Godolphin grow impatient with British Racing plc
Poor prize-money is driving the Maktoums to the brink of protest on behalf of the wider sport
Thursday 24 March 2011
Judging from the continued, heedless telescoping of steel and glass towers into the limpid dawn sky, somebody still has plenty of money to spend out here. And while Dubai in the past couple of years has notoriously come to know embarrassment, as well as riches, the priceless thoroughbreds cantering against that restless backdrop yesterday morning were hardly going to be asked to dredge salt flats in the afternoon.
Over the past three decades, the Maktoum family have invested more in racing and breeding these animals than anyone in history. In the process, even so, they have required only a minute fraction of the resources and attention at their disposal. Sheikh Mohammed and his brothers duly bring unique detachment to the exorbitant odds stacked against anyone trying to retrieve his costs in British racing. And, according to the manager of their elite stable, it is precisely their immunity to the bottom line that equips them to make a stand on behalf of others.
Simon Crisford pledged that none of the Godolphin horses returning for the new Flat season in Britain would contest any prize-money short of minimum levels recently recommended by a body representing industry professionals. And, if necessary, Godolphin might be among those who would increasingly "take their business elsewhere".
This was not a renewal of the famous threat made by Sheikh Mohammed, back in 1997, of a "massively reduced" commitment. Instead Crisford promised the sort of gesture that would reiterate the Maktoums' true concern: not their own dividends, but those that percolate through the industry through their horses.
Dubai Millennium, perhaps Godolphin's greatest champion, began his career in a Yarmouth maiden. But prize-money at that track is nowadays so execrable that Crisford suggested Godolphin might underwrite the expense and inconvenience of finding an alternative. "If we have to, we'll take them to France and run in maidens there," he said. "We'll find a way round it. It'll mean a bit more paperwork. But it can be done, and will be done. Some owners don't need prize-money as much as others, and we'd be obvious candidates for that [category]. But it's important to remember that prize-money is not just for owners. It filters all the way down, to the backbone of the sport, to the cogs that make the wheel turn. This isn't about owners being able to build themselves a new duck pond. This is all about the stable staff, about people being made redundant. We don't chase prize-money. We try to run the right horses in the right races, in order to upgrade their status. But if this isn't sorted out, people will take their business overseas."
Having been conceived as an international stable, Godolphin would hardly hesitate to rack up more air miles with their bigger names, as well. "You might see a lot more of our horses overseas," Crisford said. "If England hasn't the races for them, we'll take them elsewhere. All I'm saying is that it's our responsibility to do the best we can for the horses."
With the timely proviso that the project has not diluted funding for other races, Crisford offered "wholehearted support" for the lavish new £3m Champions Day at Ascot in October. The organisers promptly announced that a title sponsor for the Champions Series has been found, in a Qatar private investment company. QIPCO has, moreover, plugged sponsorship gaps within the series, namely the Guineas meeting and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.
Despite this breakthrough, the fact remains that Godolphin could win more in two minutes here on Saturday than during the entire season in Britain. Admittedly, their three candidates for the Dubai World Cup reflect Crisford's overall assessment of their challenge – "no bankers, but plenty of crossbar chances" – for the richest card in history.
"Poet's Voice is far and away the best of our World Cup contenders," he said. "And while it's obviously a longer trip he's very settled now, and I think this track will suit him. But it does look a much stronger race than last year. We ran Allybar last year, and he wouldn't be anything like good enough this time – but he only just got beat."
Perhaps their most interesting runner is Rewilding in the Sheema Classic. This colt's emergence has vindicated two fresh strategies: given a grounding in France with André Fabre, he was then transferred to join Mahmood al Zarooni, newly promoted as Godolphin's second trainer. "We think Rewilding benefits from not backing up his races too close together," Crisford said. "His Derby run was good, but his Great Voltigeur run was much better. Then his Leger run was poor, and it seemed as though he 'bounced' from York. He has matured, and he's coming into this fresh and well, so we very much hope we'll see him at his best – which he'll need to be, racing for $5m [£3.1m]."
On those terms, somehow you have to doubt whether we will be seeing the next Rewilding at Yarmouth any time soon.
Chris McGrath's Nap
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