Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation rarely has a bad year. The ruler of Dubai’s Thoroughbred holdings is deep around the globe with highly prized bloodstock that is raised on highly prized land in the U.S., England, Australia, and Japan. As to be expected, Godolphin runners win more than their fair share. This year, however, the performance of its homebred crop of 2-year-olds has been exceptional.
In Europe the lot is led by the Charlie Appleby-trained Pinatubo, who landed the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes (G1) in September and the Darley Dewhurst Stakes (G1) in mid-October. That win was preceded by the Andre Fabre-trained homebred Victor Ludorum scoring in the Oct. 6 Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere-Grand Criterium (G1) at ParisLongchamp. Fabre also trains Earthlight, who won twice at the group 1 level in the Darley Prix Morny–Finale des Darley Series at Deauville in August and Newmarket’s Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes. All three are by Darley stallion Shamardal.
In the U.S., Maxfield turned heads with his runaway score at Keeneland in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1). Over the Thanksgiving weekend unbeaten homebred Alms won the Jimmy Durante Stakes (G3T). Both juveniles missed running in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, however, as did Lake Avenue, who uncorked a skillful display of speed and stamina Dec. 7 in
Aqueduct’s Demoiselle Stakes (G2).
“We’ve had an exciting year here, especially with our 2-year-olds,” said Jimmy Bell, president of Darley America. “Now and then you have everything come the right way. A lot of times you think it’s going to happen, but we all know how the vagaries of this business can be.”
So, is there some sort of special sauce with this group?
“If there is, I’d love to find it,” Bell said. “It’s just the nature of this game. As we all know, it can go both ways, and sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees and have a tough spell, and sometimes it’s like ‘boom, boom, boom.’ The pendulum swings that way sometimes. Every now and then you get a big swing, and I’d say 2019 has been a big swing for us.”
A key component to Darley’s far-flung operation is communication.
An internal website—named Blue Universe—allows for the opportunity for all Godolphin employees to know what is going on at each operation. There is a ‘Ten to Follow’ game among the team that allows competitors to pick their own top 10 performers with the winners receiving prize money.
“It’s closely followed and very competitive,” Bell said. “It keeps everybody talking and following what is going on. It’s a great means of communication and a place for people to have more access to instant information and results. Those two things make for great coordination and communication for the entire company.”
In the United States the horses are divvied up among a strong group of trainers: Richard Mandella and Bob Baffert in California; Brad Cox, Brendan Walsh, and Eoin Harty in the Midwest; and Bill Mott, Michael Stidham, and Godolphin stalwarts Kiaran McLaughlin and Tom Albertrani on the East Coast.
How the horses work their way to the different trainers is decided by a “collective group,” according to Bell.
“We’ll send our recommendations over to England. They are reviewed and there may be an adjustment or two. Basically it’s a collaborative effort with information passed up the line...and eventually signed off on by Sheikh Mohammed. It’s a communication thing: top to bottom trying to put the round peg in the round hole.”
And Darley has found its sweet spot for 2019. Bell points out the U.S. group has produced 21 individual juvenile winners in the U.S.
“Maxfield is an exciting prospect for us. He had a little chip taken out and is getting some time. He’s very large and very tall. He’s filled out quite a bit, but there’s a lot to fill out. Time is only going to serve him well.
“To see Lake Avenue put together her tactical speed with some stamina in the Demoiselle was special. She showed not only ability but some class to go with it. Alms…she’s done nothing but be impressive. Those will keep you excited.”
We spoke with Bell early Dec. 8 while he was at the airport in Atlanta awaiting a flight to Ocala, Fla., where he was going to inspect the 90-some yearlings-soon-to-be-juveniles for next year.
“That’s part of the excitement…to see the youngsters at the early stage and watch their development and chart that,” Bell concluded.
The Thoroughbred game is cyclical, charted by both the calendar and the win ledger. Right now the Godolphin team is excelling at both.