LONDON // Saeed bin Suroor has started the British flat-turf season slowly but there are signs ahead of tonight's meeting at Sandown Park that the Emirati's Godolphin stables are turning a corner.
Last Saturday, bin Suroor saddled Passion For Gold to win a Listed contest at Goodwood. It was bin Suroor's third success from 25 runners in Britain since he arrived from Dubai after the World Cup meeting.
Earlier this month, at Lingfield, Passion For Gold trailed in over eight lengths off the winner, Jet Away, but in the rematch the American-bred was over two lengths clear of his rival at the finishing post.
On Sunday, Campanologist finished a creditable second to So You Think, the superstar Australian import, in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.
Tonight, it is Holberg that bids to build on the momentum generated by his stablemates in the Henry II Stakes, which bin Suroor won in 2004 and 2005 with Papineau and Fight Your Corner.
The race, run over an extended two miles, is a well-regarded trial for the Ascot Gold Cup next month at the Royal meeting.
The trainer has no concerns about a lack of fitness on Holberg's 2011 debut.
"Holberg is doing really well," bin Suroor said. "I worked him on Sunday and he did a really nice piece for me. He has won well when fresh before; he won a Listed race last year at Goodwood on his reappearance. I hope to see a good run and for him to start his season off well."
Holberg finished sixth to Americain in the Melbourne Cup in November but was only three-and-a-half lengths adrift of So You Think, who was third.
It has been a long-held dream for the Godolphin operation to win the "race that stops a nation", but bin Suroor was not to be drawn about targeting the Australian handicap once more.
"It is too early to talk about the Melbourne Cup for Holberg. We will see how he runs and make a decision nearer the time, probably at the end of the season."
The five-year-old son of Halling has won his previous two races by forcing the pace, but Frankie Dettori will struggle to dictate terms to Akmal, last year's winner, ridden by Richard Hills and owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.
"He always likes to lead," said Angus Gold, racing manager for Sheikh Hamdan. "He is a solid character and is as tough as they come."
Sandown has managed to entice Workforce, last year's Epsom Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, to line up in the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes. Workforce faces eight rivals, including Asfare, owned by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid, Distant Memories, owned by Fitri Hay, Poet, owned by Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa, and Godolphin's Cavalryman.
Jan Vermeer has been sent over from Ireland by Aidan O'Brien. Sir Michael Stoute, Workforce's trainer, suggested that the King's Best colt, owned by Khalid Abdullah, needs the run badly.
Both Jan Vermeer and Cavalryman also will make their season debuts.