As a good weekend's work goes, the one produced by Sheikh Mohammed and his team over the past couple of days was notable not only for the quality of its results, but also their width. The party started on Saturday afternoon at York, when Frankie Dettori, in the Godolphin blue, galvanised Willing Foe to victory in the Ebor Handicap – Europe's richest race of its type. Seven hours later at Saratoga, Ramon Dominguez forced a dead-heat on Alpha in the Grade One Travers Stakes, the US's most prestigious contest for three-year-olds outside the Triple Crown series.
Yesterday at Deauville, the gold silks of the Sheikh's elite squad claimed two of the top prizes as the French seaside season draws to a close, courtesy of Maxime Guyon on Fractional in the Prix Quincey and Mickael Barzalona on Masterstroke in the Grand Prix. And away from the racetrack, the boss himself was crowned senior world endurance riding champion as he and his mount Madji Du Pont covered just short of 100 miles through heath and forest on the Norfolk-Suffolk border in 10 and a half hours. Not so much trebles all round as an all-rounder five-timer.
The Godolphin horses have this year won only one top-level contest in Britain, Colour Vision's Ascot Gold Cup, but their ambitions are global and Alpha was the eighth worldwide in 2012. The Bernadini homebred, who shared the spoils in New York with Golden Ticket, has been notably progressive since his unplaced run in the Kentucky Derby and will now be aimed at the Breeders' Cup Classic. "It's a dead-heat, but it goes in the 'W' column," said the colt's trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "It doesn't happen that often in a $1m race, but I'm glad it did this time. I was very proud of the horse and the way he fought back."
The nearest the Godolphin team have come to success in the dirt finale to the Breeders' Cup was when Sakhee went down by a nose to Tiznow in 11 years ago. The Melbourne Cup, too, is one of the world's top races to have eluded the Dubai-based operation, but Willing Foe, who wore down Royal Diamond by a neck on the Knavesmire, may now join Colour Vision, Lost In The Moment and Cavalryman in this year's challenge. The five-year-old gave Dettori his first Ebor success in 25 years of trying – prompting not only the rider's trademark flying dismount but also a "Mobot".
Masterstroke produced a couple of statistical milestones as his strong late pounce denied John Gosden-trained Gatewood by a short-neck in the Grand Prix de Deauville, a 200th winner in France for his rider and a ninth victory in the Grade Two race for his trainer André Fabre . Fractional's success was even closer; it was by only a short-head he denied Moonwalk In Paris.
It was an excellent weekend, too, for an infinitely smaller outfit than Godolphin, but one growing in reputation. Andy Oliver, based at Caledon, Co Tyrone, sent out Punch Your Weight to take the Irish Cambridgeshire at the Curragh on Saturday and was back at the Co Kildare track yesterday for the more prestigious success of First Cornerstone in one of Ireland's more significant juvenile races, the Futurity Stakes.
Both victories were the result of some bold thinking. It took nerve to pitch an inexperienced three-year-old maiden winner into the hurly-burly of an 18-runner handicap, and shrewdness to stump up a €9,500 supplementary fee to put First Cornerstone into his Group Two race, recognising that the forecast heavy ground would remove some significant opposition.
That surmise proved correct, when such as Dawn Approach and Mars in advance, and Nevis on the day, defected from the contest won recently by the likes of Cape Blanco and New Approach. First Cornerstone was left with just three rivals and ran out a ready winner under Chris Hayes from the Ballydoyle first-string Flying The Flag. "It's great when a plan comes to fruition," said Oliver. "The horse is still green, but I've been impressed with his attitude from the start."
The son of Hurricane Run, who transferred to the ownership of international players Team Valor during the week, was a second smart juvenile to advertise his Northern Ireland trainer's rising stock this year, after the filly Sendmylovetorose.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Sojoum (2.25 Ripon) Has been competing in better company lately, particularly catching the eye after an awkward start last time. Drops back today to the distance over which she had previously produced her best efforts.
Excellent Mariner (3.25 Newcastle) Up in trip for her nursery debut after three solid efforts in defeat in maidens, learning her trade all the while.
One to Watch
Beautifully-bred Emirates Queen (Luca Cumani) could not cope at all with soft ground at Salisbury last time but Dubawi's half-sister will continue her progress back on fast ground.
Where The Money's Going
Yesterday's Curragh winner First Cornerstone has been introduced into the lists for next year's Derby at 33-1.
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