03/24/2010 12:00AM

Godolphin's Derby hopes rest with Mendip


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Despite a lack of experience that concerns his team, Mendip could start in the Kentucky Derby on May 1, provided he runs well in his group stakes debut in Saturday's $2 million United Arab Emirates Derby at Meydan Racecourse.

Unbeaten in three starts, one in England and two in Dubai, Mendip was shoved to the fore of Godolphin Racing's candidates for the Group 2 UAE Derby last weekend when Vale of York was withdrawn from consideration because of a bout with colic.

Without any earnings in graded or group stakes, Mendip needs prize money, and a big performance in the UAE Derby, for the Kentucky Derby to remain a goal.

On Wednesday, Mendip jogged about a mile at Godolphin's Al Quoz training center. A few minutes later, Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford admitted to taking a cautious approach toward Saturday's race - and the outlook for the Kentucky Derby.


"The door is open," he said. "The thing in his favor is that two turns will be for him. There are quite a few negatives as well. He's never run on dirt and he's never had any dirt kicked in his face. It will be a tall order to consider" the Kentucky Derby.

Bought for $375,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-olds in training sale last year, Mendip, a Kentucky-bred by Harlan's Holiday, won his debut in a one-mile maiden race on Polytrack at Kempton in September 2009, his only start last year.

"He had one or two issues after he won at Kempton, nothing major," Crisford said. "He didn't scope well, or we would have liked to have run him again."

Mendip returned to win an allowance race at Meydan on Feb. 11 and followed that with a convincing win by 6 1/4 lengths in the Al Bastakiya Stakes over about 1 3/16 miles here March 4, a race in which Vale of York finished fifth.

The flashy stakes win left Crisford with mixed impressions of Mendip.

"He's still very green and inexperienced," Crisford said. "I don't think he learned a lot last time."

Godolphin Racing, owned by Sheikh Mohammed, is winless with seven starters in the Kentucky Derby from 1999 to 2009. Last year, Regal Ransom and Desert Party were first and second in the UAE Derby but only eighth and 14th in the Kentucky Derby.

Godolphin's best finish in the Kentucky Derby was a sixth by China Visit in 2000.

In Saturday's race, which is run over 1 3/16 miles on Tapeta, Godolphin also starts Frozen Power, who is nominated to the Kentucky Derby and is now trained by Mahmoud Al Zarooni. An Irish-bred, Frozen Power has won 4 of 9 starts, including the $150,000 Meydan Classic over about a mile on turf here March 5, his most recent start.

On Wednesday, Godolphin announced that Al Zarooni, 33, will have a small stable of horses in England for the first time this year. A Dubai native, Al Zarooni served as Saeed bin Suroor's assistant last spring at Godolphin's British headquarters in Newmarket and has filled the same role in Dubai this winter. He was granted a trainer's license by the Emirates Racing Authority just in time for World Cup Night. In April, after Godolphin moves the bulk of its horses to Newmarket, Al Zarooni will be in charge of their Moulton Paddocks stable, training mostly 2-year-olds and some older horses. Suroor will be in charge of 200 horses at Godolphin Stables in Newmarket. A field of 14 is entered in the UAE Derby, which also is open to 3-year-olds from the Southern Hemisphere, who are 4-year-olds by Northern Hemisphere standards. There are seven horses bred in the Southern Hemisphere in the field, including Musir, an Australian-bred who beat Frozen Power in the UAE 2000 Guineas on Feb. 18.

Crisford said Wednesday that Vale of York remains hospitalized in Dubai but has shown improvement in recent days. The colt did not need surgery for his colic, but there were anxious moments, he said.

"At one stage, it looked like he might need it," he said. "It looks like he's out of the woods."

Vale of York will be sent to Godolphin's stable in Newmarket upon recovery and will not run in the near future.

"He'll need quite a lot of time before he comes back to England," Crisford said. "I don't expect him to be racing early on."

Godolphin will have 20 starters in the seven Thoroughbred races Saturday at Meydan, including Mastery and Allybar in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, Cavalryman in the $5 million Sheema Classic, and Gayego in the $2 million Golden Shaheen. Mastery is trained by Suroor, while Al Zarooni trains Allybar.

Mastery was third in the Breeders' Cup Marathon at Santa Anita last fall. Cavalryman was third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in France last fall. Gayego won the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita last October and was a troubled fourth in the BC Sprint.

Godolphin intends to have a 12-horse stable based in New York this year, following a similar game plan from recent years. The horses will run in Suroor's name, and the division will be directed by Rick Mettee.

The New York stable will include Gayego; Desert Party, a starter in Saturday's Godolphin Mile; House of Grace, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall; and Vineyard Haven, winner of the Grade 1 De Francis Dash at Laurel last fall.

- additional reporting by Alan Shuback