Joe Osborne Talks Godolphin


Joe Osborne |

By Kelsey Riley

In June of this year, Joe Osborne, a longstanding member of Sheikh Mohammed’s team, was named group chief executive of Godolphin. Godolphin has been in the headlines this summer due to its personnel changes, but even more so because of its racetrack successes with horses like Group 1 winners Barney Roy (GB) (Excelebration {Ire}), Ribchester (Ire) (Iffraaj {GB}), Harry Angel (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) and Thunder Snow (Ire) (Helmet {Aus}). TDN International Editor Kelsey Riley caught up with Osborne at Keeneland this week, where team Godolphin was busy buying yearlings, to discuss his first few months in his new role as well as his background and family connection with Sheikh Mohammed.

KR: You’ve now had about three months in the role of group chief executive of Godolphin. How has it been so far?

JO: It’s been a great three months for Godolphin. I started in the role the week of Royal Ascot, which was an incredibly successful week for the entire team. It reconfirmed Sheikh Mohammed’s enthusiasm for the game and it showcased how his children are enthusiastic as well, which is a great message for everybody. We’ve had a good summer since. We had a series of Group 1 placings in August but the successes this past weekend, with Harry Angel and Ribchester winning Group 1s, has given everyone a great boost. When you’re in the business we’re in, racing success is what drives it.

I spent a lot of July travelling to the Godolphin locations around the world to meet our teams in the UK, Ireland, Japan, Australia and America. It was an opportunity to reassure our people that the future is bright for us all.

KR: You were previously the managing director of Godolphin Ireland, but you have also been heavily involved in helping to set up most of the Godolphin entities around the world. Have you had to do much catch up, then?

JO: We have great teams everywhere and I’ve worked closely with all of them over the past 20 years. It wasn’t so much catch up in terms of the people but catch up in terms of the message. My job is one of coordinating and communicating to our world-class people and giving any support I can in helping them achieve our shared goals.

KR: You’ve been with Godolphin since 1994, but your family’s association with Sheikh Mohammed goes back even further, as your father, Michael Osborne, was pivotal in starting up Darley in Ireland as well as racing in Dubai. Can you talk about your father’s relationship with Sheikh Mohammed?

JO: My father was managing North Ridge Farm in Kentucky from 1982 to 1986 at which point he was head-hunted by Sheikh Mohammed. He met Sheikh Mohammed at what was then the July Sale and built up a rapport with him. He was asked over to Dubai to give him some advice on his racing camels, and it just grew from there. Sheikh Mohammed offered him the job to help set up his operation in Ireland in 1986. At the time I was living in Kentucky managing Pin Oak Stud and was there from 1986 to 1994. I started with Sheikh Mohammed in January of 1994, so I have been involved with Darley and Godolphin for almost 24 years.

KR: As we already touched on Godolphin has had a great summer on the racing side in Europe, winning Group 1s with Barney Roy, Ribchester, Harry Angel and Thunder Snow, as well as some other exciting prospects coming up. Can you talk about the plans for those Group 1-winning colts, in terms of heading to stud or racing on?

JO: The specific plans for which horses will retire to stud and which will stay in training next year will be decided by Sheikh Mohammed over the next few weeks. All of those headline colts we have in training have Group 1 targets over the remaining weeks and months of the season.

It’s been a very good year in Europe for us, with Andre Fabre in France and Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby in the UK. We have some very exciting 2-year-olds that have taken the step from breaking their maidens to winning group races. The next few weeks will tell us a lot about the prospects for next year, but it certainly looks promising.

KR: It must be extra satisfying that two of those Group 1 winners are by your own sires. Your European sires, the likes of Dubawi, Shamardal, Iffraaj and Teofilo, are having a good year.

JO: That really is exciting, and keeps the whole thing ticking forward for us. All four of those stallions have had another fantastic year. The Darley stallions are a hugely important part of Godolphin and we are very fortunate to stand some of the world’s leading stallions but we also have a team of promising stallions that are in the early stages of their stud careers. There is plenty of promise in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

KR: Godolphin has bought 15 yearlings up to this point at Keeneland this week, including some by Coolmore sires, which Godolphin hasn’t bought at auction in many years. Anthony Stroud told the press that Sheikh Mohammed had instructed the team to “evaluate each yearling on its own merit, regardless of sire.” Can you elaborate on that?

JO: I think that’s it in a nutshell. Looking back over the years we’ve purchased horses in training like Teofilo and New Approach, by Galileo and they turned out to be very successful racehorses and stallions for us. That is the brief, to find racehorses. It is likely that many of yearlings that were purchased in Keeneland this week will be heading back for racing careers in Europe, so the team are looking for good racing prospects. If they are by a non-Darley sire, they’ll just be evaluated on their merits.

KR: You’ve had some of your regular buying team out here and you’ve had John Gosden out here. Can you talk about his inclusion on your buying team? He’s obviously a brilliant horseman and has a long association with Godolphin and Sheikh Mohammed.

JO: John Gosden has a longstanding association with Sheikh Mohammed going back to his relocation to Europe from the U.S. He has trained successfully for the family and has been involved in the yearling buying as well. David Loder also has worked with us for a long time as has Anthony Stroud, so it’s a lot of familiar faces and a lot of skill between them all.

KR: You have a history here in Kentucky, you’re a graduate of the University of Kentucky and managed Pin Oak Stud for a number of years; what’s your outlook on racing in America?

JO: Very positive. Kentucky is a second home to me, I lived here for 11 years so there is a great sense of familiarity to it. Chatting to people here this week, I think there’s a renewed optimism about the future. There are some great stories coming out of racing here over the last few years. Our American racing team is an important part of the Godolphin operation. Frosted is starting his stallion career, having had a very successful racing career and horses like him are important for the Godolphin brand and Sheikh Mohammed.

Part of our overall story is racing in Dubai and particularly racing at Meydan, and the American horses have had a great history there, particularly with success in the Dubai World Cup.

KR: Weeks like Royal Ascot this year must have been particularly exciting for Sheikh Mohammed. He’s obviously a busy man with a lot on his plate, but is his enthusiasm for Godolphin and horse racing in general as strong as ever?

JO: Absolutely. The importance of Royal Ascot from a European point of view, you can’t describe it. It’s world-class racing, and it’s racing that now has a very strong American influence as well, American-breds but also American-trained horses are hugely important. Having a big week there means so much for us and everybody that works for Sheikh Mohammed.

KR: And to come so close to the leading owner title…

JO: It just added to the drama. We just missed out on leading owner by one second-place finish. It gives us something to aim for next year, and that is part of working for Sheikh Mohammed: no one will ever become complacent. It’s all about looking for the next challenge and trying to bring him and his family and friends more racing success.

KR: Also looking to the future, this summer we’ve seen Sheikh Mohammed’s 9-year-old daughter Sheikha Al Jalila have a couple good winners in her own colours. Is she very enthusiastic about racing?

JO: Sheikha Al Jalila loves her horses, and it’s a great story for everyone that’s involved with Sheikh Mohammed, but also the racing public as well to see the historic maroon and white colours coming back into action. To have two very impressive winners in those colours already is a huge thrill and it is great to see that next generation so engaged and having success.

KR: You have also been heavily involved with the Godolphin Flying Start since its inception. Is that something you plan to stay involved with?

JO: I’ve been involved with Flying Start since it launched as a programme and it’s something I want to continue. Flying Start is a very important part of what we do, it’s a programme that’s very close to Sheikh Mohammed’s heart as well and it’s continuing to achieve great things in the business. We’re looking forward to continued enthusiasm and a bright future for it. I’m planning to keep my commitment to Flying Start as strong as ever.

We said when the programme was founded that we wouldn’t really have a sense of how successful it would be until 10 years after the first graduates and that’s the stage we’re at now, and it’s just incredibly gratifying to see their success in so many different countries and parts of the business. The retention within the business is impressive as well; I don’t think any programme in the world could say that 96% of its graduates stay within the industry. That’s a great satisfaction for us as well. You give the gift of education and the payback lasts for decades. Not only have the graduates been successful, but I think they’re making it a better industry.


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