30.03.2024, Dubai, Winners presentation to Michael Tabor: Tower of London with Ryan Moore up wins the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan racecourse, UAE. Photo GALOPPFOTO/Racingfotos.com

Monday Musings: Emollient

At any time over the past 20-odd years you would never have believed it possible, writes Tony Stafford. But when Tower Of London came with a breathtaking run from the back under Ryan Moore to win the Dubai Gold Cup, there was a beaming Michael Tabor on hand to welcome the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt into the winner’s enclosure.

Back home in the UK, I needed a second take as Nick Luck came across to interview him. “Congratulations”, said Luck. “Thank you, it’s my first time here”, replied Tabor.

“Your first time at Meydan?”, continued the interviewer. “Not just at Meydan, my first time ever in Dubai. It’s fantastic, not just the racecourse, the whole of Dubai!”

Whether Michael would have been quite as amiable following a third career bomb from Auguste Rodin in the £2.7milion to the winner Sheema Classic just over three hours later is immaterial. He said it and if the £400-odd grand victory for Tower Of London was chicken-feed in relation to the riches on offer later on, it still made the journey a success for Tabor and a number of elated fellow travellers celebrating the victory in the unsaddling enclosure afterwards.

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For those two decades at the start of the millennium, Coolmore, especially Michael Tabor, had been sworn racecourse adversaries of the men from Dubai, largely in the person of Sheikh Mohammed Al Rashid bin Maktoum, Ruler of that Emirate.

Their mild-mannered if ultra-competitive trainer Aidan O’Brien would never have viewed the rivalry with anything like the fierceness of his owner, but I think we should applaud one man for the emollient qualities that made Saturday’s moment possible.

Step forward Charlie Appleby, the always-amiable Devonian who took over the training of half of Godolphin’s UK team. This occurred as a result of the misdeeds of Mahmood al Zarooni and his proven use of illicit means to propel his already formidable horses even further forward. Saeed bin Suroor was, and remains, supervising the other gradually shrinking portion.

One of the horses found to have been doped – but not at the time of his biggest success – was the 2012 St Leger winner Encke. It was in the spring of the following year that the eight-year punishment was handed down to the Dubai national. Ban served, he started to train again domestically with a much smaller team.

Appleby was al Zarooni’s assistant at the time of Encke’s St Leger and the biggest effect of that victory was that it denied Camelot, winner of that year’s 2000 Guineas and Derby, of what would have been the first Triple Crown in the UK since Vincent O’Brien and Nijinsky in 1970.

Al Zarooni’s ban came following a BHA inspection the following year after the St Leger found 11 horses testing positive to the presence of anabolic steroids in their systems. The steroids, he said, were brought back in his suitcase from the UAE, adding he “didn’t know they were prohibited”.

By the time of the ban, al Zarooni had won three races, two at the 2013 Craven meeting and another in the same week at Wolverhampton. Appleby took over soon after and sent out 80 winners that season. After almost two years off the track after his Classic success, Encke, still an entire, had three placed runs under the Appleby banner before disappearing without a trace.

The Appleby-Coolmore thawing of relations began with the mutual respect that Charlie and Aidan O’Brien invariably showed each other for their respective successes in major races. Also, Appleby’s and Ryan Moore’s children know each other very well. Charlie had no qualms about regularly congratulating Aidan and the owners, most often Michael Tabor, for their successes and Aidan responded in kind. Images of their mutual celebrations at Santa Anita and the like are still fresh in the memory.

Last year, there was the usual triumphal season for Coolmore and Aidan with yet another Derby, and other achievements, for Auguste Rodin. Contrastingly, it was the first time for a while that Appleby’s Classic generation had been below par. Last year’s two-year-olds will need to step up in the major races in 2024.

It didn’t take long though for Appleby to enjoy himself on his own terms. Despite struggling with periodic absences through his career, the Dubawi gelding Rebel’s Romance had proved himself a high-class performer, making the Breeders’ Cup Turf race in October 2022, his ninth win in only 12 starts.

After three disappointing performances last year he got back on track in a Listed race at Kempton in December and even though he followed up with a £1 million-plus pot in Doha last month he was allowed to start at 25/1. So now it’s 12 wins in 18, and £6.173m in prizemoney. Not bad!

While Auguste Rodin languished at the rear, reminiscent of his Guineas and King George meltdowns from last year, William Buick always had Rebel’s Romance in touch behind the front-running duo of Point Lonsdale, Auguste’s pacemaker, and the Japanese Stars On Earth. That Point Lonsdale, a 100/1 shot, could finish 6th, picking up almost £100k, shows just how far below expectations the favourite ran.

Hopefully, as last year, that first comeback run will be forgotten when he gets fully into stride. Nowadays it’s more a case of what a potential stallion has won rather the times he has lost that govern his marketability and, as a son of Deep Impact, there’ll always be room for him in Japan. They can afford him too!

Back in the Sheema Classic, Buick merely had to go past the front pair and wait for the expected late runners, but none came. Then a half-hour later, Charlie was just as delighted when the former Bob Baffert-trained Laurel River, now handled in Dubai by Bhupat Seemar made a mockery of the £10 million Dubai World Cup, never looking like relinquishing the long lead jockey Tadhg O’Shea initiated early in the ten-furlong dirt race.

The first prize of £5m should equate to about half a million quid for the rider who a decade or so ago regularly came to ride work for Brian Meehan at Manton, ostensibly in his job as he recalls it as number two (or more accurately surely three behind the late Hamdan Al Maktoum’s first jockey Paul Hanagan and recently retired Dane O’Neill). I always found Tadhg a friendly young man. It was a surprise at the time when he decided to go – like so many other fringe jockeys – to Dubai. He’s Beyond the Fringe now.

Laurel River was allowed to start at 17/2 amid a deluge of money for the Kazakhstan entry – sounds more like one of the heats of the Eurovision Song Contest – Kabirkhan, winner of 11 of his previous 12 starts.

A son of California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and 2016 Dubai World Cup victor, Kabirkhan was a $12k buy from bargain basement Book 5 at Keeneland yearling sales in 2021. Sent to Kazakhstan where he went unbeaten at two, he was similarly never finding anything remotely to test him in his three-year-old season in Russia.

Now in the care of legendary locally based American handler Doug Watson and ridden by another of the long-term second-string jockeys Pat Dobbs, he was perfectly poised on the rail as Laurel River took off.

While Laurel River just went further and further away, the favourite faded and it was left to last year’s winner, the Japanese Ushba Tesoro, who came from miles behind to take second. Not quite the riches from 2023, but still worth nigh on £2 million for connections of the seven-year-old entire.

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Frankie Dettori was back in ninth on Bob Baffert’s Newgate but, earlier, restored to the Godolphin blue, because amazingly he, unlike Buick, can ride at 8st5lb – given a few weeks’ notice, of course – he rode Appleby’s filly Star Of Mystery into second place behind six-year-old California Spangle, trained in Hong Kong by Tony Cruz, in the Al Quoz Sprint.

It wasn’t all gloom for Baffert. His colt Muth, by Good Magic (2nd Kentucky Derby) won the Arkansas Derby comfortably at Oaklawn Park. That race was worth £620k and Baffert used it successfully as the prep back in 2015 when his American Pharoah became the first US Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Justify in 2018 is the most recent of 13 horses to achieve that feat. He, like American Pharoah, is based at Ashford stud in Kentucky, Coolmore’s US base. Justify’s sons and daughters are already showing extraordinary ability, led of course by City Of Troy.

The winter 2000 Guineas favourite had his first look at a racecourse in 2024 at Leopardstown (re-scheduled from waterlogged Naas) a week ago. From the time he did what he did to his useful opponents in the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last July, I’ve been convinced he’s the best two-year-old I’ve seen.

The Dewhurst win was just as emphatic, his all-the-way near four-length margin earning a 125 rating. Roll on May!

Talking of the Derby, there was a hark back to another time when an old-style “chalk jockey” won the race. Back in the height of Covid, the 2020 running was won by Serpentine, 25/1, ridden by the unknown, possibly even to his parents, Emmet McNamara, to the quietest ever reception for a Derby winner. I’m sure Bernard Kantor would have been quite bemused, consulting his race card as he supervised formalities after the race.

Serpentine, now a seven-year-old, won a 10-furlong Group 3 race at Rosehill, Australia, over the weekend. By Galileo, he was having his 18th race and first success since his Derby triumph, the last twelve following a gelding operation in March two years ago. He is now trained by close Coolmore friend Gai Waterhouse and joint licence-holder Adrian Bott.

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