06/24/2004 11:00PM

Godolphin back in business at Royal Ascot


NEW YORK - There were two big noises made at Royal Ascot last week. One came from Godolphin, which won six of the 16 group races during the five-day meeting. The other came from Alec Wildenstein, the French owner and breeder who has been striking a number of discordant notes of late.

First, Godolphin, which looked like the all-conquering juggernaut of old with a resounding return to form after a year of, what was for it, relative obscurity.

Refuse to Bend got the ball rolling for Saeed bin Suroor's stable when he returned to form himself with a victory in the one-mile, Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes. Suroor has been patient with the 4-year-old Refuse to Bend, who won last year's 2000 Guineas with Dermot Weld and Moyglare Stud but looked like he might be over the hill in his three starts since being purchased by Godolphin.

The highly promising Kheleyf served notice that he will be a force at distances up to a mile with a sharp score in the seven-furlong, Group 3 Jersey Stakes, and Punctilious partially made up for the English Oaks failure of both herself and Snowdrop by winning the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes.

Another Godolphin runner, Duke of Venice, handed Two Miles West a six-length thumping in the two-mile, Group 3 Queen's Vase, an early pointer to September's St. Leger Stakes. But the jewel in Godolphin's crown this season might be its Hardwicke Stakes winner, Doyen.

Highly regarded but lightly raced last year when trained in France by Andre Fabre for Sheikh Mohammed, Doyen made his 3-year-old debut at 12 furlongs a success when he beat winners at Saint-Cloud. He advanced steadily to take a listed race at Lyon-Parilly and a Group 3 at Longchamp at the same distance, as one would expect from a son of Sadler's Wells who is out of the French Oaks runner-up Moon Cactus and is a half brother to Godolphin's English Oaks winner Moonshell.

Doyen then had the misfortune of running into Dalakhani in his next two starts, chasing the European champion home when second in the Prix Niel and fourth in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. In his 2004 and Godolphin debut, he was an unlucky second to repeat winner Warrsan in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom.

Doyen's six-length Hardwicke trouncing of High Accolade, a horse who had previously landed a Group 2 and a Group 3 over the course and distance at Ascot, earned him a Timeform rating of 131+, three pounds higher than that given to Rakti for his victory two days earlier in the 1 1/4-mile, Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes. Doyen's rating for the Hardwicke is one pound better than the Timeform rating for Pleasantly Perfect in his victory in the Dubai World Cup.

Godolphin has three possible runners in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot on July 24. Doyen is, of course, one of them, and Frankie Dettori has already hinted that Doyen will be his ride that day. Sulamani is also nominated for the big midsummer race, despite his so-so fourth behind Rakti in the Prince of Wales. Godolphin's third King George nominee is Papineau, whose victory in the 2 1/2-mile Ascot Gold Cup triggered a controversial response from Alec Wildenstein.

Papineau had just beaten Wildenstein's fine stayer, Westerner, by 1 1/2 lengths in the Gold Cup when Wildenstein, in the Ascot winners' enclosure awaiting the return of the first two finishers, was quoted by the Racing Post as saying that "the dope testing machine must be broken."

Could a jealous Wildenstein have been referring to the improved form of Papineau, who, when trained last year in France by Andre Fabre, had managed just 2 wins in 4 starts at 1 1/2 miles?

Sheikh Mohammed brushed off Wildenstein's remark, and Ascot officials chose to ignore it. But Wildenstein has embroiled himself in another controversy over earplugs.

Westerner starts his races wearing earplugs. He wore them in the Gold Cup, a fact with which Ascot officials were in accord. The problem begins when the jockey removes the earplugs during the race.

Wildenstein made sure that everyone knew that Gerald Mosse would do just that during the running of the Gold Cup, even though Instruction H3 in the rules of English racing states that "when any horse runs in a race with earplugs of any type, such plugs must not be removed during the course of that race."

Wildenstein-owned horses have now fallen afoul of that rule three times in England, first when Risk Seeker won the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot, again when the same horse was fourth in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown, and the third time with Westerner in the Gold Cup.

The Jockey Club fined Wildenstein $450 for the first infraction, $900 for the second, and $1,800 for the third. Unrepentant, Wildenstein deserves to have his next earplug offender disqualified.

Wildenstein fired his contract rider, Dominique Boeuf, earlier this month after Boeuf had ridden Vallee Enchantee to a third-place finish in the Coronation Cup. Wildenstein was reported by the Racing Post to have publicly referred to Boeuf with a vulgarity after the race. A few days later, Boeuf was no longer employed by Ecurie Wildenstein.

Wildenstein made the headlines a few years ago when embroiled in a divorce with his wife, Jocelyn, who, after a series of facelifts, had been dubbed by the tabloid press as the "Bride of Wildenstein." His ugly remarks of late do a disservice to the great racing and breeding operation left him by his late father, Daniel.