Up-‘Side’ Aplenty for Godolphin, Stidham

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Mike Stidham | Horsephotos

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When Sheikh Mohammed purchased Stonerside back in 2008, trainers previously employed by Bob McNair’s massive operation, such as Mike Stidham, were kept on board provisionally as the acquired stable of runners transitioned to carry the famed maroon-and-white silks of Darley.

“The deal was that we were able to stay in with the horses that we had at the time,” said Stidham, who saddled the Stonerside-bred Tizaqueena (Tiznow) to a pair of graded tallies as well as Grade I placing at Keeneland for Darley. “And once those horses were retired, we were phased out.”

Fast forward a decade-plus later, and Stidham is back for another go and certainly making his presence felt–this time for Sheikh Mohammed’s re-branded Godolphin arm–thanks to an assist from an old pal from the Stonerside days.

“A big connection for me and probably the most important person in my career to help me with these kind of clients has been John Adger, who managed and ran Stonerside,” Stidham said. “When Sheikh Mohammed bought Stonerside, Adger stayed on for a year as a consultant and he pushed to try to keep us in there. He’s close with [Godolphin president] Jimmy Bell and [chief operating officer] Dan Pride, and he kept buzzing in their ear trying to get us back in. We got the call that they were going to send us some 2-year-olds [three years ago].”

Stidham continued, “It’s been a wonderful thing for me and my career. If you don’t have the quality of clients and horses to make you look good, you’re not going to look good no matter how good of a horsemen you are. I’m very appreciative to have the opportunity to work with some really nice horses.”

Really nice horses, indeed.

Alms (City Zip) has looked like a star in the making for Stidham and the ‘Boys in Blue,’ kicking off her career with four straight tallies on the lawn, headed by visually impressive victories in last October’s GIII Matron S. going six furlongs at Belmont Park and Del Mar’s GIII Jimmy Durante S. the following month, her first attempt around two turns.

The Godolphin homebred picked up right where she left off in her sophomore debut, showcasing an electric turn of foot en route to a dominating decision in the Shantel Lanerie Memorial Overnight S. at Fair Grounds most recently Feb. 8.

“She started touting herself in her works leading up to her first race,” said Stidham, who also trained Zipessa, another daughter of City Zip, to an upset in the grassy GI First Lady S. three years ago. “We knew the talent was there and it was just a matter of getting her started and seeing where she took us. Every time we’ve raised the bar–changed the distance, the level of competition, etc.– she’s stepped right up.”

Everyday life, let alone the racing landscape across the country, looked like an entirely different place when Stidham began mapping out a 2020 campaign for Alms prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We gave her a little freshening so we felt like, ‘Hey, let’s just give her a little tune-up to get her started for what we were hoping was going to be a huge spring and summer for opportunities,'” Stidham said.

“Obviously, you know where we’re at now. We’re just hoping, like everybody, that things get back to normal and we can get her back going. She’s at Fair Hill–doing great, healthy and happy. We got out of Fair Grounds and figured we better get up here while we still can move horses around. This is a fabulous place to train and wait this thing out.”

Mystic Guide (Ghostzapper), a 3-year-old son of Godolphin’s brilliant five-time Grade I winner Music Note (A.P. Indy), could also be any kind. He was tabbed as a ‘TDN Rising Star’ after graduating in style by five powerful lengths in his two-turn debut at second asking on the GII Louisiana Derby undercard at Fair Grounds Mar. 21.

The flashy blaze-faced chestnut previously came flying home to finish an educational third after taking up at the break sprinting on debut in New Orleans Feb. 15.

“He had some minor issues and they had to slow down and give him a little extra time,” Stidham said. “Right from the start once we got him, we could see the talent. He was another one that touted himself in the mornings. When we stretched him out last time, we felt like without any bad luck, he was going to go out there and really show us what we had been seeing in the mornings, and we did. It was ultra impressive and he did it really easy. [Jockey] Brian Hernandez [Jr.] came back and said, ‘Man, this horse has got a ton of a talent.’ And Brian has been on some good ones, obviously.”

Godolphin sent Stidham 19 juveniles last year and he was up to nearly 30 head for the global operation at the peak of the season. Fresh off a career-best year with 109 wins and more than $4.5 million in earnings, the native of Neptune, New Jersey is slated to receive another shipment of Godolphin babies in May.

Some other highlights for the tandem include:

Elsa (Animal Kingdom), heroine of the 2018 GIII Jimmy Durante S. at Del Mar;
Pixelate (City Zip), winner of Aqueduct’s Central Park S. in December and runner-up in the Black Gold S. at Fair Grounds Feb. 29;
Albert Park (Street Sense), winner of the Fitz Dixon, Jr. Memorial Juvenile S. at Presque Isle and this term’s Pasco S. runner-up;
Micheline (Bernardini), heroine of last September’s Sorority S. at Monmouth and runner-up in Gulfstream’s GIII Sweetest Chant S. in February; and
Embossed (Medaglia d’Oro), a runaway optional claiming winner on the Tampa lawn in January and a good third in the Allen Black Cat LaCombe Memorial S. at Fair Grounds Mar. 7.

Carnival Colors (GB) (Distorted Humor); Classic Fit (Bernardini); Cedartown (Candy Ride {Arg}); Hallie Belle (Medaglia d’Oro); and Sunset Wish (Malibu Moon) have all captured stakes victories for Godolphin and Stidham as well.

Unshaken (Tapit), a good-looking maiden winner off the bench in his 4-year-old debut for the recently retired Kiaran McLaughlin at Gulfstream in late February, is now in training with Stidham at Fair Hill.

Stidham, a son of journeyman jockey and trainer George Stidham, sent out the first of his 2,042 career winners back in 1979. His stacked resume is topped by Grade I winners Her Emmynency, Sutra, Two Altazano and Zipessa, and millionaire Willcox Inn.

“When Godolphin decided to expand their training roster to accommodate a greater geographical spread, Mike Stidham was one of the first trainers we sought,” Godolphin’s Jimmy Bell said.

“Mike and [assistant trainer] Hilary [Pridham] are a great team and have Alms positioned for a big run at some of the more prestigious races for 3-year-old fillies. Bottom line is that they are a dedicated, enthusiastic, tremendous communicators and an enjoyable pair to be around. Godolphin has the highest regard for the Stidham Stable.”

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