Mahmood al Zarooni, the new Godolphin trainer, wins his first race in Britain and hopes to make an impact in today's 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Al Zarooni is up and running
LONDON // Abraham Lincoln once said that "most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be", which for Mahmood al Zarooni, the new Godolphin trainer, is pretty much ecstatic. The Dubai-born handler, who shot to world prominence by saddling his first horse, Calming Influence, to victory in the Godolphin Mile at Meydan on World Cup night last month, won his first race in Britain on Wednesday, sending out Lion Mountain under Ted Durcan to win a Pontefract maiden. But it is the excitement of having Buzzword, his first runner, in today's 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket that really gets al Zarooni smiling.
"I am very happy to have my first runner in a British Classic," al Zarooni said. "It was great to have my first British winner on Wednesday as well. It's good to win in England. We're running against the best trainers in the world here." Al Zarooni is based in Moulton Paddocks on the Bury Road in Newmarket - Godolphin's original base from which the operation began in 1994 - barely a mile from the main HQ of Godolphin Stables on Snailwell Road. The 33-year-old has a string of around 90 horses there, comprising mainly two-year-olds, but some older horses such as Buzzword.
"He is a good horse," al Zarooni said, despite the fact that the bay son of Pivotal is considered a no-hoper for the race. "He ran a little green at the beginning last year, but he ran well in Group races at the end of the season. You never know what could happen." If Buzzword is seen as unlikely winner in the first British Classic of the season, al Zarooni understands the unique pressures of sourcing winners for his employer, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Last year, Godolphin stemmed the tide of criticism at their early-season efforts by sending out 202 winners worldwide. It was an astonishing season-ending performance, which included victories in the St Leger at Doncaster as well as at the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. Al Zarooni seems to be unfazed, however, by the stable's recent success.
"To be honest, I have no figure of how many winners I want to achieve this year. I'm new to this and I am always learning. I'll try to get the best results." Al Zarooni learnt his trade as an assistant to Ali Rashid al Raihe, this year's champion trainer, and Mubarak bin Shafya, as well as spending much of last year working under the wing of Saeed bin Suroor, the principal Godolphin trainer. But last month, ahead of World Cup night, al Zarooni was announced as Godolphin's second trainer, in tandem with bin Suroor, with the reason put forward that bin Suroor simply had too many horses under his care.
It is not the first time that Godolphin have split their British string. In 1999, the 34-year-old David Loder started to train a string of around 100 juveniles from Evry in France, but after a two-year experiment, the project was wound down. And it seems that Godolphin may have learnt from that experience, as al Zarooni still receives help from his former mentor, who saddles Al Zir as opposition in Saturday's Group 1 mile contest.
"Saeed has been here for 16 years so he knows most things about racing in England. He is always helping me. If I win a race, it's like he wins a race, and vice-versa. We are both working for one team; the Godolphin team." Whatever lies in store today for al Zarooni - he saddles three other runners on the card - he will struggle to replicate the thrill of his high-profile victory last month. "Winning with Calming Influence was the best feeling of my professional life," he said. "It was the first horse under my name, on the first World Cup night at Meydan. It made me very happy."