EPSOM // Field Marshal Rommel ultimately could not do it. Neither could Napoleon. But Mahmood al Zarooni, Godolphin's new trainer, will aim to challenge successfully on two fronts this weekend as he bids to win both today's Epsom Derby and the French equivalent at Chantilly tomorrow.
Al Zarooni saddles Buzzword and recent Goodwood victor Rewilding at Epsom, to complement Saeed bin Suroor's Al Zir, while Simon de Montfort, a recent acquisition from the yard of Andre Fabre, represents the Dubai-based team's new trainer over in France. It is an ambitious plan, hatched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who has personally overseen the final preparations at Newmarket this week. The magnitude of the task set by Al Zarooni is put into focus when you consider that no trainer has achieved the feat of winning both races in the same season during al Zarooni's lifetime of 33 years.
And if that was not enough, there is a lot riding on Godolphin's new star. On Monday, Sheikh Mohammed had to stump up the £150,000 (Dh808,000) required to supplement his two colts for the English Classic. A further 60,000 was needed to enter Simon de Montfort. It is a bold strategy, and one which would make most trainers sleepless with worry. "What I like about His Highness," al Zarooni said, "is that whereas most owners pressure you and push you, I do not feel one per cent of pressure from his side. He is not like some owner watching from home on the TV - he is in the thick of it."
If those words sound like the confidence of the inexperienced, the reassuring presence of Sheikh Mohammed is always there to point his trainers in the direction he wants his operation to go. It was he who decided Frankie Dettori should have the opportunity of securing his second Derby by taking the ride on Rewilding this afternoon. He also gave advice to Al Zarooni as to the make-up of his final Derby team.
"We were thinking about the French Derby for Buzzword," said Al Zarooni. "But His Highness watched him work at the weekend and he went very well. I was talking about France, but he said, 'No Mahmood, supplement him'." Some might consider Godolphin's late entry policy as poor planning, but the stakes that Sheikh Mohammed is playing for could not be higher. The operation's royal blue silks have never prevailed in the Derby, although Lammtarra, trained by bin Suroor, carried Saeed Maktoum Al Maktoum's green colours to victory in 1993. It is a huge hole in the CV of the Sheikh's breeding operation, and one which the team are desperate to rectify. "The Derby is a unique race and it is one we always wish to be associated with," said Simon Crisford, the racing manager, yesterday. "If we win it, so much the better. Mahmood is a relaxed kind of guy and he's got a very highly-fancied contender."
If Godolphin needed any sign of encouragement, it came in the Oaks yesterday when Snow Fairy, who was supplemented at a cost of £20,000, won the 1 mile, 4 furlong contest for trainer Ed Dunlop. It was Dunlop's second victory in the Fillies' Classic, having won the Oaks with the globe-trotting Ouija Board in 2004. Earlier in the day Cavalryman, who raced twice at Meydan during the International Carnival, could only finish fifth to Fame And Glory in the Group 1 Coronation Cup.