Godolphin‘s Masar is among 56 entries for the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on September 15.
The three-year-colt provided trainer Charlie Appleby with a first Classic success when claiming Saturday’s Epsom Derby and he would be a fascinating contender if making the trip across the Irish Sea in the autumn.
The John Gosden-trained Cracksman was the highest-rated horse in Europe last season and has won twice at Group One level so far this season, including a last-gasp success in last Friday’s Coronation Cup at Epsom.
His Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe-winning stablemate Enable has not been seen in competitive action so far in 2018 after suffering a setback, but is expected to return in August.
Sunday’s French Derby hero Study of Man has also been given the option by Pascal Bary and could bid to become the third horse in the last five years to win both the Prix du Jockey Club and the Irish Champion Stakes after The Grey Gatsby (2014) and Almanzor (2016).
Aidan O’Brien has a typically strong team including 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior, the highly-regarded Amedeo Modigliani and Group One-winning fillies Hydrangea and Rhododendron.
The winners of both Irish Classics run so far this season are also in the early mix, with Ken Condon’s Romanised and the Jessica Harrington-trained Alpha Centauri holding entries.
The main event on day two of Irish Champions Weekend at the Curragh on September 16 is the Comer Group International Irish St Leger.
Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland said: “International competition is central to the further development of Longines Irish Champions Weekend and with the high-class entries for both the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes and the Comer Group International Irish St Leger, we can be happy with the progress the event is making on the world stage.”
These are glorious days for Godolphin.
Trained by Charlie Appleby and ridden by William Buick, the triumph ended a long wait for a first Derby winner in the royal blue silks to the delight of Godolphin’s founder and visionary leader 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 win was all the more surprising as it was Masar’s first trip over the distance having never raced before over an extended mile, but the son of New Approach and dam Khawlah burst through just before the two furlong marker and ran on to cross the line a length and a half clear of Dee Ex Bee.
Horses are in my blood, horses are my life... pic.twitter.com/RommBMi1sv— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) June 2, 2018
It made it a one-two for Dubai with Dee Ex Bee owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai.
It’s fair to say that the victory in this prestigious 239-year-old race confirms the triumphant Godolphin team and its owner with a permanent spot as one of the all-time greats of horse racing.
Much of the credit to this victory must go to Sheikh Mohammed himself for his revitalisation of Godolphin over the past 12 months.
Disappointed with Godolphin’s return in 2016-17, the founder moved quickly to make strategic operational and structural changes that have borne considerable fruit already in late 2017 and early 2018.
Key to these was a return to the core values and trusted experts who have brought Godolphin so much success in the past, such as Saeed bin Suroor the mastermind behind Thunder Snow’s victory at Meydan. And of course Appleby.
It’s been a process of recognising what Godolphin do well and focusing on that, not allowing themselves to be distracted from the fundamental qualities.
A perfect example is Masar.
Appleby clearly realised that Masar ran best in English conditions. Of his four wins from nine starts to date all four of those have been in GB: the Novice Stakes at Goodwood in May 2017; the Group 3 Stakes at Sandown in September 2013; the Craven Stakes (G3) at Newmarket in April this year (the run that set him up as a real contender for Epsom); and the Derby itself.
In between Masar lost his way and those with less experience may have doubted their faith in the young flyer.
The colt ran sixth at Del Mar, California, in the Breeders Cup in November last year and then in March this year ran 10th from 13 in a Listed Race on Dirt at Meydan.
It is incredible the same horse then won one of the world’s greatest horse races less than three months later.
But this is the secret of Godolphin’s success. Of their hundreds of horses they know where and when to run each to bring out their very best.
Also who to partner them with, in this case Buick, who has ridden Masar almost exclusively since his first race at Goodwood less than fifteen months ago.
To run an extraordinary operation like Godolphin across the globe takes vision, management and clarity.
For example just this past weekend (Sat-Sun) Godolphin had 44 starters in five different countries (France, Japan, Australia, Ireland and England) across three continents – and they did so for five winners and seven placings.
To achieve such results over such a period of time takes excellence, discipline and a constant striving to be better.
However there is one more triumph that Sheikh Mohammed seeks – the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s biggest horse race and one of the most famous meetings on the planet. This is one glittering prize Godolphin are yet to attain.
But with the winning momentum that the famous royal blue silks are building,come November they may just be unstoppable and finally the trophy cabinet will be complete.
The long wait for a first Investec Derby winner in the royal blue silks of Godolphin finally came to an end after Masar provided Sheikh Mohammed with the victory he has craved at Epsom.
Leaving a lacklustre effort on dirt behind in Meydan with an impressive triumph in the Craven, the Charlie Appleby-trained son of New Approach showed he had the potential to strike at the top table with a close-up third in the Qipco 2000 Guineas.
Despite having his stamina to prove over a mile and a half having never raced beyond an extended mile, Masar confirmed the optimism Appleby had in him getting the trip when bursting through under William Buick approaching the two-furlong marker.
Showing no signs of stopping, Masar forged on to cross the line a length and a half clear of Dee Ex Bee, with Roaring Lion half a length back in third and odds-on favourite Saxon Warrior another two and a half lengths adrift in fourth.
Appleby was winning his first Classic – just 24 hours after coming close when Wild Illusion was second in the Oaks.
He said of his 16-1 scorer: “I was quite relaxed throughout the race. On Friday I probably had more butterflies. His homework has always been very impressive since the spring.
“As a two-year-old we always felt whatever he did at two he was going to be better at three, along with stepping up in trip. His Craven was there for all to see and he couldn’t have been more impressive.
“He lost nothing in defeat in the Guineas and what we noticed in the spring this year is mentally how much settled he was and that he was becoming more of a man and professional about the game.
“Coming in today we were confident we had the horse at the best of his ability and he looked fantastic. All the gang have been hands on with him.
“What really gave me the last bit of confidence was last Saturday. I put him with two strong lead horses and he went over to the Limekilns and he went a nice mile there and was not stopping.”
He went on: “It’s still not sunk in. I’ve been with Godolphin for 20 years now. I’ve seen plenty of things come and go and fortunately when I was appointed trainer five years ago the goal was to have a Derby winner in the Godolphin blue.
“I’m just delighted to be here and part of it.”
For Buick, who has finished second in the race on two previous occasions, it was also mission accomplished.
He said: ” I was very confident this horse would stay. It was really just a case of getting him into a nice rhythm and getting him relaxed and trying to get a smooth run through.
“He jumped well and settled. He came back lovely up the hill and conserved (energy) the whole way round. He handled Tattenham Corner well enough. I pulled him out to have a good look at the track and he really came alive underneath me.
“It was just a matter of timing my run and he quickened up really well – when he did he put the race to bed.
“It’s something really special winning the Derby. It’s the pinnacle of our sport, the Holy Grail, the be all and end all and it means the absolute world to me.”
Although Sheikh Mohammed has tasted glory in many major races across the globe, including with Lammtarra under the fledgling Godolphin banner in the 1995 Derby, this success was up there with very best in his eyes.
He said: “It’s amazing to win the Derby. We have tried to win the Derby so many times and to finally win the race is very special.
“William gave him a lovely ride and horses are in my blood, so it’s very special.”