Trainer believes success at the race at Churchill Downs venue with Alpha would surpass 2007 Dubai World Cup win.
McLaughlin's victory hopes for Godolphin at Kentucky Derby
Kiaran McLaughlin's victory with Invasor in the 2007 Dubai World Cup will only be matched, in the trainer's mind, if he wins tomorrow's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs with Godolphin's Alpha.
McLaughlin, who has trained for the Al Maktoum family since 1993, believes that Godolphin's frustrating quest to win the "Run for the Roses" could finally end with Alpha, who is to be ridden by the Jamaican jockey Rajiv Maragh.
Bred by Darley, Alpha's bid to become the first Godolphin horse in eight attempts to land the first leg of the Triple Crown takes on an added significance.
None of Godolphin's previous runners have been bred by the Dubai-based racing operation, which was founded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
To add to the sense that Godolphin are doing something very different, Alpha remained with McLaughlin throughout the winter rather than travelling back and forth from the UAE. Even without regular visits to Dubai, where McLaughlin spent 10 years, he is fully aware of the expectation emanating from the Emirates.
"Winning the Kentucky Derby would equal Invasor's win, there is no question," he told The National from Churchill Downs. "To win it here for Godolphin with a Darley home-bred, born and raised in Kentucky, and to know how bad Sheikh Mohammed and Dubai wants this would be an equally valuable day to me."
If winning the Kentucky Derby has proved to be beyond Godolphin's horses so far - China Visit's sixth place in 2000 is their best effort - McLaughlin has proved that with the right animal he can seize the prize.
He came audaciously close in 2005 when Closing Argument led with just under 100 metres to go before Mike Smith nicked it on the line on Giacomo.
"I was proud and disappointed in equal measure," he said. "It was an exciting day; it's not every day you almost win the Derby."
Alpha may have failed in all three Grade 1 races he has competed in but the improvement was for all to see when he pushed Todd Pletcher's Gemologist to within a neck in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.
That he suffered lacerations to his legs makes the run more creditable but the troubled passage on the rail he endured made McLaughlin believe that Alpha is good enough to beat the hype horses Union Rags and Bob Baffert's Bodemeister tomorrow.
"In the first turn he got checked hard and got a cut on his shin and pastern," the 51 year old said.
"The cuts look great now and are certainly not an issue. The checking hurt him and I think he would have won that race if he hadn't been."
McLaughlin was the champion trainer at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse on three occasions during the 1990s and once the following decade. Although he enjoyed his time in Dubai, being born in Lexington in Kentucky the draw of home proved too strong.
"Sure I miss Dubai," he said. "My wife and kids loved it there. I loved the early days with less horses and less people but loved watching the country grow and all the buildings go up.
"A lot of people think that Sheikh Mohammed can't do it from Dubai, but he is the most important figure in thoroughbred racing in the world. I am just a small part of the Godolphin team but I have been dreaming about winning this race my whole life."
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