04/03/2012 3:26PM

Wood Memorial: Alpha follows new path to Kentucky Derby for Godolphin

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Tom Keyser
Alpha is Godolphin's best hope for this year's Kentucky Derby. The colt will have his final prep in Saturday's Grade 1 Wood Memorial.

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.

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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.

Joe Trezza More than 1 year ago
i do not think street life will ever be in contention in the wood.no speed,and not fast enough to catch this bunch.
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
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
mrm More than 1 year ago
Owners love to blame the rider,trainer,surface,post etc. It could never be that the horse wasn't good enough.
Dawood K More than 1 year ago
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.
John Howland More than 1 year ago
It was Well Armed who won The Gold Cup and Harty is Irish,not English...there is a difference.
John Howland More than 1 year ago
Sorry,I meant "World Cup".
David Craighead More than 1 year ago
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! .
JeanK More than 1 year ago
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.
Bandooloo Ginalship More than 1 year ago
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.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Those comments were made by 2 different people. McLaughlin said the latter.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
OOOPS!..Stand corrected you were right. it was very early morning.
CWineke More than 1 year ago
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.
mrm More than 1 year ago
Whether they belong or not Baffert, Lukas and Pletcher will be in the Triple Crown races. It' good advertising.
george More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Kentucky Derby means nore to him than any other race, including his World Cup
Nicholas Carraway More than 1 year ago
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???
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
The best thing I can say about Alpha is if he runs a distant second to :"Gemologist" in The Wood on this Saturday, he is a good horse. Do not think he is triple crown level, but would expect him to win a few more races in NY circuit if he stays healthy. Don
Wayne Haehner More than 1 year ago
My Adonis will complete the exacta under Alpha and Gemologist will get tired in the long stretch @ Aqua Duck
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
Good Afternoon Don , Thank You kindly for your reply reguarding my few questions about Gemologist vs Javier Castellano vs El Padrino . I just return back to Lexington Ky from Dubai where I was there for the Dubai World Cup . Fabulous to see Bob Baffert back at Santa Anita doing what he does best - training and telling jokes . Don , if it wasnt for Jill and Bode traveling with Bob for that trip , and Jill being by Bob side the time of all what took place - I believe 100% our world of racing would have lost on of our greatest . What a True Friendship Bob and Sheikh have . One of the best stories of 2012 Daily Racing Form as the Sheikh was paid back in FULL by the grace of God to run One - Two in the Dubai World Cup . One thing is for sure , God Never Forgets The True Heart . Had an awesome time there Don ! So Don , how are you feeing about Gemologist / Javier Castellano now .......... has got to be in your favor at this time huh ! The Florida Derby didnt surprise me . What did surprise me was the ( 95 Beyer ) again . I am a huge true believer in gallop-outs after crossing the finish line . I am not one bit concern of Union Rags running 3rd with Julien Leparoux . Im sure there are alot of Union Rag haters now - due to the fact , Millions of people lossing because of a 3rd place finish . What really caught my eye was how well Union Rags finished ( AFTER THE FINISH LINE ) and had an outstanding gallop - out passing by Take Charge Indy with authority . I dont know if you have read any of my statements thru this year , I have been saying since the 1st of Jan that I believe this could be our Best Year Ever that the Breeders Cup Juvenile race really meant something in a very long time . I really liked that race last year , and I made a note to myself saying ( COME DERBY DAY MAY 5TH ) Do Not Count Out ANY Of The Contenders That Will Come Back To Race In The Kentucky Derby . And Don , little by little , it seems each colt has step up and made noise , even Daddy Long Legs in Dubai ! I still am 99.9% sure that the Kentucky Derby Winner Will Come Out Of Last Years Juvenile Race - even as Good as Gemologist looks . I respect your fan base for Gemologist . And if I am wrong , I hope it is because of your pick in Gemologist . Thanks again Don - for your response last week .
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
Don , Thanks again for your response before I left for the Dubai World Cup last week . I agree with what you said , everything has a way of working its-self out . I just read your comment about ALPHA vs GEMOLOGIST ! What do you think about how well most Colts are coming back strong from last years Juvenile Breeders Cup event , its looking strong as ever . I really dont like to put Facts before Fictions , but what everyone is seeing this year from last years Juvenile crop is really AWESOME and good for racing . Can ALPHA keep the trend going ! At this time , after seeing DADDY LONG LEGS in Dubai winning ( Coming Out Of Last Years Juvenile Race ) This race some-what has me concern for GEMOLOGIST . I sure hope that I am wrong , because GEMOLOGIST is an awesome looking colt . I dont really see GEMOLOGIST finishing worse than 2nd in the Wood . Even though I believe there is No Hansen in the Wood , MY ADONIS looks good in this match , as well as ALPHA . Will be a good race . I dont see this happening , but I sure hope GEMOLOGIST doesnt run 3rd . That would leave GEMOLOGIST out of the Derby picture , and that would be ashame . As good as I believe GEMOLOGIST will run , the two that have my FULL attention are the two I mentioned . Will the Juvenile trend keep going - Saturday we will see . Good Luck Don Come Saturday with GEMOLOGIST . I am flying to Santa Anita for the Santa Anita Derby .