Dubai's famous Godolphin stables have the best chance in years of claiming a British Classic win with Saeed bin Suroor, the trainer, picking out five horses as having a genuine chance of glory. After saddling nine winners in four Dubai Racing Carnival meetings this season, there is a buzz about the form of the operation owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
And while success at Meydan Racecourse's inaugural season is a top priority, bin Suroor is looking forward to the summer with relish due to his crop of three-year-olds - the only horses allowed to complete in the British Classics. "This is the best quality of horses we have had for the last four or five years," said bin Suroor. "We have horses like Al Zir, Passion for Gold, Poet's Voice, Long Lashes and Sand Vixen."
There are five British Classics and they are among the most coveted races in the world. They consist of the 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas, Epsom Oaks, Epsom Derby and St Leger Stakes. Because only three-year-old colts and fillies can enter, British Classics are among the hardest races to win. Bin Suroor has 103 horses under his care in Dubai, but for the next few months he will be casting an extra-observant eye over the occupants of one particular barn at the Al Quoz site - where the three-year-olds reside.
Mastery won the St Leger under Ted Durcan for Godolphin last season and that victory marked the first time since 2005 that the stable claimed a British Classic. This season Godolphin, who have amassed 24 Classics since 1994, look set to be well represented. Most talked about among the group is Passion for Gold, the six-length winner of the Group One Criterium de Saint Cloud in France in November and fancied for the Derby. He was an honourable third in the Group Two Beresford at The Curragh before that, two lengths behind another hot three-year-old, St Nicholas Abbey from Aidan O'Brien's yard, who is the early Derby favourite. But Passion for Gold could be considered a little babyish on both those outings and his trainer said there is something effortless about the way he is working in Dubai.
"I always thought he could be at that level," said bin Suroor. "Even when he was much younger. He is growing up well and when he works in the mornings you can just see that he is one of the good ones. It's all very natural to him, with him it is effortless, like a good student, he is not lazy at all." Al Zir, a good third in the Racing Post Trophy last season, is another that will hit the track in the spring with the benefit of a bit of maturity behind him. Named after a heroic Arabian leader from ancient times, bin Suroor has high hopes for the dark bay colt.
"I named the horse after Al Zir because I liked him so much," said bin Suroor. "From day one he stood out. He is still a little weak but we always knew he would be a better three-year-old. He is maturing and we are patient because he is going to come on." As is usual practice, the stable's Classics contenders are wintering in the UAE, away from frosty Newmarket, which has been suffering in the throes of one of England's snowiest winters on record.
Bin Suroor said Godolphin was likely to follow the same pattern they began last year and ship horses to Newmarket early. "It's not definite but we felt that going to England soon after the World Cup helped our horses settle," said the trainer. "We have a plan for each one but it is too early to say now. "We know which one is good enough for which race, for example the Guineas, but will we take him to the English Guineas, or the French or the Irish? We will wait until we see what happens in our trials." @Email:email@example.com