When Sheikh Mohammed declared bloodstock war on his great rival John Magnier's empire four years ago he knew he was playing a long game.
His unilateral declaration of independence – the decision not to purchase yearlings by any of the sires based at Coolmore – involved a degree of nose-cutting and face-spiting for the Maktoum family, for among the horses on the Coolmore roster then were Sadler's Wells and Danehill, and now are Galileo and Montjeu.
There is still a distance to go in the Sheikh's desire to stand alone. Magnier, the principal mover and shaker in the field, has had 35 years to create his global empire and the ruler of Dubai is still playing catch-up. But the word on the bloodstock street in Doncaster last week, at the first domestic yearling auction of the season, is that the cracks are starting to show in Co Tipperary. In these straitened times commercial breeders are beginning to put their heads in the air under pressure, indicating a disinclination to patronise expensive stallions whose stock will be of no interest to one of the major auction purchasing blocs.
The stand-off between the Maktoums and Magnier has benefited so-called "neutral" stallion stations – the progeny of whose best horses are acceptable to both major camps – and their clients. And with absolutely perfect timing one such operation, Banstead Manor Stud, has come up with two highly desirable options in Dansili and Oasis Dream.
High-class miler Dansili, a son of Danehill, is the only one of his dam Hasili's six successful offspring who did not win at the top level, but that has not prevented him from making an early mark in his second career at the earliest opportunity, notably through Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Rail Link.
This afternoon in Goodwood's Celebration Mile, two of his sons, Delegator and Zacinto, challenge for the three-year-old specialist miler's title, not necessarily yet a done deal despite the claims of Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman. To the victor, the spoils will be not just the Group 2 prize but a likely tilt at the seasonal decider, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot next month.
Delegator (3.10), having his first run for Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin team, brings proven Group 1 form to the bout, having beaten all bar Sea The Stars and Mastercraftsman in the 2,000 Guineas and St James' Palace Stakes respectively; Zacinto, who runs for Khaled Abdullah, demonstrated his upward mobility on the tricky track last time. But overall experience may win the day this time.
Alongside Dansili at Banstead Manor, Oasis Dream has proved a revelation this year. He retired to stud as a sprint champion and right from the start his stock looked the part. But, given the expectations, his first two seasons with runners were slightly disappointing; sure, there were Group winners, but none at the top level until Naaqoos took the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere in Sheikh Hamdan's colours last October.
Though Oasis Dream was lightning-fast, a chip off his sire Green Desert's block, he is from a stout female line and is proving himself capable of siring high-class performers over any distance. His best older horses this year have been Main Aim, runner-up in the July Cup; Aqlaam, runner-up in the Prix Jacques le Marois; Midday, runner-up in the Oaks and winner of the Nassau Stakes; and Monitor Closely, winner of the Great Voltigeur Stakes and, it was decided yesterday, likely to take his chance in the St Leger.
The last trial for that final Classic is the March Stakes at Goodwood this afternoon, and includes another of Oasis Dream's progressive sons, Oasis Knight. The most likely winner, though, is the unexposed Urban Poet (2.35), who will be a short price to build on an eyecatching run on the course last month and give the blues a back-up to their St Leger favourite Kite Wood.
Oasis Dream's youth squad includes two of the best colts in Arcano, winner of the Prix Morny, and Showcasing, of the Gimcrack Stakes. His daughter Misheer, though, has sidestepped tomorrow's first Group 1 test of the campaign for juvenile fillies, the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh, because of the prevailing heavy ground. Seven take up the challenge; a pair each from three of Ireland's top yards (O'Brien, Bolger, Prendergast) with Godolphin's Long Lashes the sole raider. O'Brien's charge Lillie Langtry is likely to start favourite.
Backstage gives Elliott the perfect pass to Kerry
The Irish trainer Gordon Elliott, who won the Grand National two years ago with Silver Birch, identified his candidate for next year's prize when Backstage romped to a 10-length success under Tom Scudamore at Britain's newest track, Ffos Las, yesterday. The French-bred seven-year-old was one of five Irish-trained winners in seven races in front of a crowd of 10,000 at the official opening of the Welsh track, an easy drive from the ferry port of Fishguard.
"The Kerry National back home next month is the next plan," said Co Meath-based Elliott, all of whose 22 winners this season have come on this side of the Irish Sea, "and then we'll bring him over to Aintree in the spring for the big one."
Following the retirement of King's Apostle through injury, two more of this season's non-vintage bunch of sprinters have defected from the season's final domestic Group 1 in the division, the Sprint Cup at Haydock, a week today.
Neither Serious Attitude, stiff after her unplaced run behind King's Apostle at Deauville earlier this month, nor Kingsgate Native, found to have wear and tear in an ankle joint after coming in sixth to Borderlescott in the Nunthorpe Stakes, are likely to run again this term.
Despite her surprise defeat at the hands of Dar Re Mi in the Yorkshire Oaks last week, star three-year-old filly Sariska is still on course for a crack at the colts in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. "We'll see how the trials work out," said the dual Oaks winner's trainer Michael Bell yesterday, "but that is the weekend that is high in our thoughts."
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Pure Poetry (6.40 Windsor) After some sterling efforts in top company over a mile, was caught flat-footed in a typical French sprint finish trying today's trip for the first time two weeks ago but can yet show it is his optimum distance.
Tafaool (4.00 Newmarket) Can defy a long absence to justify her jockey's selection and make it four out of seven in this particular maiden for her stable, now back in form.
*One to watch
Golden Button (Sir Mark Prescott) showed an excellent attitude in winning her maiden at Wolverhampton and now that she has a handicap mark should prove just the type to pay her way for her shrewd stable.
*Chris McGrath's Nap
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