Racing: Sheikh sends Millennium on treasure trail

Richard Edmondson
Sunday 26 September 1999 23:02

IT WAS the desert and springtime when Sheikh Mohammed addressed the visiting hordes. In the air-conditioned luxury of the racing museum adjacent to Nad Al Sheba racecourse, the Sheikh told us all how naughty the bookmakers had been in promoting Dubai Millennium to Derby favouritism on the back of flimsy credentials but a rather flashy name. It now seems they were not the only little rascals.

After Dubai Millennium had won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes here yesterday the chief of Godolphin asserted that this was the best colt that the Arabian team had ever prepared. It is an opinion that the Sheikh has held for some time and the exact reason why the horse has his current name.

The tall and imposing beast we witnessed yesterday was originally called Yaazer, which is not unexotic itself as it translates as white gazelle. But, after early reports of his pyrotechnics on the Newmarket gallops, it was considered insufficient. "When we saw him working we changed the name and called him Dubai Millennium," the Sheikh said. "He looked an outstanding horse.''

Those in the know included some who secured 100-1 for the Derby before the horse ever ran and won at Yarmouth and, not for the first time, the bookies. It hurts to even contemplate this, but the big boys were maligned in the Gulf as the Sheikh was rather loose with the actualite. Dubai Millennium was christened with the Dubai World Cup of next March in mind and, remarkably, it seems he will go to his winter holiday destination with a solid chance of taking the world's richest race. Yesterday's may have been one of the more celebrated Group Ones in the calendar, but he treated it as little more than morning physical jerks, pulling six lengths clear of Almushtarak. It was a performance which encouraged Sheikh Mohammed to become the Oscar Wilde of the desert. "It's very hard to lose a winning habit," he said enigmatically in the winners' enclosure. Buoyed by the tittering response, the owner dipped into Sheikhspeare when asked if Daylami was to participate in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. "To run or not to run that is question," he said. Chris Smith, the Minister of Culture, who was in attendance, would have been impressed. As the hacks pondered this great gravitas, Frankie Dettori came to the rescue with plainer language. "This horse is a superstar," he said, prompting grateful scribbling. "He's still immature and, as you can see with horses like Daylami and Swain, they don't peak until they are four or five.''

The great Daylami conundrum was later explained by Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, who confirmed the grey's participation at Longchamp on Sunday and explored the thinking behind the decision.

"Our initial concern was the proximity of the Arc to his last race at Leopardstown," he said. "Although they are three weeks apart he showed last year that he needed a break between races. But we have spaced his races more this season, planning his programme carefully, and he has not travelled so extensively. He worked yesterday and came out of it very well. He has a fantastic chance in the Arc if he can reproduce his Leopardstown form.''

It was a day heavily subdued by the weather. The crowd was poor for a card of this size and quality, while the heavy going both frightened away many runners and blunted the brilliance of those which remained.

Royal Kingdom, the first of a heap in the Royal Lodge Stakes, earned a lazy quote of 25-1 for the 2,000 Derby, while Teggiano stood still at around 16-1 for next year's 1,000 Guineas after slogging home in the Fillies' Mile.

More constant on Festival day was Dettori domination. After he had ridden the first two winners there must have been bookmakers searching for the pearl-handled revolver.

Following Teggiano's victory, Frankie performed his customary Group One leap and, by the time he came down, Sheikh Mohammed was on the premises. The filly's owner, Abdullah Saeed Bul Hab, later admitted he would be in talks with Godolphin about a possible transfer.

After that, Dettori had the good grace not to have a full book of rides, though there was still time to inflict more pain.

Vicious Circle's completion of an Ebor-Ritz Club big-race double, and his rider's treble, must have been a reminder of horrible times past for the bookies. A la recherche du temps perdu, as Sheikh Mohammed might have said.

PRIX DE L'ARC DE TRIOMPHE: Latest betting (William Hill): 7-4 Montjeu, 15-8 Daylami, 9-2 El Condor Pasa, 14-1 Daryaba, 16-1 Croco Rouge, High Rise, Tiger Hill, 20-1 Dark Moondancer, 25-1 Bienamado, Daliapour, Dream Well, Fantastic Light, Greek Dance, Nedawi, 33-1 others

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