Charlie Appleby had Aidan O’Brien and the pre-eminence of his Balldoyle stable on his mind as he drove home after saddling the runner-up in Friday’s Oaks. “I have to admit, I was starting to wonder what we would have to do to beat them,” he said here on Saturday. Twenty-four hours later, he found out, as his 16-1 chance Masar turned over O’Brien’s 4-5 favourite Saxon Warrior (Ryan Moore) to give Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation a first Derby winner in their royal blue silks.
Sheikh Mohammed has the sovereign wealth of a nation at his disposal and the sums he has ploughed into bloodstock since catching the bug with his first winner – at Brighton, 41 years ago this month – are beyond calculation. Until Saturday, though, Godolphin’s only Derby winner had been Lammtarra (1995), in the operation’s earliest days, who was in effect owned by his nephew.
Princess Haya of Jordan, Sheikh Mohammed’s wife, had also seen her colours on a Derby winner thanks to New Approach in 2008, and outstanding Godolphin champions such as Dubai Millennium – whose only defeat in 10 starts came here in 1999 – and the 1998 1,000 Guineas winner Cape Verdi started favourite for the Derby but finished well beaten.
In recent seasons, Godolphin’s failure to compete with O’Brien’s runners in this race above all had passed from being an aberration to a conundrum and moved steadily towards outright embarrassment. But thanks to a relative outsider and a straightforward, well-executed ride by William Buick, the curse on the royal blue silks on Derby day has finally been laid to rest.
Masar was the only Godolphin runner in the field, up against five from the O’Brien stable including Saxon Warrior, the hot favourite for this race ever since his win in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket last month. The favourite was drawn in stall one, however, a minor disadvantage which was compounded when he was a little slow to stride and Ryan Moore, his jockey, was on the back foot from that point.
Saxon Warrior was still in with a chance as Knight To Behold (Richard Kingscote) led the field around Tattenham Corner with half a mile to run, but as the leader quickly dropped away it was Buick who moved into a prime position to challenge aboard Masar. The favourite was briefly short of room three furlongs out and then set off in pursuit of the leaders inside the final quarter, but Masar was already making the best of his way home with no sign that his stamina was about to run out.
Saxon Warrior was making no impression on the leaders from a furlong out and though he stayed on to edge out Hazapour (Frankie Dettori) for fourth, the first three filled the same positions throughout the closing stages as Masar stayed on to beat Dee Ex Bee (Silvestre de Sousa) by one-and-a-half lengths with Roaring Lion (Oisin Murphy), the Dante Stakes winner, another half-length away in third.
“All I could think of in the last furlongs was that I wanted to be the first trainer to win the Derby in the Godolphin blue,” Appleby said. “We just wanted to get him to switch off, and we thought he’d stay. William’s given him a brilliant ride but the last 100 yards seemed a long time.
“We’ve been knocking on the door this season and it was the same story yesterday [with Wild Illusion, the 5-2 favourite for the Oaks]. [But] the great thing about the team around me is that they are so supportive. I’m a realist, I’ve been in this game all my life and we were beaten fair and square, you’ve just got to take it on the chin and take the positives out of it.
“All I wanted to do when I got this position was to win the Derby for the team. Each year, I’ve watched it go by without having a winner, but you’ve got to keep trying.”
Appleby inherited the licence at Moulton Paddocks Stables in Newmarket from the disgraced Mahmood al-Zarooni, after the former trainer was banned for eight years in 2013 for doping his horses with steroids. It has been a long road back for the yard since Zarooni’s disgrace, but a first winner in the Derby is a defining moment for Appleby and it has been achieved with a horse whose path to Epsom was not without its setbacks.
Masar started his season running in a minor race on dirt at Meydan in Dubai, and finished only 10th of 13. His next start was an emphatic win in the Craven Stakes but he was convincingly beaten by Saxon Warrior in the 2,000 Guineas.
O’Brien said afterwards that while Saxon Warrior’s draw in stall one had not been ideal, he would not offer it as an excuse.
“These things happen, but I wouldn’t be making excuses,” O’Brien said.
“It might have been all new to him and a shock to him. I’ve often seen it happen to horses and they’ll leave the run behind them pretty quick.
“I think he was a little bit in awe of the whole thing, really. He’s a baby horse, really, and it’s only his fifth run and it’s the most complicated track he’s had to handle. We’ll look forward to him the next time.”
Masar’s next start has yet to be decided but the Irish Derby later this month and the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in early July, which is also a target for Roaring Lion, are obvious possibilities.
If Masar never wins another race, however, he has already made history by giving his owner the victory he desired above all others.
courtesy of www.theguardian.com/sport