x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor under pressure to take this season's success into Dubai World Cup

Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor has been atop the trainer standings at Meydan Racourse since it opened in 2010 and he's hoping to win his first Dubai World Cup since 2006, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor, right, saddled four winners on Super Saturday three weeks ago and will take aim at his first Dubai World Cup win since 2006 on Saturday. Mike Young / The National
Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor, right, saddled four winners on Super Saturday three weeks ago and will take aim at his first Dubai World Cup win since 2006 on Saturday. Mike Young / The National

Saeed bin Suroor stands track side at Meydan Racecourse talking intently into a white iPhone stuck to his ear. His Giorgio Armani sunglasses shield the glare of the morning sun and hide his eyes from the film crews and photographers waiting to gain access to this most private of men.

The Godolphin trainer projects cool efficiency, an aura one that stands in striking contrast to Bill Mott, the trainer of the World Cup aspirant Royal Delta; Mott who has been sporting a pair of slightly cracked spectacles since he arrived this week.

Bin Suroor hangs up and before anyone has a chance to say a word he flashes a smile with both his mouth and eyes and says: "I get requests from media all over the world. I get them from here, America, Australia, England, Brazil, everywhere and all the time. This is a particularly busy time right now. It's hard to keep up with it all."

But keep up with it all he does, because that is what the former member of the Dubai police has been doing his whole life. Once a major in the municipality's constabulary, he has a work rate that would make less energetic men crack. His daily routine involves waking up at 4am and, after track work at Godolphin's plush Al Quoz facility, the day has only just begun.

Bin Suroor, 44, then moves through a whirlwind of looking after horses, organising training schedules for the following day and keeping tabs with his string stabled in Newmarket, all until he often goes to bed at midnight.

On the eve of the biggest race meeting in the world, with US$27.25 million (Dh100m) up for grabs, it has been an exhausting week in the effort to please Godolphin's founder, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. He has succeeded, it seems.

"The pressure is always there but I have been in this for 19 years," Bin Suroor says. "There is a lot of pressure in having runners in front of your own people and with international horses also competing.

"The boss is very calm."

Godolphin have sent out 29 winners at Meydan this season, and 20 of them were running for Bin Suroor. He leads the trainers' standings at the track, where he has ruled since the facility opened in 2010.

He has now been champion Carnival trainer in each season that racing has been staged at the region's flagship track and it is fitting that Hunter's Light, Sajjhaa and Kassiano, who all represent him on Emirates Dubai World Cup night on Saturday, are the three highest-earning horses this season.

After the media hullabaloo has died down, Bin Suroor is in a more reflective mood.

"I am very happy to win another title, it's so far so good," he says.

"The horses are training well and the jockeys are in good form. The horses did their last serious piece of work earlier this week and all are doing well, mentally and physically.

"It's a different story to racing at the Carnival and all we need is a bit of luck and we should have a good night.

"We have no excuses."

Despite his success this season, Bin Suroor is still four winners shy of the tally of 24 he achieved in the 2009/10 season. He has 13 runners across the eight-race thoroughbred card tonight and has more than one runner in six of the races. He will have a hand in how each of those races may be run.

It would not be in the realms of fantasy, therefore, if he drew level with that score or even eclipsed it to cap a remarkable campaign.

Bin Suroor saddled four winners on Super Saturday, three weeks ago. Five times he has sent out three winners on Dubai World Cup night, most recently in 2003, when Firebreak won the Godolphin Mile, Sulamani took the Dubai Sheema Classic and Moon Ballad scooped the world's most valuable race.

He may have the track record to make such an achievement a possibility but Bin Suroor is far too pragmatic to have hoped for such success in January, when the Carnival began.

"It was very hard to say that we were going to win so many races," he says.

"We had to keep many horses sound, and some improve through the Carnival and some don't. Some like the Tapeta but sometimes it can work the other way around and horses that like Tapeta don't translate their form to turf when we get back to Newmarket.

"Sure, we had a good group of horses but we have to work really hard every day."

Bin Suroor's growing relationship with Silvestre De Sousa, the Brazilian jockey, has been fundamental.

The two have combined to form a briskly efficient relationship that compliments the more relaxed pairing of the trainer Mahmoud Al Zarooni and the jockey Mickael Barzalona.

During this UAE season, the more prosaic pair have triumphed in the inter-stable rivalry between Al Quoz and Marmoom.

Since Barzalona and De Sousa joined Godolphin last season it was left unsaid, but understood, that De Sousa rode for Bin Suroor and Barzalona was favoured by Al Zarooni. Those relationships have crystallised in Dubai this year and Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, sought to clarify the position of the two camps.

"It has worked well here and been clearer for everyone, so it will continue in the UK," he told the Racing Post. "But both jockeys will ride for both trainers, especially when, for example, one has two in a race or one jockey is at one meeting and the other at another."

The Godolphin jockey arrangements are always the subject of intense scrutiny, especially since Frankie Dettori left the organisation in October after 18 years of service. At the time, it was stated that he would ride freelance for the operation, but after testing positive for a prohibited substance in France later in the year, things changed.

This week, the Italian jockey's name has rarely been mentioned at Meydan.

Crisford did leave open the possibility that Dettori could once again wear the royal-blue Godolphin silks on occasion in the future.

"We have got two new young jockeys in Mickael and Silvestre, and we are very happy with them," he says. "They are young, keen and hungry, and they will be our first port of call. There will be spare, outside rides, but Frankie has moved on and we have moved on.

"It's the start of a new chapter. I'm not saying never, but we will cross those bridges when we come to them."

De Sousa rode more often for Mark Johnston in Britain last season than he did for Bin Suroor and Al Zarooni combined.

This UAE season, however, De Sousa is well clear of Barzalona in the UAE jockeys' standings but is too humble to credit his own input into the stable's rich vein of form.

"He has had the horses in good form all season," the rider said of Bin Suroor. "He is not doing anything differently from what I can see but he just has had better horses and were are working better as a team.

"He is the same person whatever is going on, if he is under pressure or not. He's a pretty smooth guy."



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