Charlie Appleby zipped down the slopes of Megeve in the French Alps earlier this month as the three-time International Trainer of the Year enjoyed a richly deserved break.
The cold air in the Alps may be a far cry from the rain and wind of Suffolk, but the silence and space in the mountains provided the Englishman with a chance to reflect on his memorable year.
The 43-year-old saddled 12 of Godolphin’s 30 international Group 1 winners in 2018, including historic victories at the Epsom Derby and Melbourne Cup, as well as the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
Just one of those 12 victories would be the realisation of a dream for any trainer. But Appleby is different. He’s engaging, clever, a superb communicator and leader, and has a strong team around him to help train some of the best horses in the world.
For all the highs and glory of 2018, the Newmarket-based handler is relishing the prospect of carrying his success through the new season.
“It was a year that started off here on Dubai World Cup night with the two winners and seemed to rollercoaster from there,” said Appleby. “We had six winners at Craven, had five at Guineas Meeting, won the Epsom Derby and had a few winners at Ascot. It just went on from there.
“It was one of those seasons that you didn’t want to end. Unfortunately it does and we all have to start on zero again.
“I said to the team to keep the consistency going. As long as we are competing at the top end, then I feel we are doing our job. Getting horses to G1 events is not easy and you have to take some satisfaction. But if you can bag a winner, then that’s the icing on the cake.”
Dubai World Cup day will be a different prospect for him this time around. In 2018, Appleby saddled his first two winners with Jungle Cat in the Al Quoz Sprint and Hawkbill in the Dubai Sheema Classic.
A significant night for him, but a surprise also in that it had not come sooner, given the dominance he has held on the international stage over the years.
“I never had a winner until last year. Jungle Cat and Hawkbill were my first two. They are fond memories and I’ve been so lucky to be associated with Godolphin for so many years,” said Appleby, who was appointed as a Godolphin trainer in 2013.
“There have been many horses trained by Saeed (bin Suroor) that have won so it’s always been exciting for us at this time of year.”
This time around, however, Appleby has seven runners and four who look highly likely to secure victory come Saturday evening.
Blue Point is the name pursed on most people’s lips after his devastating form during the Dubai World Cup Carnival.
The sire of Shamardal sealed victories in the Meydan Sprint in February and the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint earlier this month.
His long-term target is the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, and a win this weekend will move him closer to achieving that primary target for 2019.
“It was two great performances by him. I’m pleased I gave him a second one. Originally we were going to go straight from the Meydan Sprint to the Al Quoz. He came out of it so well. He’s showing lots of sharpness,” said Appleby.
“If he turns up with his A game then he will be hard to beat.”
Cross Counter is an exciting prospect for Appleby after his devastating triumph at the Melbourne Cup in November. Although he has not raced in the last four months, rest and recovery has set the four-year-old in promising stead for what will be a long season.
“Physically he looks great. We have a long year ahead. He’s back on his A game the last 10 days. We’re delighted with him. He looks in great nick,” said Appleby.
Old Persian hummed in his sole start this year, producing a late burst to beat Racing History in the Dubai City of Gold on March 9.
Fresh and focused, the Duwabi colt will enter the Dubai Sheema Classic as firm favourite to bag his third win in four races.
“If he was to go and win on Saturday, he’d come back and target some European races. If he’s competitive and we don’t quite meet the mark, the we’ll look at an international campaign,” he said.
Divine Image is another horse speckled with class. The sire of Scat Daddy is aiming to complete a rare UAE triple crown this weekend, after already sealing wins in the UAE Oaks and Al Bastakiya over the last two months.
“The key thing about her is the last furlong, how she can grind it out well. She’ll be a strong player on Saturday evening,” he said.
Although most of the attention will centre on the Dubai World Cup itself, another portion of it will fall into Appleby’s path. The modest Southampton man has been in tremendous form during the Carnival, clinching back-to-back hat-tricks as well as an array of other victories over the past few months at Meydan.
And with the class of his runners in action this weekend, he looks set to cement his status again as one of the greatest trainers around.
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