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New regime at Godolphin has the chance for a fresh start with Coolmore

Chris McGrath suggests that everyone can gain from a rapprochement

Galileo pictured at the centre of five Derby winners at Coolmore - the others, from left to right, being Pour Moi, Ruler Of The World, Australia and Camelot
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Six mares from the Niarchos family. Five from Juddmonte, and the same from Peter Brant. Four Moyglare ladies. Three sent by the Wertheimer brothers. A couple apiece for George Strawbridge and the Queen. Others in line include Newsells Park, Ballylinch, Foxwoods, Airlie, Prince Faisal, the China Horse Club; and so it goes on.

It's like Fat Sam's speakeasy: anybody who is anybody will soon walk through that door. Anybody who wants to breed a Classic winner, that is, and can either afford the fee or offer mares of sufficient quality to merit a foal-share. Well, jolly nearly anybody. On Galileo's dance card this spring, yet again, there has been one conspicuous no-show - a figure so familiar elsewhere that his absence would be utterly mystifying, had it not become axiomatic; had it not become, in fact, the ultimate Turf shorthand for "cutting off your nose to spite your face."

The original reasons for Sheikh Mohammed's refusal to deal directly with Coolmore may conceivably have been more cogent than any publicly surmised. But conjecture and gossip, seldom in short supply round a sales ring, need not be confined to those bygones that somehow have never been allowed to become bygones. It also extends to the attribution of the boycott - in some authoritative accounts, at any rate - to the man who left his service last week.

Whether or not John Ferguson was indeed responsible for the cussed insistence that the world's most expensively assembled stable should be denied access to its most potent stallion, his exit would appear to present the perfect opportunity for a fresh start in policy as well as personnel.

Unwavering

On one level, you have to admire such unwavering commitment to a perceived point of principle, misguided or otherwise. On another, however, you can only feel a little embarrassed by some of the indignities embraced as a result.

It's apparently okay, for instance, to pay Jim Bolger for back-door access to sons of Galileo. This strongly evokes the squeamishness of the first Duke of Westminster, who preferred to pay a middle man £14,000 for the 1873 Derby winner rather than give £10,000 - itself an unprecedented sum - direct to the self-made, aggressive Glaswegian coalmaster who owned him.

Galileo: pre-eminent sire in demand all over the world but not used by Godolphin
For a long time, equally, it was evidently okay to indulge years of underachievement by Godolphin - until Ferguson himself administered that famous "kick in the belly" when expanding his brief after the Al Zarooni scandal.

By force of intellect and character, Ferguson was always likely to make that kick register in parts others might not reach. The most obvious departure - long overdue, to many of us - was to ensure that top-class bloodstock was stabled with demonstrably top-class trainers. If that came at a cost to the coherence of the original, highly politicised Godolphin vision, then so be it: better to have John Gosden or Andre Fabre or Bob Baffert on your team, than against you; better to keep Ribchester in Yorkshire, than to take Libertarian away from Yorkshire.

Skewed

As everyone now knows, however, it was sooner in the internal distribution of horses that Ferguson rocked the boat. After all, Godolphin's own ranks have long been divided as to whether its Classic record, in particular, sooner reflected deficiencies in the breeding or training divisions.

But the point is that it's not really okay, at all - for any of us. Because Godolphin’s failure to punch its weight has so skewed perceptions of the sport that Paul Hayward, as respected in the mainstream as he is thoroughly schooled in our own backwater, told Daily Telegraph readers on Derby morning that Ballydoyle's "near-monopoly in the grandest races can feel like a single story on a loop" and that "it would be dishonest to pretend that the presentation of a single, unvarying narrative translates easily outside the core of the sport." 

John Ferguson (left) with John Gosden, nowadays on an expanded roster of Godolphin trainers
The situation profits nobody. The Classics certainly suffer, not least given the commercial stampede towards fast, precocious sires who would never produce a Derby colt if sent 100 Urban Seas. At the other end of the scale, equally, what does Sheikh Mohammed think when he sees Prince Khalid Abdullah’s symbiotic dealings with Coolmore? Danehill going one way; Frankel - out of a Danehill mare, of course - going the other.

What does he think, come to that, when he tots up Group 1 races in Britain and Ireland over the past year - and finds Galileo responsible for seven times as many winners as Dubawi?

Carousel

What does he think when he looks at yet another turn of the Classic carousel, and sees Galileo producing Churchill, Winter, Rhododendron and Cliffs Of Moher; his sons producing Enable, Cracksman and Eminent; and a daughter producing Barney Roy, the one colt to make an impression in the royal blue silks?

What does he think, when he reads the list of mares sent by other major breeders to Galileo - never mind the sire’s private harem at Coolmore, which this year included the dams of Minding, Found, Gleneagles and The Gurkha? Does he borrow from Michael Caine at the end of The Italian Job? "Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea…"

Frankel: sired by Galileo out of Danehill mare Kind
In one respect, at least, the Sheikh has already responded to the crisis by investing in an outstanding sire - namely by appointing Joe Osborne to fill the Ferguson breach. Joe and his siblings testify vividly to the value of heredity, their father having been such a cherished counsellor to the Sheikh. So he knows what he can expect from an Osborne: dignity as well as flair, judgement as well as commitment.

Lest we forget, the Sheikh has far more important things to worry about. As such, he must feel badly let down by some of those to whom he has trusted to ride the slipstream of his immense wealth, energy and vision. Without presuming rights and wrongs, in individual cases, he appears to have been betrayed by personal piques, jealousies, intrigues and ambition. The final breakdown between Ferguson and Saeed Bin Suroor, remember, was virtually simultaneous with a very similar rupture in Godolphin's Australian wing.

So perhaps someone will now take the chance to ask whether the Coolmore embargo is itself a matter of pique, jealousies, intrigue and ambition?

If you can't beat them, join them. That has evidently been too unpalatable a climbdown for some tastes, very possibly including those of the Sheikh himself. But whoever is responsible, surely this is the moment at least to ask the question. Is it all about self-respect - or merely self-regard?

What does Sheikh Mohammed think when he sees Prince Khalid Abdullah’s symbiotic dealings with Coolmore? Danehill going one way; Frankel the other

Key data

Godolphin