John Gosden happy simply to fulfill potential as trainer

He is driven by a desire to get the best out of every horse that he works with, writes Geoffrey Riddle.
John Gosden, right, has enjoyed success with his jockey William Buick.
John Gosden, right, has enjoyed success with his jockey William Buick.

You can tell racehorses have consumed John Gosden simply by the way he describes their mucus. When explaining why Nathaniel was forced to miss the Brigadier Gerard Stakes in May it was as if the 62-year-old trainer was relating an illness experienced by any of his four children.

"The plan had been all winter to go to the Brigadier Gerard but ten days before he let out a few coughs and he had mucus the colour of the silks of Canford Cliffs - a rather nasty, browny, horrible stuff, not like your usual Frankel sleeves, you know, nice and clear," Gosden said in that languid yet confident manner of his.

"He had a really bad respiratory infection, rather like a bad chest infection like human being. He had to go on strong antibiotics."

Gosden has such an affinity with the thoroughbred because, much like the 161 horses in his care at Clarehaven Stables in Newmarket, he was born into the life he now leads.

In racing parlance he was sired by Towzer Gosden, a trainer who had scrambled high enough up racing's ladder to have saddled a winner of today's middle distance contest.

In 1960, Towzer sent out Aggressor to beat Petite Etoile and it took his son 51 years to follow in his footsteps when last year Nathaniel became the first three year old since 2003 to defy his elders by winning what is consistently the highest-rated race in the world.

When Gosden should have been celebrating emulating his father, who died when he was just 15, he was in fact helping a stricken Rewiliding to die peacefully.

Godolphin's Dubai Sheema Classic victor had broken his cannon bone clean through during the race.

Much as Fox Hunt would do at Meydan Racecourse in March, the colt kept on galloping in front of the stands until Gosden extended his firm hand of friendship bearing Rewiliding's last supper; a handful of grass for a fallen hero.

In the aftermath Gosden's calm explanation on the public address system that racehorses are a delicate blend of extreme athletic power and four fragile legs was the sort of leadership and dignity that few in the sport can muster.

"It was a freak of nature," he said at the time. "He was in no pain. The extraordinary thing is when they break a leg like that, it's as though nature anaesthetises them."

His father-like approach is also one of the reasons why William Buick, his retained stable jockey, has flourished under his guidance during the short period the two men have worked together.

Two years ago it was announced just before the Dubai World Cup that Buick would ride for Gosden. The partnership was sealed in dramatic fashion when Buick rode Dar Re Mi to victory in the Sheema Classic on Meydan's inaugural staging of the world's richest card.

Before the appointment Buick's ability was there for all to see - he was named Britain's joint-champion conditional jockey in 2008. Yet, as ever, Gosden delved deeper and sought the advice of Frankie Dettori before approaching the-then 21-year-old rider.

"I watched him ride as a kid - he never rode a piece of work for me," Gosden said.

"I offered him the job on the recommendation of one man. It is very important to know how they behave, see how their moods are, that they are not drinking, that they are not on pharmaceuticals - it is important.

He is like Frankie, he can get on a horse and just feels it. It is a gift. It is like a concert pianist, just feeling it. You can develop it but you have it or you don't. William is a very talented young man."

Buick, who rides in Dubai for Dhruba Selvaratnam during the winter, says that the team at Clarehaven put across all of their views but it is Gosden who always makes the final call.

"If I say something to him he has already thought about it five minutes ago," Buick said this week in a feature with Racing UK, the British racing channel.

"I found him intimidating the first time I met him.

"He is a rock. You feel safe because he has strong opinions, strong views and is a very intelligent man. He can talk about anything and sound like an expert. Dar Re Mi was a huge icebreaker but there was never any pressure on me."

Buick gave Nathaniel a final breeze on Tuesday on Newmarket's Long Hill gallop and Gosden believes that since last year's success the colt is a much more impressive specimen ahead of his title defence in today's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot Racecourse,

Nathaniel has filled his sizeable frame over the winter since he finished fifth to Cirrus Des Aigles in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October.

His gutsy victory over Godolphin's Farhh in the Eclipse Stakes two weeks ago in testing ground illustrated that he has maintained all of his fighting spirit but the nagging doubt is the intangible aspect of the bounce factor, which in racing circles focuses on the second run back after a considerable layoff.

"I can't emphasise enough when you come from a long layoff when you've had a tough race over a middle distance it is a question mark," Gosden said.

"They can seem awfully bright and happy and well at home but it is only in the last two furlongs that you find out they are a bit flat."

The King George carries a purse of £1 million (Dh5.753m), and with Gosden trailing Aidan O'Brien by the odd £500,000, there are many out there championing Gosden's chances of landing his first British trainers' title.

He was the leading trainer this year at Royal Ascot and among his five victories were two winners for Princess Haya. And there is the rub.

His stable's patrons from the Middle East and the UAE may have propelled him to within touching distance of the title, but they are also his Achilles heel. Gosden highlights that this season's success is down mainly to several of his stable stars remaining in his care, rather than being sold abroad or being absorbed in to the Godolphin fold.

Looking back over the past few years he has a fair point.

Donativum went to Saeed bin Suroor after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 2008.

After proving himself in the Hardwicke Stakes in 2009 the ill-fated Bronze Cannon was later sold to Ramzan Kadyrov.

A year later Buick and Gosden teamed up to win the Arlington Million with Debussy, who subsequently embarked on a career with Godolphin, while Prohibit was sold by Prince Khalid Abdullah, of Saudi Arabia, to Robert Cowell before he won the King's Stand at Royal Ascot last season.

With Princess Haya's trio of Joviality, Columbian and Questioning set to ship for Arlington next month and Nathaniel earmarked for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in preference to another tilt at the Champion Stakes in October, it seems that Gosden's firepower is trained on foreign targets, rather than the domestic.

"There's no point talking about the championship because Champions Day is like in America and the Breeders' Cup because it turns the whole thing on its head most years," Gosden said.

"I'll run the horses where it is best for them. I'll run a few at Deauville [next month], I'll run a team of three of four in Arlington. I am not going to keep them all here for domestic prize money, you'd be an idiot to do that.

"Honestly, the trainers' championship has never grabbed me. If it comes your way, then fine, but I don't wake up in the morning thinking about it.

"What drives me as a trainer is that every horse I am sent to train has been entrusted to me and it is to try to realise its full potential. If the potential is to win a seller on a wet afternoon somewhere then you do that.

"If with an ordinary filly it is to win its maiden because someone bred it and sent it to you that is fulfilling also. Of course Group Ones are extremely fulfilling but everything at its level has fulfilment. You'd kill yourself as a trainer if you were only fulfilled by the Group One races as there are some lean years."

This year, with three Group Ones already in the bag, is certainly not one of those.

sports@thenational.ae

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Published: July 20, 2012 04:00 AM

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