Where did it all go wrong? Does it really matter? The more pressing question is how will it all be put right or if it ever will?
— Steve Harris

Perhaps the Coolmore empire will not win the Derby as they have for the last four years. Perhaps they will - their three candidates have stamina in their favour, a vital factor for any Derby winner whether present in large or small quantity.

But even though Giovanni Canaletto, Hans Holbein and Kilimanjaro don't leap out of the racecard as cast-iron contenders in a Derby that is a far more interesting race than it was 12 months ago when Australia seemingly had only to turn up to win, their presence is further evidence that in the battle of the racing giants there is still only one winner.

And that despite the diminishing nature of the spring on Aidan O'Brien's Derby battalion. So many of the purported aces have been trumped - John F Kennedy, Ol' Man River and Sir Isaac Newton - yet still there are three horses worthy of a place in the Derby field if not necessarily the winner's circle.

Plan A was ditched, plan B went to the wind, plan C was unworkable, but Coolmore's infinite Scrabble rack of contingency has produced the goods again. The system works, the system always works, send more money - and there is plenty of that - and plenty of four-legged money-printers.

Add the well-fancied Oaks trio of Legatissimo, Together Forever and Diamondsandrubies, and it's plain to see Coolmore have a substantial stake in Epsom's Classic weekend. There are two British Classics (and the Irish 2,000) already in the hod and no-one would be in the least surprised if two more joined them by teatime on Saturday.

Contrast this with the representation of the other bloodstock behemoth. Godolphin have no filly in the Oaks and their serious Derby horse - Jack Hobbs - was a last-minute purchase, in the manner of a forgetful husband driving to the petrol station at 11.30pm on Valentine's eve for a serviceable bunch of flowers and the last undented box of chocolates.

The outsider Best Of Times looks no more than - famous last words - a makeweight, but as a homebred he stands as the sum total of the Godolphin machine in the two most prestigious Classics of the season.

The smaller print hints at a greater presence - Oaks second-favourite Crystal Zvezda is by Sheikh Mohammed's flagship stallion Dubawi, as is Lady Of Dubai, while Derby favourite Golden Horn and Zawraq are by Darley sires Cape Cross and Shamardal respectively - but success on these fronts will be only reflected glory for the sheikh's great enterprise.

Even the newcomers, the Qatari interests of the Al Thani family, have greater representation than Godolphin. Their breeding operation is still in its infancy but their elaborate silks will be in greater evidence over the two days thanks to Al Naamah and Bellajeu in the Oaks and Elm Park, Moheet, Rocky Rider and Rogue Runner in the Derby.

At present, then, it's Coolmore first and the rest nowhere, with the Al Thanis making promising headway from a standing start and Godolphin bringing up the rear. This is not something that could have been envisaged in the days of Balanchine, Swain, Fantastic Light and Mark Of Esteem. Godolphin were in the market for pre-eminence, attained it, and then let it slip.

Now they are associated primarily with quantity rather than quality - 196 winners in Britain in 2014 a record, yet just one at Group 1 level, Charming Thought in the less than magnificent Middle Park Stakes.

Where did it all go wrong? Does it really matter? The more pressing question is how will it all be put right or if it ever will? The Al Zarooni scandal prompted the restructuring of Godolphin, resulting in two highly capable trainers working with two very talented jockeys and a consolidation of wider ownership interests - primarily those horses running for Princess Haya - under a big blue umbrella.

There has also been a broadening of the policy on trainers. Recent acquisition Night Of Thunder remained with Richard Hannon and has got the Group 1 ball rolling nice and early - which has not diluted the brand and may well make it stronger. However, the re-establishment of Godolphin as a genuine threat to Coolmore and Ballydoyle will take much longer and there is no guarantee it will ever happen, which will be to the detriment of the sport element of the industry in that monopolies are admirable but competition preferred.

A fifth Derby in five years for Coolmore interests would be a statistical anomaly, but only in respect of history. As things stand, a fifth Derby in five years is continued evidence there is no-one else in the world capable of producing brilliant horses at the same level of excellence. And if five, then why not six, or seven? It may indeed be the landscape artist, the portrait painter or the mountain. Staying power wins Derbys. Staying power is the epitome of Coolmore's dominance. Who can stop them?

Excerpt from The Racing Post 4 June 2015 / Steve Harris

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