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Wood Memorial: Alpha follows new path to Kentucky Derby for Godolphin
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s previous attempts to win the Kentucky Derby came with the caveat the horse come from his homeland of the United Arab Emirates.
So, while a horse may have campaigned with success in North America as a 2-year-old, that horse would, after doing a period of quarantine, ship to Dubai for the winter where he would run in one, possibly two preps, then return to the United States for the first Saturday in May.
But while Dubai’s ruling leader still covets America’s most prestigious prize, he is less stringent on how to achieve the goal.
From 1999-2002, Godolphin ran a total of five horses in four runnings of the Kentucky Derby. The results were not good: Worldly Manner (seventh in 1999), China Visit (sixth in 2000), Curule (seventh in 2000); Express Tour (eighth in 2001), and Essence of Dubai (ninth in 2002). In 2009, Godolphin runners Regal Ransom and Desert Party finished eighth and 14th, respectively, in the Derby. Perhaps Godolphin’s best 3-year-old prospect in that span was Street Cry, who missed the 2008 Kentucky Derby with an injured ankle suffered two weeks before the race.
The winter of 2011-12 saw a change in philosophy by Sheikh Mohammed, who also races under the Darley banner. Instead of shipping his top 3-year-olds to Dubai – where the major races are now run over a synthetic surface – he kept them in North America with their original trainers.
One of those horses is Alpha, who is one solid performance away in Saturday’s $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct from returning Godolphin to the Kentucky Derby. Since finishing 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November, Alpha is 2 for 2 as a 3-year-old with wins in the Count Fleet and Withers Stakes, both against modest competition over Aqueduct’s inner track.
In Saturday’s Wood Memorial, Alpha will take on, among others, the undefeated Gemologist, while trying 1 1/8 miles for the first time.
“His next race will tell us where he fits in the pecking order for possible Kentucky Derby,” Simon Crisford, Godolphin’s racing manager, said last week in Dubai. “He needs to do a little bit more. Obviously, our best Kentucky Derby prospect in previous years was Street Cry, and he went wrong just before the race. He’s not Street Cry yet. We’ll see in his next test, we’ll learn a lot more about him.”
Crisford said that while Sheikh Mohammed still covets the Kentucky Derby, he is less concerned with where that potential winner comes from.
“There’s no ‘it has to be done from Dubai or England or America,’ it’s just a question where the right horse is and where he slots into the program and whether he’s up for it,” Crisford said. “Individual horses, we decided not to bring them to Dubai. We wanted them to have as easy a winter as possible in America.”
Crisford admitted that one contributing factor to leaving horses in America was the installation three years ago of the synthetic Tapeta surface at Dubai’s new Meydan Racetrack. At its previous facility, Nad al Sheba, a dirt surface was utilized.
“That was a contributory factor of course,” Crisford said. “Now, we’re not running on a sand surface, the races here – as far as America goes – are less relevant.”
On Jan. 7, in a span of an hour, Sheikh Mohammed won the Count Fleet at Aqueduct with Alpha and the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita with Out of Bounds. While Alpha, trained on the East Coast by Kiaran McLaughlin, would go on to the win the Grade 3 Withers on Feb. 3, Out of Bounds, trained in Southern California by Eoin Harty, would go to the sidelines with a fractured left front ankle.
“We thought he was going to be our best chance, really,” Crisford said of Out of Bounds. “His setback was very disappointing.”
Alpha, a son of Sheikh Mohammed’s 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini, was a debut winner at Saratoga and a runner-up to Union Rags in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont. The only time he disappointed was in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, where he acted up at the gate and was discovered to have bled in the race. Since adding Lasix he is 2 for 2.
Crisford said that the Kentucky Derby remains a “prize that is coveted of course,” but “you can’t say the Kentucky Derby is the prize any more than any other top 3-year-old race.”
McLaughlin isn’t sure that a Kentucky Derby victory would mean more to Sheikh Mohammed than running one-two in the Dubai World Cup, which he did last weekend with Monterosso and Capponi.
“It would be great, but it would be hard to outdo what he did,” McLaughlin said.
i do not think street life will ever be in contention in the wood.no speed,and not fast enough to catch this bunch.
GEMOLOGIST : Just might have an advantage going into the Wood Memorial based on the Jockey ( Javier Castellano ) and the words shared between Pletcher / Lets Go Racing Stable / and Javier after the Florida Derby . The owners were not too pleased with the ride that Javier gave El Padrino based on the conflict between Union Rags and Julien Leparoux . The owners believed that Javier was doing everything he could during the stages of the race to keep Leparoux from going No-Where , in the mean-time not paying attention to the race itself . There were words exchanged after that race , and Pletcher will make sure that Javier stays focused in the Wood . Leparoux comments how he him-self rode Union Rags poorly , knowing something like this may happen . Leparoux thought that he could have time to put Union Rags in a good position thru the back stretch , but Javier would have nothing of it . Leparoux just reminded him-self ( KENTUCKY DERBY ) the big picture . Union Rags did in deed look much the best after crossing the finish line with a full steam of a gallop-out Way Ahead of Take Charge Indy , while El Padrino kinda laid back thru the gallop-out . GEMOLOGIST with Javier Castellano vs ALPHA , My Adonis
Guy's, Simon Crisford is not a trainer to rekon with. He was against the Sheikh giving his horses to trainers to the likes of Lukas, Drysdale, McNally, Baffert, who could have done much better than Harty even though he won the Dubai cup 2yrs back with War Emblem. The Sheikhs love everything that is English, this is the honest truth.
Prove me wrong but I truly don't think or believe that "Alpha" is the real thing for the Kentucky Derby prospect for the Sheikh Mohammed's trio of runners this year! . However, anything is possible! .
this horse will take the lead from mid-pack around the final turn till the 16th pole after that he should regress to third. Setting him nicely for the Kentucky. Street Life is unbeatable beyond mile and an eighth. I had the pleasure of being part of Alpha's 3 dam Kamar, she was one hell of a racing machine. Still, not convinced that Alpha is in her class or that of Key to the Moon to accomplish the derby test. Wish them luck of course but ducking and weaving is not a way to manage a derby horse. Next year maybe with another trainer.
Crisford said that the Kentucky Derby remains a “prize that is coveted of course,” but “you can’t say the Kentucky Derby is the prize any more than any other top 3-year-old race.” What tha hell is Crisford smoking? Godolphin would do well to replace this guy, he is undermining their Kentucky Derby aspirations. Darley would love nothing more than to get their hands on the Derby Trophy, inspite of their best efforts to appear as if that is not the case.
Ky derby is merely a crap shoot..I respect the sheik for only entering horses that truely belong in the race...he could very easily be like Baffert, Lukas and Pletcher by entering multiple horses that don't belong and hoping he gets lucky.
If the run for the is as pressing then why is one still trying to send his horses to ken derby, I would not be disappointed should he win the roses and think that is his goal.
The Kentucky Derby means nore to him than any other race, including his World Cup
Crisford said that the Kentucky Derby remains a “prize that is coveted of course,” but “you can’t say the Kentucky Derby is the prize any more than any other top 3-year-old race.” Really???