Godolphin Racing zeroing in on Derby

April 09, 2001 3:56 AM
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   Godolphin Racing, the nom de course of Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed, is coming back to America in an attempt to win the Kentucky Derby.

    Unlike previous efforts, this time it’s with a pair of colts — Express Tour and Street Cry — that have been specifically trained to be at their peak the first Saturday in May.

   Godolphin’s previous Derby entrants — Worldly Manner two years ago and China Visit and Curule last year — were conditioned under the more leisurely English methods that brought the stable great success throughout Europe; but which are less than satisfactory in getting a horse ready for the grueling early-season test that is the Kentucky Derby. So preparations for this year’s Derby began early and have been more rigorous than in the past.

   The Irish-bred Street Cry, third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is the more highly regarded by Sheikh Mohammed, but the Florida-bred Express Tour beat him by a nose in the United Arab Emirates Derby to climax a long head-to-head stretch drive. The running time for that race’s 11/8 miles was 1:47 over a surface designed to be similar to that of Churchill Downs.

   Sheikh Mohammed continues to believe that if a horse is good enough, it can be trained in the desert, brought to America and win the Kentucky Derby without any American prep races. Hardly any American horseman buys into that theory. Nevertheless, Godolphin’s Derby entrants merit respect. Both have previously raced and won in the United States, both are accustomed to running in large fields such as the Derby and both have indicated they can get the Derby distance of 11/4 miles. Whether either is good enough to win will be determined on May 5.

   In the meantime, Godolphin is shipping 50 two-year-olds to America this month to be trained by Eoin Harty, a former assistant to Bob Baffert.

Ralph (Weasel) Wilson

   When Ralph Wilson Jr., the owner of the Buffalo Bills, fired coach Wade Phillips back in January, Phillips still had one year remaining on his $750,000 contract. Phillips received paychecks for two months and then was notified that he no longer would be paid and his insurance benefits were terminated. Wilson dismissed Phillips because the coach declined to fire a particular assistant coach, as Wilson wanted. In trying to weasel out of the contract, Wilson claims that Phillips’ action, or lack thereof, constituted insubordination and consequently was a breach of contract. Phillips is appealing to the NFL.

   And now, in an interview with a Rochester, N.Y., newspaper, Wilson revealed that in the AFC playoff game a year ago (against Tennessee), it was on his direct order that Rob Johnson replaced Doug Flutie as the starting quarterback.

   All of this must make new Buffalo coach Gregg Williams wonder just what he has stepped into.

A Resurrection

   Only the naïve believe the rankings by the various groups that govern boxing are meaningful, as the industry is infamous for moving up tomato cans to make them appear as worthy opponents for champions and contenders. But now we discover that in the World Boxing Association, fighters can rise from the dead. The Boston Globe reports the WBA has moved Sandile Sobandia from 14th to 13th in the bantamweight division. This is indeed a remarkable occurrence, since Sobandia died in an auto accident back on Feb. 1.

Women’s Hoops

   There’s no denying the fact that the NCAA women’s basketball championship tournament has gained greatly in stature and popularity. So much so that CBS may launch a bid for the tournament’s TV rights currently held by ESPN. And the NCAA people who manage the tournament might well consider larger venues for the tournament’s Final Four. A capacity crowd of 20,551 jammed the Savvis Center in St. Louis, and another 10,000 tickets could have been sold.

   One thing that women’s basketball could stand is improvement in the officiating. It seems that traveling is rarely called. The worst example of that came in the tournament’s final four seconds when a Purdue player obviously walked without the violation being called. The non-call gave the Boilermakers a final shot at tying the game, but they fell short.