John Ferguson facing stiff task to rejuvenate Godolphin

The Racing Post produced a fascinating front page story on Tuesday relating to Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation attempting to take on Ballydoyle-Coolmore in a far more meaningful manner.

John Ferguson facing stiff task to rejuvenate Godolphin

Essentially, it has all been one-way traffic for a long time now and Godolphin has a huge amount of ground to make up on its rival.

Shortly before Christmas John Ferguson, a successful National Hunt trainer in his own right and bloodstock advisor to Sheikh Mohammed, was unveiled as the new Chief Executive of Godolphin.

Ferguson will quit training at the end of this month to concentrate fully on his new assignment.

What made the Post story so fascinating was the fact Ferguson made no great effort to be overly diplomatic and that was rather refreshing.

For instance, he revealed that Sheikh Mohammed has instructed him to give Godolphin “a kick in the belly.’’ Continuing Ferguson said: “People build up this Godolphin versus Coolmore thing and, quite rightly, as it’s a bit like Manchester United versus Manchester City, but it’s just that one team isn’t performing right now.’’ There is no doubt Ferguson faces an uphill struggle, when you consider the low base from which Godolphin is coming.

This is an organisation with literally limitless resources, which has been performing way below what is acceptable and for a long time as well.

The Post told us that Godolphin’s two main Newmarket trainers, Charlie Appleby and Saeed Bin Suroor, failed to win a single European Group 1 last season.

In 2014 Suroor didn’t deliver either, with Appleby managing just one success with Charming Thought in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.

Then there is Godolphin’s strike rate at Group 1 level in Britain for the last ten years. During that period they managed only 23 wins, involving seventeen different horses.

Three of those were with Dawn Approach, trained by Jim Bolger. Indeed, if you glance down through the seventeen horses involved, with the exception of Dawn Approach, it hardly reads like a who’s who of flat racing.

Ferguson’s immediate priority, you’d imagine, will be to see if he can throw down the gauntlet to Aidan O’Brien’s Air Force Blue in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket four weeks from today.

That is going to be some tall order, because there are seriously strong reports coming out of Ballydoyle regarding the son of War Front.

Air Force Blue was available at evens this week and it is only our detestation of ante-post betting that has kept us quiet.

In any case, Ferguson shapes as a fair operator and his influence this season, and in coming seasons, is going to make for compulsive viewing.

Chances are, though, he may have to aim some kicks to more parts of the body than the belly, if he is to get Godolphin challenging again as a true superpower!

Cheltenham went well for us, but a big disappointment was A Toi Phil in the Neptune Investment Management Novice Hurdle.

I felt he was a great each way shout and his returned price of 8-1 seemed to very fair odds. But A Toi Phil began to back-pedal coming away from the third last and could only manage seventh of the nine finishers behind his stable companion, Willie Mullins’ Yorkhill.

He went to the festival on the back of an impressive display at Leopardstown previously, slamming Acapella Bourgeois by seven lengths, and was value for more had his rider, Bryan Cooper, so wished.

After that Leopardstown Race, Acapella Bourgeois went on to win a Grade 2 at Thurles and at Fairyhouse last Sunday took an even better Grade 2, under a 5lbs penalty.

Perhaps then A Toi Phil just had an off day at Cheltenham, but a more logical explanation is that the good ground simply found him out. We will certainly factor that in for the future, at last until we know better.

Cork on Monday played host to a Breeders’ Cup winner in the five-year- old Bobby’s Kitten, having a first run for Dermot Weld.

Formerly trained in America by Chad Brown, all the evidence told us he needed a fast surface to be seen to good effect.

The surface was desperately testing at Cork and it was a trifle surprising that Weld even ran the horse.

Bobby’s Kitten clearly had the ability outclass his opponents, but who would want to be on him, on that ground, and he was allowed to go off at 5-1.

I doubt anyone was prepared for what followed, as he streaked clear to score by eight and a half lengths.

What was most interesting, however, as they crossed the line, was the manner in which Pat Smullen became animated. His body language and behaviour immediately indicated that he was most impressed.

The difference a much-needed outing can make to a horse was perfectly illustrated by Joseph O’Brien’s Slowmotion at Fairyhouse on Monday.

The ex-French daughter of former Irish Derby winner, Soldier Of Fortune, made her Irish debut at Limerick on March 13 and was the medium of positive reports.

Sent off the even money favourite, she jumped and travelled quite beautifully through the contest and looked sure to score up the straight.

But then Slowmotion found the last fifty yards or so hard work and was collared close home and beaten half a length into second by Never Again, a 12-1 shot that was hard enough to fancy.

It was an ordinary contest, but Slowmotion stepped way up on that performance at Fairyhouse to land a Grade 2 with any amount in hand.

Young O’Brien may not officially have his licence yet, but Slowmotion, together with Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle hero, Ivanovich Gortbatov, have seen him hit the ground running.

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