Ireland Welcomes Godolphin Growth

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By Daithi Harvey

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum made his first major investment in Irish bloodstock infrastructure in the mid-1980s with the purchase of Woodpark Stud in County Meath. Having bought and developed Dalham Hall in Newmarket, it was seen as another step in establishing and developing a major presence in European racing and breeding.

Fast forward to the present and Sheikh Mohammed has created a truly global organisation, standing stallions in six countries with some highly acclaimed names like Dubawi (Ire) (Dubai Millennium {GB}) and Shamardal (Giant’s Causeway) featuring on the roster. Over the past 30 years, Godolphin has added a further seven farms in Ireland to bring their overall holdings in the country to around 4,700 acres. With a workforce of 250 people, Sheikh Mohammed has, over the years, become a significant contributor to the Irish economy and Irish society in general, in particular around the wider Kildare area where five of the stud properties are located. His maroon and white silks were once a regular sight in Ireland; in fact, in 1986, the same year he purchased Kildangan Stud, his Authaal (Ire)–a son of Shergar (GB) and trained in Ireland by David O’Brien (son of Vincent)–won the G1 Irish St. Leger under Christy Roche. Over the following two decades the size of the string of horses in training in Ireland reduced, as that of Godolphin horses in training in the UK increased.

When the Jim Bolger-owned, -bred and -trained Teofilo (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) carried all before him in his 2-year-old career, winning all five starts and ultimately being crowned champion European juvenile in 2006, Sheikh Mohammed swooped to purchase the colt. That Teofilo never made it to the track as a 3-year-old has not affected his ability as a stallion, as he is proving a Darley stalwart, standing at Kildangan for a €50,000 covering fee and siring numerous Classic and Group 1 winners in both hemispheres.

What is perhaps even more significant for Ireland is this purchase appears to have been somewhat of a catalyst for increasing Darley and Godolphin’s racing and stallion interests in Ireland. Jim Bolger also undoubtedly played a leading role in encouraging the organisation to up its ante in Ireland. Amazingly, Bolger produced another champion 2-year-old in 2007 called New Approach (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}). Sheikh Mohammed also bought the colt, in the name of his wife Princess Haya of Jordan, and it proved an inspired purchase, with the horse retiring a winner of six Group 1 races, including an Epsom Derby, and is subsequently a proven Classic sire.

It was then quite apt that Dawn Approach (Ire), a son of New Approach, would be the first horse to be trained in Ireland under the Godolphin banner. Purchased from Jim Bolger after winning the G2 Coventry S. at Royal Ascot in 2012, Dawn Approach won his next three starts in Godolphin blue: the G1 National S. at the Curragh, the G1 Dewhurst S. at Newmarket and the G1 2000 Guineas back at Newmarket on his first 3-year-old start. He also got the better of Toronado (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}) in a thrilling finish to the G1 St James’s Palace S. at Royal Ascot and has since joined his sire on the increasingly impressive Darley roster, with his first yearlings set to hit the market this autumn.

Despite the racecourse success of Dawn Approach, it wasn’t until 2014 that a further two Irish trainers were brought into the fold, namely Michael Halford and Willie McCreery. Between Bolger, Halford and McCreery, Godolphin currently have 120 horses in training in Ireland, a massive rise in two years. John Ferguson welcomes the recent increase in Irish activities and sees it as a natural part of Godolphin’s business.

“It has been a gradual progression over three years,” he said. “Dawn Approach was the first Godolphin runner when he was purchased following his win in the Coventry at Royal Ascot. Since then we have continued to have horses with Jim Bolger, and Mick Halford and Willie McCreery have joined us as trainers. It’s something that Sheikh Mohammed has really enjoyed. He has a great fondness for Ireland and the Irish people, and it is natural therefore to enjoy having horses trained there.”

Horses like Moonlight Magic (Ire) (Cape Cross {Ire}), Devonshire (Ire) (Fast Company {Ire}) and Anamba (Shamardal) should help build on the 33 winners Godolphin enjoyed in Ireland last year, while Willie McCreery did his prospects of receiving further patronage no harm when saddling New Classicism (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}) to win a decent-looking maiden at Navan recently.

A few months back, in an effort to streamline their brand, Godolphin became the umbrella for all racing and breeding operations. However, decision makers in the organisation felt that such was the strength and familiarity with the name Darley that the stallion business would retain that title.

“It made sense to have one team,” says Ferguson. “Godolphin is that team and it doesn’t matter if you are foaling a mare or riding the last piece of work, your contribution is equally important. It therefore makes sense for everybody to feel part of the same family. We have retained the name Darley for stallions because Darley played a major part in the development of Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock and it would be sad to lose that name forever.”

From a stallion point of view Darley is stronger than ever. Its roster in Ireland features 12 stallions with a mix of established household names like Shamardal, Teofilo and Exceed And Excel (Aus) (Danehill) along with the exciting, albeit unknown, quantities Dawn Approach, Night Of Thunder (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) and Slade Power (Ire) (Dutch Art {GB}). Following the early success of previous reverse shuttlers Helmet (Aus) (Exceed And Excel {Aus}) and Sepoy (Aus) (Elusive Quality), Darley is hoping to repeat that success with this year’s southern hemisphere pair Hallowed Crown (Aus) (Street Sense) and Shooting To Win (Aus) (Northern Meteor {Aus}). Helmet has arguably made a better start with his first Irish crop than his crops conceived in Australia, and Ferguson commented, “What really has excited me over the years is the breeders’ willingness to try new things, and with the purchase of Exceed And Excel as an Australian-trained and -campaigned racehorse, his subsequent success has opened the doors for others to follow suit. We have a very strong team of stallions in Europe and the U.S. and an equally strong team in Australia. It makes sense to combine all operations into one and I am so grateful to the breeders for the fact that they have supported this move.”

Between an increasing number of horses in training and a powerful stallion roster, Godolphin has established a world-class brand in Ireland, much to the benefit of the Irish bloodstock industry and indeed the wider Irish economy.

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