those fading hallmarks of the Triple Crown horse. Pedigrees of this type have been cynically overtaken in the commercial market by stallions whose deficiencies were masked, during their racing careers, by drugs. Morning line favourite tomorrow after winning his trial in Florida, Orb is only McGaughey's second Derby starter since he saddled both second and third in 1989. "I'm as excited as I've been in a long time about a race," he says. "I haven't been like this in a long time – maybe ever."
Orb is owned by Ogden Mills Phipps and his cousin, Stuart Janney III, and his pedigree traces through generations of blue-chip bloodlines. These men represent the eroded tenets of America's greatest breeders, and Phipps has campaigned passionately against trainers addicted to the needle. As such, Orb could yet bring a new dawn to the old world also.
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