Monday 14 October 2019

Sheikh's boys in blue tune in for redemption

Richard Forristal

Farhh's stunning Lockinge victory at Newbury on Saturday was a resounding fillip for Sheikh Mohammed and his flagship Godolphin operation amid their ongoing travails.

After the Mahmood Al Zarooni steroid scandal that dragged the elite training ensemble and British racing's good name into disrepute, Frankie Dettori went on to publicly blame the disgraced trainer for the disintegration of his long-standing relationship with the Dubai ruler.

Knowing how astutely the flamboyant Italian has always used the media to enhance his profile, it wasn't surprising that he went on the charm offensive ahead of his return from a six-month drugs ban.

He was left with egg on his face after a bureaucratic tangle between the French and British authorities thwarted that scheduled comeback today, but it was a convenient opportunity for him to rationalise his fall from grace. What was unexpected was that it was Channel 4 that facilitated Dettori's Oprah-style mea culpa with Clare Balding.

FRUSTRATED

In the interview, there was a couched suggestion from Dettori that the Sheikh had frustrated his attempts to reconcile with him.

"I stopped in Dubai because I wanted to shake hands with Sheikh Mohammed, my patron for 18 years, and say thank you," he said. "But for some reason or another he was too busy. I'm not sure if he refused or not."

Previously, Balding had irked the Sheikh on live TV when asking him valid questions about the steroid saga after Dawn Approach's 2,000 Guineas win. She was fully entitled – obliged, even – to broach the subject and it was the Sheikh's prerogative to give her short shrift.

The twist, though, is that, since 2008, the Sheikh ultimately funds Channel 4's racing coverage under the Dubai brand. Last year, a new four-year contract was agreed until 2016 on foot of the IMG production company seeing off long-standing racing ally Highflyer TV.

Balding has a reputation for her expansive knowledge and fluent style, and her and Channel 4 racing's refusal to pander to its most generous benefactor was certainly a victory for robust, impartial journalism.

Still, with IMG's bland new format lacking any real character and proving a hard sell after the Highflyer team that made the channel's racing coverage such an enjoyable watch was dismantled, going on the offensive was a bold strategy.

With more Newmarket trainers apparently about to become embroiled in the less sinister Sungate steroid controversy that came to light after Gerard Butler's recent revelations, it remains to be seen if the doping saga is entirely over for Godolphin.

In the event that Saeed bin Suroor's team does emerge unscathed, though, it is beginning to look as though a summer of unlikely redemption will be on the cards for the famous royal blue silks. Jim Bolger's Dawn Approach, the best three-year-old around, will bid to carry them to Epsom Derby glory for a first time on Saturday week.

Farhh, which paid Frankel a huge tribute with Saturday's barnstorming triumph, is surely as good a miler as there is in training, and Willing Foe's Aston Park rout on the same card puts him up there with the best stayers.

Dettori, for his part, is expected to form part of Ballydoyle's Derby team when he eventually gets the all-clear to resume riding. Things might only be starting to get interesting then.

BACK INJURY ENDS

POWER'S RIDING CAREER

Eddie Power will not be able to resume his riding career after sustaining serious back injuries in a fall from Ballinahow Oscar over hurdles at Kilbeggan earlier in the month.

Power underwent surgery at the Mater Hospital in the days after the fall. He was released last week and has full use of his limbs, but his agent Ruaidhri Tierney has confirmed that his race-riding career is over.

"Eddie won't be allowed to ride again," Tierney said of the 27-year-old. "He fractured two vertebrae, a third was badly damaged, and there were fragments on his spinal cord as well that the doctors were worried about.

"He had two rods and 16 screws inserted that will remain in his back. He is in good spirits, though, and is walking around comfortably in a back brace. The doctors said that it's a miracle that he is walking at all."

Amateur riders JT McNamara and Jonjo Bright suffered paralysis after suffering spinal injuries in recent months, something that Tierney said has helped Power to put his plight into perspective.

"He went to see JT while he was in the Mater, so he realises how lucky he is," Tierney explained. "Obviously he won't be advised to ride again in any capacity, but he is looking at what options are available to him and hopes to stay involved in racing somehow."

From Ballycahill near Thurles, Power rode over 60 winners, the last of which, Coolnagorna Giggs for Tom Hogan at Ballinrobe, ended a barren spell that stretched to nearly a year and a half just days before his Kilbeggan fall. He was previously associated with John Murphy's Inishannon stable, for which he won the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles on Newmill in 2010.

MURTAGH TO TAKE

REINS FROM CARMODY

Johnny Murtagh is to formally take over the training duties from Tommy Carmody at his Pollardstown yard this week.

The five-time champion Flat jockey's association with the Andrew Tinkler-backed stable ultimately cost him his job with the Aga Khan last year, but he has stressed that he is eager to combine his new vocation with his riding career.

The Curragh training venture has blossomed since its inception, closing out a successful first year by gaining a first Group One success courtesy of the Niall McCullagh-ridden Royal Diamond in the Irish St Leger last September. This year, Fort Knox took the Leopardstown 2,000 Guineas trial under Murtagh. The Dubawi colt has since been purchased by Sheikh Mohammed, and will be a high-profile first runner for Murtagh in next Saturday's Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Murtagh was in Singapore yesterday where he rode Eddie Lynam's Balmont Mast into an admirable fourth in the Group One International Sprint. Lucky Nine, a Naas winner for Andy Oliver in 2009, won the six-furlong contest easily for Hong Kong handler Caspar Fownes.

STARS FAILS TO SHINE IN

MULLINS' FRENCH RAID

Thousand Stars could manage only fourth under Ruby Walsh in the Barka Hurdle at Auteuil yesterday, but Willie Mullins didn't depart France empty-handed as Blood Cotil led late for Paul Townend to take the Grade Three juvenile hurdle.

Second to Diakali at Punchestown, the 25/1 shot turned the tables on its Walsh-ridden stablemate here. The Barka went to Paul Nicholls' Celestial Halo (Daryl Jacob) at odds of 32/1.

Mullins was also on the mark at Limerick, where Tarla got back to winning ways by justifying odds-on favouritism in facile style under his nephew Emmet in the mares' chase.

Rising star Declan Lavery had been booked to ride, but will be sidelined for up to two months after breaking his pelvis in a fall from Gates Of Rome at Kilbeggan on Friday night.

Jane Mangan won the bumper on Robert Tyner's Tooreen (5/1). She had scored on Wandering Star for Dermot Weld 24 hours earlier at Wexford, where Nina Carberry also enjoyed her first win after returning from injury on Tom Taaffe's Ratheniska.

Tweet of the week

@92bryan92

watching my brother driving exactly by the speed limit and keeping within the rules of the road makes me realise I'm a HAZARD on the road!

– Bryan Cooper, currently sidelined

with a broken leg, on the frustrations

of needing to be driven around.

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