Once Sheikh Mohammed elected to watch Dawn Approach compete in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas, it was inevitable that the topic of the recent doping scandal that has shaken his elite Godolphin racing empire and the sport as a whole would be high on any list of questions. Almost as inevitably, its broaching was the cold spoon in the soufflé, even in the aftermath of the colt's impressive victory.
In the post-race television interview a discussion of Dawn Approach's five-length spread- eagling of his field was acceptable; a mention of the British Horseracing Authority was not, and met with the rebuke to Clare Balding of an implacably turned back.
The performance of Dawn Approach was some sort of comfort to the beleaguered Sheikh, but probably only a lukewarm one in view of the trying times past, and those to come, as he tries to set his Godolphin house back in order. But he has found his desert heritage a strength to draw on.
"Of course I was always going to come today," he said. "I am always happy to come to see a good horse, a horse who may be a great horse. And I always face challenges. I am from the Arabian peninsula. This is a place where there have always been challenges every day, to find something to drink, something to eat. It makes you resilient."
The Sheikh may have been heartened not only by Dawn Approach's display – he was last year's champion two-year-old and maintained his unbeaten record in thoroughly authoritative fashion – but by the reception given to him and rider Kevin Manning. But then the chestnut had been winter favourite for the season's first Classic, and started a well-backed 6-4 shot. And he is trained by the much-admired Jim Bolger; by the grace of Allah the horse remained in Co Carlow after the Sheikh took a near-half stake in him midway through last season, rather than being transferred to the now-disgraced Mahmood Al Zarooni, whose Newmarket yard is currently in lockdown.
Dawn Approach, having his first race since taking the Dewhurst Stakes seven months ago over seven furlongs of yesterday's Rowley Mile, looked a picture in the preliminaries and something of a machine during the contest. After his pacemaker, Leitir Mor, had done his job in taking the main pack along for six furlongs Dawn Approach swept past him, accompanied by his market rival, Toronado. But any anticipation of a head-to-head between the big two to the line was fleeting.
"I thought there just might be a battle," said Manning, "but once I put the gun to my lad's head and asked him to quicken it was all over in a couple of strides. He had travelled unbelievably well, and I felt I was on the winner from some way out. It all went perfectly to plan."
As Toronado faded and was caught for third by his Richard Hannon stablemate Van Der Neer close to home, the 150-1 outsider Glory Awaits put up a remarkable effort to take second place. The colt, wearing first-time blinkers, had raced prominently throughout, but in a solo effort wide of his rivals. And when it seemed he might be swamped, he kept going.
"We weren't confident of beating the fancied ones," said his trainer, Kevin Ryan, "but we thought the headgear might help us pick up the pieces. He's lazy but willing, and he's done us more than proud."
But though the outsider deserves credit, it was Dawn Approach who was the star turn. And as he strode towards the winning post, the rain clouds that had turned the enclosures into a sea of Qipco umbrellas cleared, allowing sunshine to gleam on his bright golden hide and Manning's royal-blue colours, an allegory if ever there was one for some light after Godolphin's dark month.
The colt may now be asked to extend his unbeaten run to eight in the Derby, which his sire, New Approach, won five years ago after being beaten a nose in the Guineas and for which he is now a 6-4 favourite. "We'll think about it for a day or two," said Bolger, "and although I'm not ruling anything in or out, I would not be surprised if he lined up in the Derby. And if he does, that will be his next race.
"He can only improve from here, as this was his first time on a racecourse this year. He can idle in a race, and it's hard to gauge race fitness with a lazy horse, but I was pretty sure if he could run to his best form he could win."