Camel-rider brings new era for Godolphin

Sheikh Mohammed has surprisingly selected Ahmed Ajtebi as head jockey after his success on Vale of York
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The Independent Online

In some deceptive respects it was a familiar ritual. Priceless thoroughbreds breezing round the training track; flamingos dredging the infield lake; and beyond, skyscrapers smudged from the brief clarity of sunrise by the rising haze. But that restless backdrop, clustering new and taller towers every year, itself suggested something of the agenda renewed by the big talking point at Godolphin's annual open morning at Al Quoz.

For not only has Sheikh Mohammed appointed a second trainer for Godolphin, in Mahmood al-Zarooni; it also seems that another of his own subjects, Ahmed Ajtebi, will serve as first jockey for those horses allocated to his care.

Sudden panic last year about Dubai's economic foundations is nothing compared with those expressed, within racing, about this former camel rider. But Ajtebi has already seized opportunities that might otherwise have been assumed a stable jockey's privilege by Frankie Dettori. Having ridden Vale Of York in all bar one of his previous races – Ted Durcan was aboard on the other occasion – Ajtebi kept the ride when that colt stunned the Americans in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Dettori, unarguably the more stylish and experienced of the pair, was left watching in the changing room that day. Yet Ajtebi, however unfeasibly, does seem to get a tune out of his mounts.

Al Zarooni, 33, is said to have been heavily involved in the training of Vale Of York, as assistant to Saeed bin Suroor. To an extent the change is a fairly formal one. At the same time, it represents a dramatic reiteration of Godolphin's roots and purpose. Godolphin will now have runners from two different yards competing in some races – starting on Saturday's World Cup card. Again, this reflects the reality that Al Zarooni has been supervising Godolphin's second yard here, out in the desert. Once the horses return to Newmarket next month, he will take charge of Moulton Paddocks.

Simon Crisford, its manager, noted that Godolphin already has powerful nurseries with Andre Fabre and Mark Johnston. "Godolphin has always been a management company, anyway," he said. "It just happens that this year we'll have more than one trainer. The time has come to share the workload. It was Saeed's decision as much as anyone else's. Last year he had more than 200 horses, and we've still got a few more to come in. Mahmood has been a great asset working under Saeed, and we've got the facilities already in place. Primarily Frankie will ride for Saeed, and Ahmed for Mahmood. There will be no retainer, nothing is set in stone, and I'm sure there will be times when they swap round – but by and large that's how it will work."

Otherwise, it was a routine morning. There was even the traditional, melancholy disclosure that an expensive juvenile recruit would miss the Stan James 2,000 Guineas. Kingsfort, following a setback, will resume only in the second half of the season.

And there was certainly a familiar refrain about the stable's latest Kentucky Derby prospect, being as raw as he is talented. Mendip, a debut winner at Kempton last September, has twice dazzled during the Carnival but gets a tougher test in the UAE Derby on Saturday.

Crisford expressed due caution with regard to Kentucky. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he said. "He has very little experience, has never run on dirt, never had it kicked in his face. But the door's open. He's American-bred and the big thing in his favour is that stamina is not an issue, the way it is for so many horses that run in the Kentucky Derby. That would be a major plus, but he has always been pretty immature, especially mentally."

Having previously tried several square pegs in round holes out there, it is curious that Louisville was never contemplated for Passion For Gold. He is by the same sire as Rachel Alexandra and gained experience of elite competition at two, notably with a runaway Group One success at Saint-Cloud on his final start. Instead, happily enough, the Investec Derby seems to be his priority.

"We bought Passion For Gold at the Craven Breeze-Ups and up until now have never thought that dirt might suit him better than turf, though that option is always there down the line," Crisford said. "He will probably start off in the Dante and we'll take it from there. I don't think he needs soft ground, but he was impressive on it in France. St Nicholas Abbey had made him look a bit one-paced the time before, but we're very pleased with him and he's had a good winter."

Godolphin stemmed some virulent criticism with a consistently fertile campaign in 2009. Al Zir and Poet's Voice are being viewed potential Guineas colts, albeit the former has also been beaten by St Nicholas Abbey and the latter may end up given a sharper test at Longchamp – whoever his trainer happens to be.

Turf account: Chris McGrath

Nap

Drum Major (8.50 Kempton) Looked ready to exploit a tumbling mark when midfield over an inadequate trip last time, and George Baker takes over from an apprentice.

Next best

Le Platino (2.40 Ayr) Meets a vulnerable favourite, on stamina and jumping grounds, and cannot be judged on his debut over fences, hampered on his return from a break.

One to watch

Son Amix (Tom Cooper) Contested too strong a pace with conspicuous ease in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham last week, the three that beat him all closing late.

Where the money's going

Workforce, a spectacular debut winner at Goodwood in September, is now 14-1 from 20-1 with Coral for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas.

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