Top to bottom, Godolphin CEO John Ferguson sees a bright new dawn on the horizon

If Frosted can carry the royal blue silks to victory in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan on Saturday, a seventh success in the world’s most valuable race would cap Godolphin's recent comeback, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

If Frosted were to carry William Buick and the royal blue silks to victory in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan on Saturday, a seventh success in the world's most valuable race would cap the first major step towards a bright new dawn for Godolphin.

Two seasons ago when African Story became Saeed bin Suroor’s seventh winner of the $US10 million (Dh36.7m) event, it put to bed, in the eyes of the Dubai-based organisation, a turbulent 2013 when trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni was banned for eight years for administering steroids.

The World Cup was one of just three Group 1s Godolphin managed to win around the world, with Prince Bishop’s victory in the Al Maktoum Challenge presaging his Dubai World Cup victory 12 months ago, and Charming Thought’s Middle Park Stakes win at Newmarket the only other highlight.

Godolphin had never had such disappointing results on the track since it was first set up in 1994, and everything since has been directed at getting Godolphin back to the level of their past successes when they regularly sparred with Coolmore and Ballydoyle in the biggest races on the planet.

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In December it was announced that John Ferguson would become chief executive of a new Godolphin, which would comprise not only the racing operation but the Darley breeding operation also.

Godolphin and Darley have merged because Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, believes that the racing and breeding operations he founded have a symbiotic relationship and that, in business terms, they should both share the same key performance indicators, which, primarily, is winning on the racecourse.

Last year Godolphin accumulated 16 Group 1 winners saddled by seven different trainers, and Ferguson believes the good times are just around the corner on the back of that strong foundation.

“From the moment a foal is born, every single phase involves both organisations,” he said. “The aims have to be the same.

The breeding operation has to breed champions for Godolphin, but also has the mission of creating, and developing and promoting the stallion to give them the best possible chance.

“The racing operation is involved in that as well. Look at Dubawi, Shamardal, Bernardini – they were great horses first, and all were bred by the stud – it is a constant turning wheel and by fusing the two companies together, my job is to pour oil on the wheels and keep them moving smoothly.

“Whether you are foaling a mare or riding the last piece of work, you are equally important to the success of Godolphin, wherever you are in the world.”

Ferguson worked for Sheikh Mohammed as his bloodstock adviser for 30 years before he took charge. In terms of experience within the organisation, his rock solid relationship with Sheikh Mohammed and unflappable demeanour made him the obvious candidate for the job.

The biggest racing and breeding operation in the world aside, Ferguson will directly manage over 1,700 staff based in the six major racing jurisdictions of England, Ireland, France, America, Australia and Japan.

What was notable last season was that, where Godolphin previously recruited equine talent and transfer them to their stables in Newmarket, they have increasingly had more horses with a variety of different trainers.

Last year, Jim Bolger delivered the Yorkshire Oaks with Pleascach for his base in Ireland. Jack Hobbs won the Irish Derby for John Gosden’s Newmarket stables and Night Of Thunder sealed the union with Marlborough-based Richard Hannon when he won the Lockinge Stakes.

Andre Fabre’s Godolphin France has around 100 horses for Godolphin and English-derby bound Ultra won the Prix Jean-Luc Lagadere and Territories took the Prix Jean Prat.

“These things aren’t decided overnight and two years ago we sat down and considered it,” Ferguson said. “Sheikh Mohammed loves two things most within Godolphin – the horses and the people.

“What he wants to achieve is to maximise the potential of his horses. Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby are doing outstanding jobs but there is a limit to the number of horses they can train – Saeed has around 180 in Newmarket and Charlie has around 150.

“To not use the skills and talents of John Gosden, Jim Bolger, Andre Fabre and the others just would not make sense.”

Photo gallery: Dubai World Cup runners California Chrome, Keen Ice and XY Jet train at Meydan Racecourse

But it is the American arm that is most relevant to Saturday’s $30m card because ever since the Tapeta surface at Meydan was ripped up ahead of last season Godolphin have been arming themselves for a full scale assault.

Bin Suroor and Appleby brought significantly smaller teams to Dubai this season, and it was American trainer Kiaran McLaughlin who plugged the gaps.

McLaughlin’s troops assembled at the plush Marmoom Stables that has, among its vast array of training facilities, a dirt surface, whereas Bin Suroor’s Al Quoz Stables has a Tapeta surface that will remain in place.

From there Frosted warmed up for Saturday’s assignment with an easy win in the second round of the Al Maktoum Challenge last month. Confrontation won the Firebreak Stakes and takes his chance in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, while Marking picked up a minor victory ahead of his Godolphin Mile bid. Watershed and Elnaawi also raced without success.

This is just the start.

“There is no doubt that the American horses thrive on the sand surface at Meydan, it is what they are used to,” Ferguson continued. “The quality of racing at Meydan is improving, and we need to have horses that are acting on the track at the highest level.

“This year Saeed and Charlie have done very well on the turf and Kiaran’s horses have done well on the dirt. It is a very important change in strategy.”

After the Al Zarooni incident, Lord Stevens, the British peer and former chief of the British Metropolitan Police, was commissioned by Sheikh Mohammed to lead an investigation to the incidents.

Based on several of the many findings in his report, Godolphin made a raft of changes to their structure in February 2014 to streamline and improve management oversight.

The first was that long-serving racing manager Simon Crisford left the organisation he helped to set up.

It left Bin Suroor and Appleby in ultimate control of their stables with the delegated authority of Sheikh Mohammed and with the mandate to act as the chief spokesperson for their respective stables.

Godolphin have recently appointed Australian former Darley Flying Start candidate James Clarke as a media liaison officer.

Ferguson’s appointment has clearly galvanised the company, but surely it is a huge ask to act as both CEO and racing manager concurrently?

“Not in the slightest and I’ll tell you for why,” Ferguson said. “I have fantastically able people around me. You cannot run a company like this on your own. I understand the qualities of the people around me and let them get on with their jobs.

“I have Jimmy Bell in America, Henry Plumptre in Australia, Hanako Varian looks after Japan, Lisa-Jane Graffard in France and Joe Osbourne in Ireland all helping me.

“Godolphin is a large organisation, but in many ways it is very small because it is very personal to one man – Sheikh Mohammed.

“The direction comes from him, and that is so important. My main goal is to deliver his messages in a way that the team involved worldwide understands, but those messages must improve on the progress that Godolphin is making month by month, and year by year.

“There are so many parallels between how Sheikh Mohammed runs Dubai and what he strives for Godolphin to achieve, because it is the way he does business.”

If Frosted can confirm all of that on Saturday, Godolphin are clearly in good shape to take the next step forward this international season.

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