John Ferguson and the boys in blue

Monday Musings: On the Loss of True Blue Leadership…

The Lady in Blue just about managed to cling on to power after a humiliating election result that brought the “Dead Woman Walking” jibe from a former close colleague late last week, writes Tony Stafford. There was just as seismic a shake-up among the Boys in Blue, but in their case, the Top Blueboy went with barely a backward glance.

John Ferguson has been the great survivor at Godolphin for decades, constantly Sheikh Mohammed’s strong right-hand in various roles while others, notably Mohammed Al Zarooni, paid the price for uncomfortably controversial events with their jobs. Ferguson even found time recently for a highly-successful role as an NH trainer under the Bloomfields banner at Cowlinge, near Newmarket, manufacturing extended careers for one-time smart Flat-race stayers after it seemed their usefulness had ended.

Indeed some of them, once Fergie had to finish that sabbatical to become the supremo who would bring Godolphin to match up with Coolmore and Ballydoyle, were recycled again. Several have reappeared as versatile dual-purpose performers, like yesterday’s impressive Goodwood scorer London Prize for Ian Williams, while others, extraordinarily, won valuable and prestigious Flat races in Australia.

Ferguson’s younger son Alex developed rapidly as a pupil assistant/ amateur rider with Ben Pauling, where High Bridge kept the Bloomfields identity going last jumps season, while elder son James continued his highly-visible role as first an in-house junior Godolphin executive and later assistant trainer to Charlie Appleby.

But it seems the tensions had been growing between Ferguson Sr. and Saeed bin Suroor, the genial long-serving main trainer of Godolphin from the 1980’s onward. Saeed rarely appears anything other than politely content with his lot, but the distribution of the 2016 batch of yearlings between his Snailwell Road stables and Charlie Appleby’s Moulton Paddocks operation produced a major rift.

It apparently festered on for a while and then manifested itself publicly with a Racing Post article in which Julian Muscat revealed Saeed’s anger at the disparity between the precocity of many in the Appleby part of the operation and what Saeed described as horses in his care that were untrainable at two.

First-time wins for Appleby in the divisions of the juvenile maiden on Newmarket’s opening July Course meeting on Saturday, including the £2.6 million buy, Glorious Journey (Dubawi ex Coronation Stakes winner, Fallen For You) immediately added fuel to the argument.

Those two winners, both by Darley’s brilliant home-bred sire Dubawi – their response to the supremacy of Galileo – made it ten wins from 14 juvenile runs for Appleby, who will carry Godolphin’s Royal Ascot hopes in that age division. He has 53 two-year-olds listed in Horses in Training this year.

Meanwhile Saeed, from the 58 youngsters in his list – though probably eventually there will be considerably more under both trainers’ care as the year progresses – has yet to have a runner, never mind a winner. His complaint was that the horses came in much later than usual, a similar situation to that experienced by Mark Johnston, whose intake under the Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed (Sheikh Mohammed’s son) ownership also arrived later than previously.

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Outside the younger division, Appleby and bin Suroor have had broadly similar seasons, Appleby with 24 wins from 99 runs with three-year-olds and up; Saeed 26 wins from 89 runs. But if there was a time when the divisions were heightened, surely it has to be Derby Day, when with a full Maktoum entourage, headed by the Boss, HH Sheikh Mohammed, Ruler of Dubai, his trio of runners, all trained by bin Suroor, finished fifth (Benbatl), 8th (Best Solution) and 11th (Dubai Thunder) as Wings of Eagles and Cliffs of Moher produced yet another dominating Derby result for Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore.

That, coming fresh from the Ballydoyle Guineas double double of Churchill and Winter, and the humiliating non-performance of Thunder Snow, acting like a circus horse rather than competing in the Kentucky Derby but admittedly largely smoothed by his creditable second to Churchill at The Curragh, was probably the final straw.

So Ferguson graciously fell on his sword unlike the diminished Mrs May, although there are suggestions under the radar that maybe he helped stage-manage his own departure with his boss. Whatever the truth of that speculation, he leaves a massive void to fill. A cursory review of the last fortnight’s activity for the Godolphin world-wide empire, certainly shocked me.

The fact that Godolphin SNC, the handler of the team’s runners in France, had 20 runs between main trainer Andre Fabre and Alex Pantall in the past fortnight for six wins was no surprise. Between the two exclusively Godolphin domestic trainers, plus John Gosden and three Irish handlers, Jim Bolger, Mick Halford and Willie McCreery, there was a total of 43 runners in the period.

Yet even this large composite figure was comfortably exceeded in Australia where former top jockey and now their main trainer Darren Beadman provided six winners from a massive 49 runners. Just to keep tabs on that number of horses would be a major task for the Godolphin Racing Office. I understand that Nick Luck is in for the job, should there be a vacancy, and it would be hard to imagine a better candidate, especially as he seems to have no ambitions in politics, for which he would be equally suited.

Beadman, a multiple champion jockey in Sydney, echoed Charlie Appleby in stepping up to the main job after a period as an assistant, in his case, to the disgraced Al Zarooni. Beadman spent three years understudying John O’Shea, who moved over at the end of April. O’Shea’s big successes during his spell have been with Group 1 winners, Exosphere, and the former Mark Johnston stayer, Hartnell. From 19 starts for O’Shea, Hartnell won five times, but latterly has been frustratingly a minor player behind champion race mare Winx, finishing runner-up to her four times.

O’Shea in his turn, succeeded another highly-successful Godolphin trainer Peter Snowden, who developed smart juveniles Helmet and Sepoy, both now promising stallions at Dalham Hall stud. Clearly, the powers that be <whoever they might be> at Godolphin are hoping that another trademark stallion, in the manner of Dubawi, might be in the Australian pipeline. Certainly Henry Plumptre, Godolphin’s managing director in Australia, urgently needs to find an ally back at HQ.

Royal Ascot offers a quadruple chance to celebrate the Ferguson legacy. Last year’s purchases, Ribchester (Richard Fahey, Queen Anne Stakes) and Profitable (Clive Cox, King’s Stand), and more recent Ferguson acquisitions Barney Boy, fancied by the Hannons to turn around the 2,000 Guineas form with Churchill in the St James’s Palace, and Clive Cox’s Harry Angel (Commonwealth Cup) after his impressive Sandy Lane Stakes triumph, could give the Sheikh an immediate reminder of what he might be losing.

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1 reply
  1. IanMac says:

    Excellent piece as always. Probably worth mentioning that Darren Beadman down under has been training the Godolphin horses in a purely ‘caretaker’ role until O’Shea’s designated replacement ,James Cummings ( grandson of the legendary Bart) takes over. Will be interesting to see how long he stays in post!

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