03/28/2003 12:00AM

Godolphin boss clearly in it for the long run


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - One by one, they paraded before the well-appointed mini-grandstand at Al Quoz, Godolphin's nine-furlong training track barely 20 minutes by car from the heart of the city.

This was Wednesday, and the war in Iraq was put out of mind as first Danuta, Godolphin's leading hope for the Kentucky Oaks, and then Mezzo Soprano, a candidate for the 1000 Guineas, galloped around the track. They would be followed by Super Derby winner Essence of Dubai, British Group 2 winner Moon Ballad, and three-time Group 1 winner Grandera.

Finally, as part of a small but elite group working five furlongs, came Kentucky Derby hopeful Inamorato and then Sulamani, who just might be the best older horse in the world.

The only element missing from this parade of stars was its mastermind, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai and defense minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Sheikh Mohammed was not absent because of some pressing duties concerning defense of the UAE. Nor was he attending to the final touches to the $15.25 million Dubai World Cup program Saturday night at Nad Al Sheba, the single biggest event on the UAE sports and social calendar.

Sheikh Mohammed, or "the boss" as he is known by his Godolphin employees, was at the Dubai Endurance Village, preparing to ride alongside three of his sons in the UAE-FEI Endurance World Cup, an 80-mile test of stamina for horse and rider conducted under a blazing sun in some of the most severe conditions imaginable.

The race is divided into stages of 20, 20, 18, 12, and 10 miles, with only a brief break between each to check the condition of the Arabians the contestants are riding. Is this any way for a 55-year-old man to be spending his leisure time?

It is for Sheikh Mohammed, who has made his love of the horse a visible part of Dubai's culture. He and his son Rashid have dominated the world endurance series this season, winning two of the four previous races.

It is, however, at Nad Al Sheba, Newmarket, and, more recently, at Santa Anita where Sheikh Mohammed's equine plans are being based. Al Quoz is the staging area from which about 250 horses will be shipped to either Newmarket, Santa Anita, Belmont Park, or Churchill Downs in mid-April.

From those branches of the Godolphin empire, Sheikh Mohammed will continue to win as many international group or graded races as he can. It is a labor of love that has produced such horses as Dubai Millennium, the ill-fated winner of the 2000 Dubai World Cup.

Still topping the list of Godolphin's races yet to be won is the Kentucky Derby. Simon Crisford, the stable's racing manager, echoed the plans of the boss when he spoke of Godolphin's strategy.

"We will travel to Kentucky with whatever horse or horses we have running in the Derby a little earlier than usual," Crisford said, "but they will not have a prep race for the Derby in America."

Just which horse will be sent to Louisville was to be decided in the UAE Derby on Saturday night, but it is odds-on that Inamorato will make the trip.

Crisford also said that trainer Eoin Harty will have his usual complement of 50 juveniles again this year in the United States. Godolphin was not discouraged by Harty's off season in 2002, when a virus struck the string over the summer.

There will, however, be some changes next year in the European end of Godolphin's juvenile program.

With its Newmarket-based trainer, David Loder, having announced that he will be leaving the sport at the end of 2003, Godolphin will revert to the system it had employed before Loder was brought on as European juvenile manager five years ago. That means the trainers the Maktoums employ throughout Europe - Michael Channon, Michael Stoute, John Oxx, Andre Fabre, and Jean-Claude Rouget, among others - will begin to receive additional 2-year-olds. At the end of the year, Sheikh Mohammed and his team will confer with Sheikh Maktoum and Sheikh Ahmed about which horses will join Godolphin as 3-year-olds.

There will also be further international travel for trainer Saeed bin Suroor's Newmarket-based horses this season. Sheikh Mohammed has stated his intention to seek more international prizes and will base at least 25 horses, 3 years old and up, at Belmont Park this spring.

Further expansion could involve South Africa, which is being explored as the next country in which to set up a Godolphin base.

After the great hullabaloo of Dubai World Cup Night, Godolphin will continue to fine-tune its 2003 plans. On April 3, Danuta will have her Kentucky Oaks prep in the UAE Oaks at Nad Al Sheba. And April 6 has been set as the tentative date for the private Godolphin Guineas trials. They will consist of three one-mile turf races at Nad Al Sheba, two for colts - one of which will include the unbeaten In the Wings colt New South Wales - and one for fillies, in which Mezzo Soprano, winner of the UAE 1000 Guineas on dirt, will prep for the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.

And, Crisford assures, Godolphin will continue to support the World Series Racing Championship, despite the withdrawal of the Dubai World Cup from the series. It is even money that a Godolphin runner will win the series for the fifth time in its five-year history.

But Sheikh Mohammed was not a winner in the Endurance World Cup. His horse finished the fourth leg in a state of exhaustion, forcing the boss out of the race.

The seemingly inexhaustible Sheikh will now look forward to adding to his collection of the world's biggest Thoroughbred prizes.