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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 12 November 2018

At Epsom, Godolphin have gilt-edged chance to embroider Cloth of Stars in Blue Riband

Geoffrey Riddle breaks down the stakes for Godolphin at Epsom this weekend, where they are eyeing roaring triumphs in both the Oaks and Derby.
Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images
Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images

EPSOM, ENGLAND // On October 7, 2014 John Ferguson was at the Tattersalls October Yearling sale in Newmarket. The future chief executive and racing manager of Godolphin spent just over £4.2 million (Dh22.3m) on 11 yearlings on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Three days later across town at Moulton Paddocks stables Charlie Appleby hosted the media. He admitted to a throng of journalists that Godolphin were in a trough since their glory days of regularly sparring with Irish giants Coolmore and promised that the good times were just around the corner.

On the cusp of the two-day Derby meeting that starts here on Friday, the Dubai-based operation are finally in a position to deliver on that pledge. Whether they actually follow through will be played out across the rolling downland here just outside London, where Appleby’s Skiffle will be partnered by William Buick in Friday’s Oaks against eight others including Coolmore’s overwhelming favourite Minding.

Saturday is the acid test, because in front of an expected crowd of over 100,000, Godolphin pit two colts with gilt-edged chances against a cavalry of runners from Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle operation in the Derby, the most important flat race in the world that the ‘boys in blue’ have never won after 28 attempts.

Cloth Of Stars, who will be ridden by Mickael Barzalona, was among those 11 horses bought at Tattersalls by Ferguson. At £420,000 (Dh2.2m), the son of 2009 Derby winner Sea The Stars and an unraced sister of 2007 Oaks winner Light Shift was only the fifth most expensive horse in Ferguson’s swag bag. Four wins from six runs later, however, and it is clear that, in Ferguson’s eyes at least, Cloth Of Stars heads the team. Ferguson was in France on May 8 when Cloth Of Stars beat old rival Robin Of Navan in the Prix Greffulhe, the race trainer Andre Fabre used to prepare 2011 Derby winner Pour Moi and two years later Ocovango, who was poorly drawn and then hampered when fifth to Ruler Of The World.

On that same day Moonlight Magic, who was bred by Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley breeding operation, won the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, and ever since trainer Jim Bolger has issued bullish updates. The son of Cape Cross is no second string, especially with former Derby winner Kevin Manning in the saddle.

In a year when O’Brien’s challenge looks weak, on paper at least, the stars could well be aligned enough to produce a glorious result.

And it has not come without hard work. Where in the old days both Cloth Of Stars and Moonlight Magic may well have found their way to the Newmarket yards of Saeed bin Suroor or Appleby, Godolphin are finally realising that global ambitions require global resources that are briefed with a specific task in mind. The more focused strategy is beginning to pay off.

More and more, Godolphin are leaving horses with the trainers who nurtured them from the start and at this early stage of the European turf season alone the results have been strong. Godolphin have snaffled five Group races in England so far and each of them has been sent out by a different trainer. Toormore won the Group 2 Mile at Sandown in April. Bin Suroor hit the mark with Beautiful Romance in the Group 2 Middleton Stakes. Home Of The Brave secured the new association with Hugo Palmer last Saturday in the Group 3 Timeform Jury Stakes at Haydock and Roger Varian’s Belardo took top honours in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes.

In Ireland Willie McCreery is eyeing North American targets for Devonshire after her victory in the Group 2 Lanwades Stud Stakes, while in France, Fabre sent Usherette to Britain in April to win the Group 2 Dahlia Stakes and has both Talismanic and Floodlight engaged with realistic chances in Sunday’s French Derby at Chantilly.

It was an approach that reaped dividends in Dubai during the World Cup Carnival at which American trainer Kiaran McLaughlin ransacked Meydan with Godolphin’s Frosted, Confrontation and Marking, only to come up short on World Cup night.

Ferguson took over Godolphin in December and, quite rightly, deserves credit for giving Sheikh Mohammed’s racing stable a good boost. If, however, Godolphin finally prevail in the Derby and the Blue Riband is embroidered with a Cloth Of Stars the real foundations were laid two years ago and they will be powerful ones to build on.

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