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Can Godolphin buy its way to Kentucky Derby win?

Jan 13, 2009 5:02 PM
Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy any kind of misery you want. It can also buy any number of aristocratic thoroughbreds, but it can’t buy a Kentucky Derby winner. At least it hasn’t for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai. (Pictured)

Maktoum is master of Godolphin Stable, which, despite a bottomless pit of riches, has failed to win the Run for the Roses by taking the circuitous route from its base in the Middle East to Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May.

Prior disappointments include Wordly Manner (seventh in 1999), China Visit (sixth) and Curule (seventh) in 2000, Express Tour (eighth) in 2001 and Essence of Dubai (ninth) in 2002. Dubai to Kentucky has proved a dismal failure five times. But give Godolphin an "e" for effort.

The group is continuing on its fruitless path to the Blue Grass state, this year with recent acquisitions Vineyard Haven (22-1 at Wynn) and Midshipman (25-1), each a finalist for an Eclipse Award as outstanding male 2-year-old.

Four months from the world’s greatest race, on May 2 at Churchill Downs, the two most prominent 2-year-old colts of 2008 –Vineyard Haven, winner of the Grade I Hopeful Stakes and the Grade I Champagne Stakes last year, and Midshipman, the Breeders’s Cup Juvenile champion – are being readied in Dubai for their 3-year-old debuts.

Gary Young, for one, will have to see it to believe it before he accepts Godolphin’s strategy as practical.

"It’s a tough thing to do," said Young, a professional clocker, gambler and horse trader, whose opinions are both valued and virtuous. "One of these days, the Sheikh is going to do it. If he buys enough horses, and they run the Derby enough years, which they’re obviously going to do, he’s going to do it.

"Whether it is a disadvantage to ship to Dubai and get ready for the Derby is open to debate. I always thought Midshipman was a nice horse, but never a Derby horse. I don’t really know enough about Vineyard Haven. Horses he was beating came to Southern California and laid eggs in the Breeders’ Cup.

"Right now, I would not be going out on a limb to say this one of the more wide open years for the Derby. On a scale of one to 10, this probably wouldn’t be a 10, let’s put it that way.

"Pioneerof the Nile (20-1) worked good (Jan. 4, five furlongs in a bullet :58.40 under Garrett Gomez), and he waited on a horse after he got by him. One thing about that horse, with the size of his stride, he will go that far (1¼ miles in the Derby).

"I don’t know if Square Eddie (30-1) is good enough, or how he would do on a normal race track. He did fine at Keeneland and he ran decently in the Breeders’ Cup, but what’s he going to do on a normal race track? (Square Eddie is set for his 3-year-old debut in Saturday’s San Rafael Stakes).

"The horse that won at Santa Anita on opening day for Carla Gaines, Point Exception, is a very nice horse. He’s only run one time, but as we saw last year with Big Brown, a horse can come from out of nowhere and run three times and then win the Kentucky Derby. It happened last year; it could happen again.

"As far as Horse of the Year, it’s kind of funny. Everybody’s saying Zenyatta didn’t race outside of her division, so she can’t be Horse of the Year. Well, Azeri never raced outside of her division and she got Horse of the Year (in 2002), but everything broke right for her, with Volponi ($89) winning the Breeders’ Cup (Classic). Lady’s Secret, 1986 Horse of the Year, did beat males in the Whitney Handicap.

"I’d probably give the nod to Curlin, but no race Curlin ran last year was even close to the race he ran at Monmouth when he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2007. The numbers might say something different, but no race he ran last year was even close to that."

The homestretch

• Tip to Kentucky Derby Future Book bettors: save your money on Belmont Futurity winner Charitable Man (40-1, Wynn).

"The horse is doing fine (as he recovers from a saucer fracture)," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "He’s in Ocala now. I don’t have him back yet, but he’s back in training. The Derby is a possibility, but it’s more unlikely than likely. There’s still a chance."

The trainer, an avid poker player, added that Miesque winner Habaya is doing well and probably will run next in the Coconut Grove on Feb. 15 at Gulfstream Park, while Lieutenant Ron will stay in Florida for an allowance race.

"We’re not going to California with him," McLaughlin said. "It’s too tough out there. My poker is doing OK. If there was a poker tournament in California, I might come out and bring a horse or two."

• Bob Baffert is puzzled and miffed because one prominent turf writer voted for Street Boss as 2008’s outstanding sprinter over his Midnight Lute, who, despite a limited campaign, was the smashing back-to-back winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Monmouth in 2007 and again last year at Oak Tree. The winner will be either Midnight Lute or Benny the Bull, not Street Boss.

"Midnight Lute was a horse that showed greatness," Baffert said. "If he had won his races in photo finishes, that would be different. But he set a track record at Monmouth and was devastating winning at Oak Tree. Why would anyone vote for Street Boss? It doesn’t make sense."