Coolmore vs Darley War
Coolmore vs Darley War

“Rumblings within the Godolphin Camp”

The announcement this week that Frankie Dettori would be taking the mount on Camelot in Sunday’s renewal of Europe’s greatest horse race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Gr.1), was pretty matter-of-fact. Yet there is a strong underlying political message in it. You see, Frankie Dettori is one of the world’s top jockeys of all time, and for well over a decade, he has been the unrivalled favourite of his employer, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai. His annual retainer was rumoured to be in the millions of dollars, and besides being rewarded for every ride and the commissions that accrue to jockeys on their prize money, he was showered with lavish presents for big race victories.

Some seven or eight years ago, Sheikh Mohammed’sGodolphin racing operation was pretty much at the summit of the sport’s most successful racing operations. Ironically, the Sheikh chose that time to declare war on their principal adversaries, Coolmore. Nobody really knows the reasons behind it, but it was suspected that the Sheikh felt the commercial traffic between the two operations was “one-way”. He was providing liberal patronage for the Coolmore stallions, and was spending vast sums on their progeny at sales venues around the world. Coolmore were seldom if ever seen to put their hands up in the auction ring for a Darley (Sheikh Mohammed’s breeding arm) sired yearling, and they never sent a mare to any of the Sheikh’s own stallions. Besides, Sheikh Mohammed had established a global showpiece in Dubai’s World Cup meeting at the end of March, boasting the world’s richest prize money, and there was scarcely a Coolmore horse in sight.

It has to be said though, that at the time Coolmore presided over the most formidable band of stallion material in Europe (if not the world), and that really was the reason behind the Sheikh’s regular dominance of the market for youngsters sired by these stallions. In simple terms, he wanted to be the best, and so he had to buy the best. At the same time, Coolmore were also his principal opposition at the races, and they too wanted to own the best, so that they not only competed with the Sheikh in the sales ring, (which meant that quite often they were pushing him to pay substantially more for stock in which they may sometimes have owned an interest as well), but they had the luxury (and indeed, satisfaction) of being able to sell him services in numbers to their stallions. They had obviously taken a commercial decision as far as the patronage of the Sheikh’s stallions was concerned, and felt they could do better by continuing to use their own, a point borne out by results at the races. And when it came to the World Cup, Coolmore considered the timing inopportune: by March, their horses were in need of rest after demanding  European campaigns.

For obvious reasons, lean times followed for the Godolphin operation in the wake of the declaration of war, and Coolmore have pretty much had the European racing scene to themselves since then, with the progeny of Sadler’s Wells, Galileo, Montjeu, Danehill, Giant’s Causeway and Danehill Dancer, and the associated Maktoum entities have pretty much been feeding on the left-overs.

In the midst of all this, Frankie Dettori remained staunchly “Sheikh Mohammed”, and those who follow the game closely will recall many an embrace, particularly in their heyday, between jockey and master following a big race victory.

In more recent times though, there have been rumblings within the Godolphin camp about Frankie’s position as the “chosen one”, and that of the new pretender to his throne, Mickael Barzalona, who has had the pick of the rides in recent seasons. That there is a rift developing, whatever they may say, is unavoidable, and in his appointment to ride Camelot, arguably the best middle distance three-year-old Europe has seen in some years, (perhaps decades), there are two messages. Coolmore have laid down a challenge by employing Sheikh Mohammed’s darlin’ and the winds are certainly a changin’.