CHROME THE MEYDAN 'STAR' THURSDAY
By Emma Berry
The Thursday morning prior to the Dubai World Cup meeting is billed as 'Breakfast With The Stars,' and for those up early enough at Meydan there was the chance for breakfast with a rock star. California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) has received this lofty billing from his veteran trainer Art Sherman, and it's a title he wears with ease.
"I call him the California Rock Star. He's got such a following all over the world," said Sherman, who has also received invitations for trips to Hong Kong and Royal Ascot with America's Horse of the Year.
The majority of Saturday's runners wait until the sun creeps over the horizon before taking to the track, meaning that California Chrome has the spotlight all to himself as he wanders from his barn with rider Willie Delgado and entourage a little after 5 a.m. The European horses - generally trained away from the clamor of clockers and cameramen in the forests of Chantilly or private training grounds of Lambourn and Newmarket - may find it less easy to cope with morning trackwork, but this is old hat for the four-time Grade I winner. He stands stock still for a good five minutes, his ears pricked to the sound of camera shutters and the more distant call to morning prayer. Eventually Delgado coaxes California Chrome into a casual saunter within touching distance of the press pack, and then asks him to jog on round the bend under the glare from the vast Meydan grandstand.
At 77, Sherman is enjoying the attention as much as his horse, and happily consents to interview after interview. "I thought nobody would know me in Dubai, but from the moment I stepped off the plane, people said, 'There's California Chrome's trainer.' He's kind of like a drawing magnet for racing right now," he said. California Chrome and his connections may be reveling in their lead billing ahead of the world's richest race day, but there are plenty of stars still to come as the sun and the temperature both start to rise.
Team Valor's Euro Charline (GB) (Myboycharlie) scoots around the turf, which will later be graced by Hong Kong's G1 Sheema Classic contender Designs On Rome (Ire) (Holy Roman Emperor), followed by powerful stayer Brown Panther (GB) (Shirocco), his head tucked low in trademark style under jockey Richard Kingscote.
Wherever Japanese horses run in the world they are guaranteed to have a large contingent of fans and photographers in tow, and Dubai is no exception. As the statuesque G1 Japan Cup winner Epiphaneia (Jpn) (Symboli Kris S), unmissable in his green bridle, takes to the track alongside grey compatriot Tap That (Jpn) (Tapit), the photographers pursue him through the tunnel and into the paddock where he heads for a spot of schooling ahead of the big night.
Epiphaneia will be one of California Chrome's deadliest foes in the World Cup, and he could give him a run for his money in the competition to be the week's best poser, too, unfazed is he by the rising clamor as hundreds of guests gather for breakfast under the parasols on the Meydan concourse and presenters Rishi Persad and Scott Hazelton take to the microphones.
Horses continue to canter round the track in the background, but they become almost a sideshow as bands and stilt-walkers are interspersed with loudspeaker comments from trainers and jockeys. Art Sherman is called up again, this time in front of a much larger audience, as is Victor Espinoza, but the prime focus this morning is on team Godolphin. This is, after all, Sheikh Mohammed's party and one that has grown in grandeur and largesse with each passing year. Trainers Saeed Bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby and newly signed stable jockeys James Doyle and William Buick are each decked out in identical Godolphin blue polo shirts and caps and are unfailingly polite in answering queries as to their chances of making Saturday a night to remember for their boss.
The winter has been kind to the two teams within the Godolphin operation: Bin Suroor and Doyle have been crowned champion jockey and trainer, respectively, at the culmination of the Dubai Carnival, while Appleby has taken England's All-Weather Championship, which concludes today, with more than double the earnings of his nearest rival, Marco Botti.
That a Godolphin trainer should even be challenging for all-weather honors is a departure from the strategy of old, which saw the majority of the organization's horses shipped from Newmarket to Dubai for the winter, returning in time for the start of the British turf season. This time around, Appleby's yard at Moulton Paddocks has remained full as last year's juveniles have made the transition to their Classic season under a colder English sky.
"We regrouped last year and this is the way we decided to go," Appleby explains. "We didn't want to come here to Dubai and butt heads with Saeed's horses. It's been something new for Godolphin and it's been very productive. There's a different atmosphere at the yard now as it's been kept very active through the winter."
Having horses in Newmarket and Dubai has meant weekly commuting between the two for Appleby, who is looking forward to assessing the ability of the wealth of youngsters purchased by Sheikh Mohammed at last year's yearling sales, not to mention some extremely well credentialed homebreds.
One juvenile who is certain to garner plenty of attention when he makes his debut is the Dubawi (Ire) half-brother to dual Derby winner Australia (GB), purchased privately by Godolphin from his breeder Lord Derby last summer. The trainer, however, is taking the long-term view.
He said, "We're going to take our time with them, we're not planning to have lots of Royal Ascot 2-year-olds. We're looking to go down the Classic route - that's what Godolphin is all about, winning Group 1s and Classics."
That quest will start with the 10 runners being primed for Saturday, among them African Story (GB) (Pivotal), who will bid to become the first horse ever to win the Dubai World Cup twice. The 8-year-old is one of five mounts for James Doyle on the card as he attempts to add to the Group 1 success notched here for his old boss, Prince Khalid Abdullah, aboard Cityscape (GB) (Selkirk) in the G1 Dubai Duty Free of 2012.
Asked how he feels after giving up an equally high-profile riding retainer to join the Godolphin team last autumn, he offered, "I wouldn't say it adds to the pressure, but of course I want to do well riding for the home team and I've been lucky to be champion in Dubai this winter. This is the biggest night of racing in the world and we know it's going to be tough coming up against horses like California Chrome and Lea." Buick also has a Dubai World Cup night win to his credit having landed the G1 Sheema Classic with Dar Re Mi (Ire) (Singspiel) for John Gosden in 2010. He will partner Saeed Bin Suroor's second World Cup runner, Prince Bishop (Ire) (Dubawi), as well as the Uruguayan Triple Crown winner Sir Fever (Uru) (Texas Fever) for Appleby among his five rides on Saturday. He said, "Riding for Godolphin is a dream job from a jockey's point of view and Saturday is going to be extra special. It's a very important race day for everyone involved and riding for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed it means that bit more."
There's no doubt that in signing Doyle and the Norwegian-born Buick, Sheikh Mohammed has ensured that he has two of the brightest stars of the British weighing room at his disposal. How quickly his faith in them will be repaid by a return to the glory days for Godolphin remains to be seen, but the revised strategy won't fail for lack of commitment from the new boys in blue.
Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News