Ibn Khaldun heads strong Godolphin Classic team

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The Independent Online

The expensive renewal of Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock empire is plainly a long-term project, and its success will not be measurable for years. In the meantime, however, he would doubtless be glad of some more immediate dividends, as well. Happily – not just for the Sheikh, but for the competitive health of racing at the top level – that seems a far more substantial prospect than was the case 12 months ago.

Yesterday several authentic candidates for the Classics featured among the horses exhibited to media visiting the Sheikh's homeland for the Dubai World Cup. This time last year, la crème de la crème already tasted sour. Now there is a deliciously rich, smooth contrast – thanks to Godolphin's resurgence in juvenile racing last summer, together with some judicious use of the chequebook.

Three of the first five in the Stan James 2,000 Guineas betting have been wintering at Al Quoz (never mind the Sheikh's involvement in the Irish-trained favourite, New Approach). Little wonder, then, if the Godolphin management is inclined to reserve one of them for the French equivalent, the Poule d'Essai des Poulains. Always anxious to play straight with the public, Simon Crisford did his best to clarify how things stand at the moment.

"It's great that we have some really nice three-year-olds this year," the stable manager said. "Last year we were lacking true Classic contenders. We have three 2,000 Guineas horses. Of those three, hopefully two will run at Newmarket and one will go to France. At this stage, Rio De La Plata will go to France, with Fast Company and Ibn Khaldun running at Newmarket."

The logic is impeccable. Rio De La Plata has already won a Group One prize at Longchamp, and his turn of foot is always likely to be a potent weapon round that sharper track. Possibly it was rather blunted by conditions when he ran fourth to New Approach in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket, after which the Sheikh acquired the runner-up, Fast Company. Ibn Khaldun meanwhile progressed rapidly in the autumn, winning a nursery off 85 within a month of his Group One success in Racing Post Trophy.

"Ibn Khaldun is a fantastic colt and has been working very, very well," Crisford enthused. "I very much hope he plays a big part in the Guineas. Whether or not he is a Derby horse is a completely different game, because he's not bred to go a mile and a half. But certainly over a mile I would say he'd be the stable choice at this time.

"Rio De La Plata has had an excellent winter. He's moving well and training extremely well. Fast Company has been doing the same work as the others, but doesn't show anything. Hopefully he's keeping himself for the racetrack. I don't think he showed much [with Brian Meehan] at Manton either."

These remarks soon rippled across the betting market. Coral cut Ibn Khaldun to 7-1 from 9-1, and eased Fast Company to 10-1 from 7-1, while Rio De La Plata can be backed at 16-1. New Approach remains 5-2 favourite, with Raven's Pass 11-2. Crisford also offered encouragement for Laureldean Gale, in the Stan James 1,000 Guineas.

"Though her initial form with Proviso last year was top class, her run in the Prix Marcel Boussac was disappointing," he said. "But she got very wound up beforehand. She has been working nicely and will go straight to the Guineas."

Several other three-year-olds retain abundant promise – among them Calming Influence, impressive on his sole start last season – but no horse distils the stable's fortunes better than the four-year-old, Jalil. Having struggled to win a Ripon maiden last summer, the $9.7m (£4.8m) yearling was given time by Saeed bin Suroor, the Godolphin trainer.

Switched to dirt at the International Carnival, Jalil has flourished so dramatically that he now tackles Curlin in the Dubai World Cup itself. "This time next year he will be even better than he is now," Crisford promised. "The change of surface has helped him, but more than anything it is a question of him coming to himself – growing up and learning how to be a racehorse."

Frankie Dettori, the stable jockey, was not ruling out a more immediate climax. "I have been impressed by Curlin, very much so, but he is beatable," Dettori said. "Every horse is. He has had to travel a long way. Jalil loves this track, seems to love the dirt, and every time we have put the bar up, he has risen to it. We haven't got to the bottom of him yet."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Lascelles

(Wolverhampton 8.50)

NB: Double The Trouble

(Exeter 5.00)