Around the globe everyone is fascinated by Godolphin – in and out of the racing world.
According to distinguished The Times racing journalist Marc Souster, who was in the Emirate for the Dubai World Cup, it’s “a fascination aroused by its vast wealth, influence, success, and mystique.”
And after the stunning performance at the Dubai World Cup on Saturday, with Godolphin taking out four races on the day, including Thunder Snow‘s thrilling win in the Dubai World Cup itself, there is now even more interest.
But behind the scenes the past year has seen unprecedented change.
John Ferguson, the CEO for the last 20 years, departed in June last year. Then last week it was revealed that Joe Osborne, the new CEO, would be reverting to his former post as managing director of Godophin’s Ireland operations.
From now on the famous royal blue silk’s racing and breeding entities in Britain, Ireland, Australia, America and Japan will be autonomous organisations run by individual directors and a board.
As Souster revealed “these various entities will report to Hugh Anderson, managing director of the UK operation, who will act as a global filter for reports and information.”
A committee will also be set-up in Dubai, comprised of Emirati experts, which will provide further advice to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and his wife HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain.
What is clear is that the days of a sole chief executive having the same level of authority as Ferguson have finished. Ultimate decision-making, as always, will reside with Dubai’s ruler and the insightful Princess Haya, who exerts a considerable day-to-day influence at Godolphin.
As Souster notes, “the feeling in Dubai was that Ferguson’s involvement began to feel like a throwback to a bygone era when the emirate was emerging from its protectorate status in 1971.”
“Godolphin is about Dubai and its ruler’s vision for its place in a world order being rapidly redefined.”
“Sheikh Mohammed has decided that going back to his roots is the best way forward.”
And as Saturday night’s majestic triumphs displayed, his vision is working. Godolphin also won a record-equaling 18 group one races last season, after a few leaner years.
Sheikh Mohammed has also brought closer to the fold a number of key trusted advisers, people who were there when Godolphin was founded in 1992 and before, including John Gosden, Simon Crisford, André Fabre, Anthony Stroud and David Loder.
“In them Sheikh Mohammed sees people whom he can trust and who abide by his tenets of discretion and loyalty” adds Souster.
HRH also has a wonderful successor waiting in the wings, his popular son Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, so the success is only set to continue.
The Emirates Equestrian Centre (EEC) will host the UAE leg of the 2018 FEI World Dressage Challenge on April 6, when some of the country’s top horses and riders are expected to compete.
The aim of this competition is to nurture local talent and offer UAE-based riders the opportunity to compete in an international dressage competition without having to travel outside the country.
FEI international dressage judges travel across the globe to rank competitors based on their performance. Each country is placed in a zone with the same judge visiting every country in that zone. Points earned through the FEI World Dressage Challenge count towards a global ranking for individuals and teams.
The competition is currently divided into 12 geographical zones between four and six countries. Participants will compete at different levels including Intermediate I, Prix St-Georges, FEI Junior team competition, FEI children individual and the FEI Children team competition (riders aged between 12-16 years).
The UAE’s best performance at this event came in 2012, when the team claimed the world title. Since then, they have performed strongly, while maintaining their position within the top 15. In 2017, they finished 14th in the team event.
For the first time, the 2018 World Dressage Challenge will act as a qualifying competition for the Central American and Caribbean Games, which will take place in Barranquilla, Colombia, from July 20 through to August 3.
“We are looking forward to hosting the exciting FEI world Dressage Challenge once again. This is the 21st year we are hosting the competition and it has been fantastic to follow the development of dressage here in UAE during all these years,” said Lilian Sternvad, dressage coordinator at EEC
“I rode in the FEI World Dressage Challenge for the first time in 2002 and have been the show organiser since 2003 and I have been witness to the wonderful journey so far and I am proud to have played a small part in it.
“The UAE has gone from position 46 of 48 counties participating in the year 2000, to being number one in 2012, to then staying solid in the top 15 of 58 countries since then. This shows that we have a robust system for training and development that brings new riders and horses on for the future.”
Mohammed Essa Al Adhab, general manager of Dubai Equestrian Club, which oversees all operations at EEC, added: “We are always excited to host international events at the Emirates Equestrian Centre and the FEI World Dressage Challenge is a significant competition for us.
“It is geared towards supporting our local riders and also providing opportunities for national officials to gain experience by officiating alongside experienced FEI Judges. We expect a high level of competition this year and we invite fans of the sport to come support local athletes and enjoy a great day out at our facility.”
After the Thunder comes the Snow.
There is only one man who truly knows what it takes to win the main event on the world’s richest race day – and that is Godolphin’s understated genius Saeed bin Suroor.
The master trainer said little leading up to race day.
When quizzed about his charge all he would say was that Thunder Snow was training well, as was stable-mate Benbatl, who was another impressive winner for Bin Suroor and Godolphin on the night, claiming the Dubai Turf in 1m46.02s.
Bin Suroor prefers to let his horses speak for him on the track and Thunder Snow did exactly that.
Starting from the outside post – a position that many thought would cripple his chances – jockey Christophe Soumillon quickly got him to the inside to make the running and set a leisurely pace on the back straight.
This seemed to perfectly play in to the hands of Bob Baffert’s West Coast, who surely would blow the Snow away on the final corner.
But the challenge never eventuated, much to Soumillon and the packed gallery at Meydan’s surprise.
Thunder Snow found another gear, which West Coast simply did not possess, and charged away down the straight to win Godolphin’s ninth and Bin Suroor’s eighth Dubai World Cup.
No other trainer or owner comes close.
For Soumillon it was his first ever Dubai World Cup title and no one was happier after the finish than the likeable Belgian.
Asked his plans after claiming the crown all jockeys are after, the 36-year-old said: “I have no plans now. This needs a big party.”
Another man who was celebrating was the driving force behind Godolphin, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai.
The founder watched on from his position on the rails near the winning post – the same position he had stood all night, rubbing shoulders with ordinary race-goers, surrounded by his family who were enjoying their night at the races as much as their father.
He showed no outward change in emotion early on but he must have been disappointed as Godolphin’s favoured runners in the Dubai Gold Cup and UAE Derby failed to deliver.
No doubt he was pleased as Jungle Cat claimed a thrilling victory in the Al Quoz Sprint, moments after the shock scratching of Blue Point – and then was as thrilled as everyone around him by Benbatl, Hawkbill and Thunder Snow claiming the last three races of the night in such commanding performances.
Most of all he would have been thrilled that all the hard work of the Godolphin stable was paying off.
His humble joy was not displayed overtly – but the twirl said it all.
As his children and family gathered on stage, he left his son Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, to lift the Dubai World Cup.
Congratulations to UAE for the Godolphin’s Thunder Snow winning of Dubai World Cup title at Meydan .. Best horses in the world with the biggest owners globally all in great Arabian night in UAE pic.twitter.com/8DU6pTIM5a— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) March 31, 2018
Instead HRH stood on the side of the stage and then spontaneously, magically, he thrilled the adoring crowd with a joyous spin, holding three fingers up in celebration.
It said more than any words could ever do.
Four winners including the Dubai World Cup itself, on a glorious day of racing culminating in a beautiful warm night in Dubai, showcasing the best this extraordinary city has to offer.
Arrogate’s win was exceptional last year.
This moment will be even harder to top.