x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Stiff ask for Blue Bunting

Godolphin look to improve at the Curragh after drawing a blank in Newmarket races.

Godolphin have barely had time to get over the disappointment of their inability to secure the July Cup before a new Group 1 challenge has emerged.

Delegator's defeat in Newmarket's international sprint eight days ago leaves Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, without a win in the race which has been sponsored by Darley, his breeding operation, for 17 years.

His racing stable faces a similar challenge this afternoon at the Curragh, when Blue Bunting appears in the Irish Oaks.

The 2,400m contest has borne the Darley banner since 2002, and before that it was sponsored by Kildangan Stud, which Sheikh Mohammed purchased in 1986.

He was fortunate enough to dominate the race in the late 1980s when his famous maroon-and-white colours were carried to victory four times.

He was in the unique position to own two winners in 1988 when the English Oaks victor Diminuendo, ridden by the American Steve Cauthen, dead-heated with Melodist, ridden by Walter Swinburn.

Since then, however, it has been lean times and Blue Bunting needs to improve if she is to match Dancing Rain, the English Oaks winner, and the Aidan O'Brien pair of Misty For Me, the Irish 1,000 Guineas victor, and Wonder Of Wonders.

All four clashed at Epsom in June, when a superb piece of riding by Johnny Murtagh saw Dancing Rain prevail from the front.

Dancing Rain's victory was doubly fortuitous because her three rivals all failed to handle Epsom's undulations. Murtagh will have a job on his hands if he is to replicate the trick.

It could all have been so different, of course. Blue Bunting was not even in the frame for Classic races at the beginning of the season. Godolphin boasted real firepower with Khawlah, the UAE Derby winner and Darley homebred, and the unbeaten White Moonstone, both ready to dominate the fillies division. Khawlah's season has suffered continual setback, however, while White Moonstone pulled up stiff after routine work in April and has just returned to light training.

Blue Bunting's success in the English 1,000 Guineas highlights the strength in depth of the Godolphin team and, if this season's juveniles are anything to go by, the Dubai-based operation has a crack team taking shape for Meydan next season and beyond.

Between Mahmood Al Zarooni and Saeed bin Suroor, the two trainers have saddled 10 juvenile winners in Britain this season.

Eight of those have been fillies, including three of the four that are considered the most likely winners of next year's 1000 Guineas at this early stage.

Blue Bunting finished fourth at Epsom, run out of third place by a momentary lapse in concentration by Frankie Dettori, a move which cost Godolphin in the region of Dh100,000. The reputation of both horse and rider took a hit after that outing, and, with Sheikh Mohammed desperate to win a race that carries his full support, the stakes are high.