Just three weeks ago, on the morning of May 8, it looked like Godolphin were going to struggle to have a genuine Derby contender this year. Then, that afternoon, Cloth Of Stars won the G2 Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud and Moonlight Magic won the G3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown. In the blink of 50 minutes, they had two.
It is remarkable to think that the blue silks of Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation have never been carried to victory in the Epsom Derby. Lammtarra did win the Derby in 1995 – back in the early days of the very concept of Godolphin – and Lammtarra was trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, but he raced in the green and white silks of Saeed Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum.
Interestingly, the horse who Lammtarra beat into second place in 1995 was Tamure, who raced in the old maroon and white silks of Sheikh Mohammed, silks that were never carried to victory in the Derby either.
Of course, the Jim Bolger-trained New Approach won the Derby in 2008, and New Approach carried the green colours of Princess Haya, Sheikh Mohammed’s wife. Even so, a Derby victory for Godolphin blue would be something different.
2016 has been a good year so far for Godolphin in Europe. Their developing policy of going outside the ‘Godolphin’ trainers, of having horses with a spectrum of top trainers, is reaping dividends, as evidenced by victory for the Roger Varian-trained Belardo in the G1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on May 14.
As well as that G1 victory, the Richard Hannon-trained Toormore won the G2 Bet365 Mile at Sandown, Devonshire was sent out by Willie McCreery to win the G2 Lanwades Stud Stakes at the Curragh, the John Gosden-trained Linguistic won the Tattersalls Millions Trophy at Newmarket, and the Andre Fabre-trained Usherette won the G2 Dahlia Stakes, also at Newmarket.
The tendency now is to leave new acquisitions with their trainers. Belardo stayed with Roger Varian when Godolphin bought into him at the end of the 2014 season, Toormore stayed with Richard Hannon when he was bought in the middle of last season. Recent purchase Home Of The Brave stayed with Hugo Palmer and, racing in Godolphin blue for the first time, he put up a gutsy display to land the G3 Timeform Jury Stakes at Haydock on Saturday.
The Godolphin trainers are also rolling nicely in 2016. Charlie Appleby won the Lincoln and the Victoria Cup – two of the most competitive handicaps on the calendar – with Secret Brief and Flash Fire respectively, he won a listed race with Hawkbill and he has an Oaks contender on his hands now in Height Of Fashion Stakes winner Skiffle. Saeed Bin Suroor won the G2 Middleton Stakes at York with Beautiful Romance, and another big handicap, York’s listed Hambleton Handicap, with Always Smile.
Big players in the Derby picture
But it is in France and in Ireland that the Godolphin Derby hopes reside.
The Andre Fabre-trained Cloth Of Stars was a good juvenile last season. He won a G3 at Longchamp over a mile and he finished second in the G1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud on his final run as a juvenile. It appears that he has stepped forward this season.
By Sea The Stars out of a sister to Oaks winner Light Shift, Cloth Of Stars has run twice as a 3-year-old: he won the G3 Prix La Force on his debut, and he won the Prix Greffulhe on his latest run. Interestingly, they are the two races in which Fabre ran Pour Moi as a 3-year-old before he took him to Epsom and won the Derby with him in 2011.
Fabre says that Cloth Of Stars is a different type of horse from Pour Moi, that Pour Moi had better acceleration but that Cloth Of Stars has a greater cruising speed, and that he is guaranteed to stay. He is a big player in the Derby picture.
As is fellow Godolphin horse Moonlight Magic. The Jim Bolger-trained colt raced just twice last season as a juvenile, and he won on both occasions. Sent off at odds-on when he won his maiden at Cork over seven furlongs last October, he showed a nice turn of foot to get up and win a listed race at Leopardstown over nine furlongs just a week later.
By Cape Cross out of Melikah, a daughter of Urban Sea - so very closely related to Sea The Stars, Moonlight Magic was disappointing on his debut this season in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown. However, that was on very soft ground, so you can easily allow him that.
He proved that run to be all wrong last time when, on better ground, he landed the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial back at Leopardstown, back over the Ballysax course and distance. He travelled well through that race, and he stayed on nicely to win well, leaving fellow Derby aspirant Idaho almost two lengths behind him in third place.
The Derrinstown Trial hasn’t produced the Derby winner since 2002, but it did produce that Sinndar-Galileo-High Chaparral rat-tat-tat in a golden three years for the race back then. Those golden days should be back soon.
Like Fabre, Jim Bolger knows well what a Derby horse looks like, having sent out New Approach to win the race in 2008, and just a few days ago he expressed himself very happy with Moonlight Magic. He’s as good a Derrinstown winner as St Jovite was, the trainer said, and St Jovite was trained by Bolger to finish second to Dr Devious in the Epsom Derby in 1992 before going on to win the Irish version by a record 12 lengths. There are no holes in this fellow, he added.
Saturday could be a blue day.