Dubai youngsters take first steps on Classic path
THIS year's first wave of equine talent from the Dubai desert is expected to arrive in Newmarket on Monday.
Spearheaded by the fillies Moonshell and Deceive, the latest, 40-strong Godolphin Racing contingent will be mounting an attack on the European Classics and other major prizes over the next six months. The two fillies are bidding to emulate the most famous Godolphin runner so far, Balanchine, being flown in for their first big assignments with the serious stages of their preparation having already been completed in the warmth of the Middle East.
Moonshell has attracted tremendous attention despite only one fleeting appearance in public when trained by Henry Cecil. She won a 15-runner maiden over a mile at Doncaster, quickening up well, and was only recently replaced by Harayir as favourite for the 1,000 Guineas, her first target. Deceive, a filly by Machiavellian, has a near-identical record. She took a six-furlong maiden at Kempton Park when trained by James Fanshawe, and the first objective on her return is the French 1,000 Guineas at Longchamp on May 14.
Both Moonshell and Deceive are now trained by Saeed bin Suroor, who replaces Hilal Ibrahim as first trainer to Godolphin, the Dubai-based division of Sheik Mohammed's vast Thoroughbred empire. Balanchine herself is booked to travel in one of the three scheduled shipments to Britain. She has reportedly recovered well from two serious bouts of colic last summer and is on course to make her reappearance in the Prince Of Wales' Stakes, over a mile and a quarter, at Royal Ascot in June.
Jetting in from the opposite direction will be Red Bishop, who supplemented his lucrative wins in the Hong Kong International Vase in December and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup earlier this month - both at Sha Tin - with a stunning win in last Sunday's San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita only 24 hours after arriving from Dubai. A feature of the Godolphin success rate has been the racing stable's ability to master the challenge of travelling horses from country to country, and Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said every precaution had been taken to ensure a comfortable, trouble-free flight takes place.
'We are bringing Moonshell in for the 1,000 Guineas six days before the race, and we are hoping the weather at Newmarket will be a little warmer by then. Moonshell is arriving later in the year than Balanchine last year because the race is run nine days later,' Crisford explained. 'There is always a big fear that a horse will not travel well, that he will not eat or drink, or that he will run a temperature. But we have studied it closely and tried to eliminate as many risks as possible. Moonshell is very well in herself,' he said. Moonshell is a 5-1 third favourite for the 1,000 Guineas, behind Harayir and Aquaarid, who are both owned by Sheik Hamdan Al-Maktoum.
Willie Carson must choose between the latter two this weekend. SHEIK Hamdan's hand in the fillies' Classics looked typically strong after his Aqaarid stretched her unbeaten sequence to three in the Gainsborough Stud Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury on her seasonal debut eight days ago. Bookmakers were impressed - as too were most others - and cut her price as low as 5-1 joint second-favourite (Corals) for the Madagans 1,000 Guineas, although she is now as short as 3-1. She is also a top-priced 10-1 joint-favourite with Moonshell for the Vodafone Oaks at Epsom on June 9.
Sheik Hamdan saw his colours carried to victory in the 1,000 Guineas by Salsabil (1990) and Shadayid (1991).
Now has two high-class fillies to represent him in this year's Classic. Aqaarid moved up to challenge leader Signs just over two furlongs out, took it up soon after, and when the chasing pack were snapping at her heels quickened again to gallop to victory by two and and a half lengths. Hoh Magic came from back in the field for second, with Autumn Affair, a 50-1 outsider, finishing third, a head away.
The disappointment was Gay Gallanta, who had every chance in fifth, leaving connections no alternative than to cling to the hope that she needs a run under the belt before producing her best. Carson declared after the Fred Darling: 'Aqaarid will not be out of the first four in the Guineas. I feel that both she and Harayir are capable of staying a mile and a quarter.' Michael Bell was satisfied that Hoh Magic would stay a mile following her fine second, but he looked more likely to favour the option of the French 1,000 Guineas on May 14.