Melbourne Cup success to be Sheikh’s finest moment

It began with a thoroughly sensible notion that turned 300 years of conventional horse racing wisdom on its head.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, now the ruler of Dubai, decided in the early 1990s that keeping his horses in cold barns in England and France during the winter might not be the best way to prepare them for the next racing season.

So he decided, with his brothers, to form the Godolphin racing stable, to employ ex-policeman Saeed bin Suroor as their trainer and to bring the horses home to the desert for winter holidays.

The horses duly thrived in the warm Gulf climate, returning to England in the spring with gleaming coats and ready to win.

In the first year the Godolphin filly Balanchine won the Epsom Oaks and the Irish Derby and Cezanne won the Irish Champion Stakes.

The next season Moonshell won Godolphin a second successive Oaks and Red Bishop scored the stable’s first victory in America, winning a Group One race at Santa Anita.

In 1995, three years after its inception, Godolphin produced its first champion, Lammtarra, winner of the Epsom Derby and a horse that rocked the racing establishment.

Here was a horse who had wintered in the Arabian desert, who was trained by an ex-cop who preferred camel racing and who beat the best three-year-olds in the world on their home turf.

Some 16 years on, the ex-copper has trained more Group One winners than any trainer alive and among the horses he has prepared are some of best the world has seen.

Almost every season the Godolphin stable has re-set the benchmark in international horse racing.

But there is one frontier Godolphin hasn’t quite conquered.

In 12 attempts with 24 horses, they haven’t won the Melbourne Cup.

At Flemington on Tuesday they will make attempt No.13 with horses 25 and 26 – Lost In The Moment and Modun.

If they win, it will be a victory as well-deserved as any.

If they don’t, they will gracefully pack their bags without a word of complaint about tracks too hard, too soft, too grassy, or too far from home, and they will come back next year.

“It is the ambition of our stable to race in the best races in the world, that is all,” says Sheikh Mohammed.

Godolphin, the stable named for one of the three horses that founded the thoroughbred breed, is the world’s largest and, by most measures, most successful racing operation.

Despite a perception that the winners might not have been rolling home as regularly as they used to, the past three years have been Godolphin’s most successful.

As well as bin Suroor, the stable has employed a second Dubai-based trainer, Mahmood Al Zarooni and between them they have won 177 races this year, including 53 stakes victories.

In 2010 Godolphin had 200 winners worldwide of almost $A18 million and in 2009 the stable’s 202 winner earned more than $A20 million.

Since its inception, the stable has won 182 group one races with 101 horses, including 52 victories in the “classics” the breed-shaping races of the world.

Saeed bin Suroor alone has prepared 789 individual winners of 1477 races, 555 of them stakes races.

While the Godolphin stable is a comparatively recent innovation, the involvement of the Maktoum family in horse racing began 44 years ago when Sheikh Mohammed and his brother Sheikh Hamdan were studying English at Cambridge University.

The brothers, keen horsemen since early childhood, attended their first race meeting at nearby Newmarket where they saw Royal Palace, ridden by Australian George Moore, win the 2000 Guineas in 1967.

After returning to Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed built his own track and established the Zabeel stables, after which the champion New Zealand-based sire, who was raced by his brother, is named.

In 1977, the Sheikh had his first English winner, Hatta and by 1982 he was England’s leading owner.

From the mid 1980s the champions began to appear – horses like Ajdal, Diminuendo, Indian Skimmer, King’s Theatre, Pebbles and Sonic Lady.

In his own name, Sheikh Mohammed also operates the Darley empire which has a massive presence in Australia.

His older brother Sheikh Hamdan is also heavily involved in racing, winning a string of big races in Australia with Almaarad, (Cox Plate), At Talaq and Jeune (Melbourne Cup) and Fraar (Caulfield Cup).

The formation of Godolphin consolidated the Maktoum thoroughbred fortunes, although the brothers still race some horses in their individual colours.

After the unbeaten Lammtarra has come Daylami, Fantastic Light and the best Godolphin horse of all, Dubai Millennium.

The royal blue Godolphin silks have now been carried to victory in 14 countries.

And if Modun or Lost In The Moment are successful at Flemington on Tuesday, it will register as one of its crowning achievements.

31 Oct 2011


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