10/12/2009 11:00PM

Gayego set to keep Godolphin rolling


PHOENIX - You can't blame the Godolphin boys for hanging their heads a bit for the first half of this year. Vineyard Haven and Midshipman - two of America's top juveniles last year - were purchased specifically with the Triple Crown classics in mind. Neither made it there, and Godolphim had to settle with an eighth-place finish in the Derby by Regal Ransom. Sara Louise, the last horse to beat Rachel Alexandra, was purchased by Godolphin with an eye on the filly classics, but failed to thrive. Two Step Salsa and Gayego were acquired for races like the Met Mile but, again, neither was able to get there. Pyro, big news in 2008, had been on the side of a milk carton since.

Godolphin's top females of 2008, Music Note and Cocoa Beach, didn't look quite the same when they resurfaced this spring. Only Seventh Street began the year racing well.

How quickly things can change. Vineyard Haven and Midshipman resurfaced this summer in New York with dazzling form. Regal Ransom came back to win the Grade 2 Super Derby impressively. Music Note's two monster Grade 1 wins send her to the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic as one of the favorites and a possible huge threat to champion Zenyatta. Sara Louise is back breathing fire. Flashing became a Grade 1 winner at Saratoga, taking the Test. Pyro bounced back to his at-times freaky form to win the Grade 1 Forego. Others like Girolamo appear to have come of age, and Seventh Street is still around to be reckoned with.

Whether it was time or a change of scenery or a change in the seasons, all is suddenly rosy for Godolphin, and Sunday's Grade 1 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup at Oak Tree at Santa Anita gives Godolphin a chance to have a strong hand come next month's Breeders' Cup Sprint with Gayego.

Unlike some of Godolphin's runners, such as Sara Louise and Vineyard Haven, Gayego is a proven commodity on synthetic going. In fact, he's more than just a proven - he's shown brilliance.

Remember, it was just about a year and a half ago that Gayego's name was being bandied about as something special. He began his career on Southern California's synthetic tracks and flourished, winning the San Pedro (a sprint) and finishing second in the Grade 2 San Felipe in 2008. That sent him to Oaklawn, where he won the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby on dirt. He tried Big Brown in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and his bubble burst - he was 17th in the Derby, 11th in the Preakness.

It was time to go home and lick the wounds. A return run at Oak Tree a year ago in the Damascus, on the Breeders' Cup undercard, resulted in a seventh-place finish, but then things took off. He romped in an allowance sprint at Hollywood Park, a win that did not go unnoticed. Godolphin promptly snatched him up from trainer Paulo Lobo and it was off to Dubai to be groomed as a top sprinter-miler. He won a Group 3 there March 5 and then ran second to stablemate Two Step Salsa in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on the Dubai World Cup undercard. Alas, for a second time the bubble burst.

While his target became America and races like the Grade 1 Carter and Grade 1 Met Mile, he failed to thrive. He didn't work for a while but finally started cranking up in the late spring-early summer, long after those two big races had been determined.

As he did last fall, when Gayego came back he meant business. He played his part in Godolphin's sizzling Saratoga meet, stalking the pace and finishing well to win a strong optional claiming sprint. The Beyer was nice (99) but surely not the best he can do. The good news is it serves as a perfect stepping-off point for the Ancient Title, and then the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

The Ancient Title came up tough, though it could have been worse - top sprinter Zensational could have showed. He didn't.

Gayego looks like so many of those other Godolphin horses like Music Note, Regal Ransom, Midshipman and others - ready to leap forward and fire a warning shot over the bow of others heading for the Breeders' Cup.