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The future looks bright, the future looks blue

13 min read
Godolphin are riding the crest of a wave of global success, with the 2018 Epsom Derby, Dubai World Cup and now the Caulfield Cup added to the silverware collection. John Berry discusses the banner year for the team in blue as they look toward an exciting Melbourne Cup week.

For most of the current century, what one might call the glory days of Godolphin were but a distant memory. In December 2016, however, we can now perhaps say that some seeds of change were sown, seeds which have been reaping a rich harvest throughout 2018.

One consequence of this harvest was that Godolphin was once again crowned Champion Owner of Great Britain at the end-of-term awards’ ceremony on QIPCO British Champions’ Day at Ascot last Saturday.

Godolphin’s high profile inevitably means that its internal politics attract plenty of attention. Changes of trainer invariably become big talking points, as was the case when John O’Shea succeeded Peter Snowden and then when James Cummings was recruited to replace O’Shea.

Godolphin’s high profile inevitably means that its internal politics attract plenty of attention.

It is a similar story regarding the occupancy of the principal managerial positions, as we saw last year when Henry Plumptre’s resignation as managing director of Godolphin’s Australian operation was so widely scrutinised, as was the subsequent appointment of Vin Cox to fill the role.

The same level of interest applies in Europe, where in December 2016 John Ferguson (who subsequently resigned from the organisation in June 2017) was appointed to the position of Godolphin’s Chief Executive. Ferguson had played various key roles within Sheikh Mohammed’s operation for years, but his new role, as he revealed a few weeks later, came with the exhortation from Sheikh Mohammed to give Godolphin “a kick in the belly”.

Godolphn's Managing Dierctor, Vin Cox with trainer, Saeed bin Suroor after winning the Caulfield Cup

Quite what form this kick took is, even now, hard to say. But Godolphin has been on a tremendous run of success over recent years. Although Ferguson is no longer with the company, Godolphin continue to reap the dividends of his strategic decisions over the years. As well as benefitting from a new group of leading industry thinkers.

At time of writing, Godolphin’s worldwide tally of Group/Grade One victories for the current year stands at 26.

So successful have Godolphin in general, and its two principal trainers Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby in particular, been during 2018 that it is hard to believe that neither of those two men trained a Group One winner in Europe in 2015. At time of writing, Godolphin’s worldwide tally of Group/Grade One victories for the current year stands at 26.

Gallery: Godolphin's 26 G1 winners so far for the 2018/19 season. In order of most recent first.

This is a startlingly good total by any standards, including by Godolphin’s own. In the 27 years since its inception (ie 1992 to 2018 inclusive) Godolphin has posted a Group One total of 284, at an average of just over ten per year. This means that the current 2018 figure (which is likely to rise further between now and the end of year) is roughly two and a half times the operation’s annual norm.

Improving quality while keeping the quantity

Merely to quote these statistics, of course, is to use them for support rather than illumination. Godolphin is currently very different from how it started out.

At the outset, Godolphin was a small, select quad of Sheikh Mohammed’s best horses, trained initially by Hilal Ibrahim and then by Saeed bin Suroor, and housed (during the European season) entirely within the original, much smaller, Moulton Paddocks Stables. At that time, the vast majority of Sheikh Mohammed’s horses raced in his own maroon and white livery, rather than the Godolphin blue, and were trained by public trainers.

Nowadays the Godolphin team contains many hundreds of horses, but then it numbered merely a few dozen.

That, though, does not alter the fact that, as Godolphin grew, it (perhaps inevitably) became far more synonymous with quantity than quality. This year, though, it has turned the tide and rolled back the years.

Both Appleby and bin Suroor enjoyed notable success at the Dubai International Carnival at Meydan in the first quarter of the year, and things have continued from there. On ‘Super Saturday’ at Meydan in March, Appleby saddled the Darley-bred Blair House (Ire) (Pivotal {GB}) to land the G1 Jebel Hatta. They then each had a Group One double on Dubai World Cup Night three weeks later, highlighted by Bin Suroor sending out Thunder Snow (Ire) (Helmet) to win the highlight. Of their four Group One winners, all bar one was a Darley-bred son of a Darley sire.

Of their four Group One winners, all bar one was a Darley-bred son of a Darley sire.

The Golodphin contingent taking on the Dubai International Carnival, L-R William Buick, James Doyle, Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor

Derby success

If there is one victory which could please Sheikh Mohammed more than a Dubai World Cup triumph, that is arguably success in the Derby. Previously, Saeed bin Suroor had taken the premier Classic in 1995 with Lammtarra (USA) (Nijinsky {Can}) but that horse (who carried the silks of Saeed bin Maktoum al Maktoum) was one of the stable’s few inmates not raced by Godolphin. New Approach (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) won the ‘Blue Riband’ in 2008 in the green livery of Sheikh Mohammed’s wife, Princess Haya of Jordan.

But this year the Charlie Appleby-trained Masar (Ire) finally carried the royal blue silks into the hallowed Epsom winner’s circle, providing Sheikh Mohammed with one of his finest racing hours. The admirable home-bred chestnut colt is a son of a Darley stallion (New Approach) out of the Saeed bin Suroor-trained 2011 G2 UAE Derby heroine Khawlah, herself a home-bred daughter of another Darley sire (Cape Cross {Ire}), a Group One winner for Godolphin in 1998) and the Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum home-bred Villarrica (USA). The latter is a daughter of Godolphin’s 2000 G1 Irish Oaks runner-up Melikah (Ire), herself a daughter of Lammtarra – so the triumph would have been as close to Sheikh Mohammed’s heart as could be.

This year the Charlie Appleby-trained Masar finally carried the royal blue silks into the hallowed Epsom winner’s circle, providing Sheikh Mohammed with one of his finest racing hours.

Later in the month Appleby sent out Godolphin’s four-year-old Blue Point (Ire) (Shamardal {USA}) to take the G1 King’s Stand S. at Royal Ascot, merely one more highlight in a superb summer for Moulton Paddocks Stables. Appleby hadn’t quite been able to complete the Derby / Oaks double because Wild Illusion (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) had finished ‘only’ second in the Oaks, but more recently the filly has taken the G2 Ribblesdale S. at Royal Ascot, the G1 Nassau S. at Glorious Goodwood and the G1 Prix de l’Opera at Longchamp on ‘Arc Day’. That latter triumph was the second leg of a Group One double for Godolphin on Arc Day, following the G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere victory of the Bin Suroor-trained Royal Marine (Ire) (Raven’s Pass {USA}).

Aussie success

At the same time, both trainers have been enjoying remarkable success in Australia. Bin Suroor has sent out the winners of two of the biggest races of the Spring Carnival in Melbourne, Benbatl (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) landing the G1 Ladbrokes Caulfield S. and Best Solution (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) taking the G1 Stella Artois Caulfield Cup. In each case, the horse was winning his third Group One of the year. Earlier in the spring, Appleby had won the G1 Ladbrokes Sir Rupert Clarke S. at Caulfield with Jungle Cat (Ire) (Iffraaj {GB}) who was thus registering his second Group One triumph of the year.

Best Solution following his win in the G1 Caulfield Cup

Not to be outdone, James Cummings has Godolphin’s Australian string in fine form, as highlighted by the win last month in the G1 TAB Epsom H. at Randwick of the redoubtable Hartnell (GB) (Authorized {Ire}).

We can say that Sheikh Mohammed has bred and raced horses more talented than Hartnell, but it is doubtful whether he has ever had one more admirable. That Epsom victory came three and a half years after Hartnell’s first Group One triumph (in the G1 BMW / Tancred S. at Rosehill in March 2015) and that was after Hartnell had been Group One-placed in France as a two-year-old in 2013 and had won the Queen’s Vase S. over two miles at Royal Ascot in 2015.

The magnificent gelding is currently doing sterling work still flying the royal blue standard while we wait for the breeding operation to produce some more stars of the calibre of the Peter Snowden-trained contemporaries Sepoy (Elusive Quality {USA}) and Helmet (Exceed And Excel) who between them swept the board in the Two-Year-Olds’ Triple Crown in Sydney in the autumn of 2011 before both going on to further Group One glory the following spring.

Champion owner of Great Britain

Godolphin has just been crowned Champion Owner of Great Britain for the fourth consecutive season, and thirteenth time overall. This latest title surely must be as pleasing for Sheikh Mohammed as any of the previous twelve.

Much of Godolphin’s success in recent years had come with horses trained by what one might call ‘outside’ stables, such as Talismanic (GB) (Medaglia D’Oro {USA}) and Cloth Of Stars (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) with Andre Fabre, Jack Hobbs (GB) (Halling {USA}) with John Gosden, Ribchester (Ire) (Iffraaj {GB}) with Richard Fahey, Harry Angel (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) with Clive Cox, and Barney Roy (GB) (Excelebration {Ire}) with Richard Hannon.

This year, though, it has been the Godolphin private trainers who have been producing most of the success, generally with Darley home-breds by Darley stallions.

The mere fact that Sheikh Mohammed has been so personally involved at the sales at Keeneland, Goffs and Tattersalls in recent weeks shows how high the tide of enthusiasm, reinvigorated no doubt by Godolphin’s recent high-profile success, is running at present.

As for the future, things look set to continue in similar vein, not least because the Godolphin string contains so many very promising juveniles, headed by the Appleby-trained G1 National S. winner Quorto (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}).

Looking farther ahead, there is scope for further improvement still, thanks to Sheikh Mohammed’s recently re-introduced policy of buying yearlings by, and sending mares to, the best Coolmore stallions, most notably Galileo. The mere fact that Sheikh Mohammed has been so personally involved at the sales at Keeneland, Goffs and Tattersalls in recent weeks shows how high the tide of enthusiasm, reinvigorated no doubt by Godolphin’s recent high-profile success, is running at present.

As we toast Godolphin, Great Britain’s Champion Owner for 2018, we can truly say that the future looks bright, the future looks blue.