Godolphin contenders loom large at Belmont Stakes Racing Festival

June 8, 2022

ELMONT, N.Y. – Global racing and breeding powerhouse Godolphin has been well-celebrated over the past few years, churning out European standouts in dual Dubai World Cup champ Thunder Snow (IRE), Epsom Derby and King George winner Adayar (IRE) and world champion 2-year-old Pinatubo (IRE)

At the Breeders’ Cup, Godolphin’s Europe-based invaders Talismanic (GB) [2017 Turf] for trainer Andre Fabre and Charlie Appleby’s onslaught of Wuheida (GB) [2017 Filly & Mare Turf], Line of Duty (IRE) [2018 Juvenile Turf] and an unprecedented 1-2-3 Del Mar-Dubawi punch in 2021 of Modern Games (IRE) [Juvenile Turf], Space Blues (IRE) [Mile] and Yibir (GB) [Turf] proved that it can cross the pond to make a big splash. But in the United States, its success has visibly been less periodic flash and more deliberate foundation.

Yibir winning the Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park September 19, 2021. (Susie Raisher)

From its operations base at 800-acre Jonabell Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s US team has doubled down on breeding top-class runners and infusing classic substance into its bloodlines, resulting in Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Breeder in 2021 and Outstanding Owner in both 2020 and 2021. 

In 2021, in particular, Belmont Stakes and Runhappy Travers winner Essential Quality topped a superb season that also saw Dubai World Cup winner Mystic Guide and Eclipse Award Older Dirt Male finalist Maxfield elevate the operation to more than $17 million in earnings. 

Mystic Guide winning the Jim Dandy at Saratoga September 5, 2020. (NYRA/Coglianese)

In 2022, the trend continues with nine graded stakes wins – two Grade 1s – and a well-spread arsenal of homebreds coming into the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival with serious chances. 

“We’re having a fantastic season and coming off a great year,” said Director of Bloodstock Michael Banahan, who has been with Godolphin for 28 years. “We’re hitting on all straps again and to have horses competing this well and on big days like this is fantastic. From breeding and raising, to our pre-trainers to our trainers getting it done on the racetrack, it’s great to see and we look forward to hopefully having another strong year, especially as we have some horses doing well that weren’t quite ready last year when we had horses like Essential Quality, Maxfield and Mystic Guide running.” 

Three of those runners, in particular, hold considerable claims on Saturday in Grade 1 company. The Brad Cox-trained Matareya, a third-generation homebred daughter of Pioneerof the Nile, has climbed the ladder this spring with style, winning the Grade 3 Beaumont at Keeneland prior to a powerful victory in Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Eight Belles last out. 

She comes into the Grade 1, $500,000 Acorn, a one-turn mile for sophomore fillies, as the main threat to reigning champion 2-year-old filly Echo Zulu. 

“She’s performed really well in her last two starts and the one turn really seems to suit her,” Banahan said. “We were hoping that she would be an Oaks filly when she was a 2-year-old, but then we realized that she wanted to sprint and was just a one-turn filly. You can see she improved dramatically once we kept her at one turn and that’s indicated in her numbers. We’re running her in the right places and she’s really training well.”

Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap, which offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November at Keeneland, is considered the race of the year for many fans, as California’s undefeated invader Flightline takes on Speaker’s Corner, a second-generation Godolphin homebred by Godolphin stallion Street Sense for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

Speaker’s Corner winning the Carter April 9, 2022, at Aqueduct). (Janet Garaguso)

The swift grandson of 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff champ Round Pond [a $5.75 million sale purchase by Sheikh Mohammed in 2007] has reeled off one-sided wins in the Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper and Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile at Gulfstream Park and the Grade 1 Carter Handicap in April at Aqueduct – the last effort earning him the highest Beyer Speed Figure [114] of any horse in America this year.

“The Met Mile has been our long-term goal for the first half of the season with him,” Banahan said. “He has really progressed through the ranks and has improved from Gulfstream to the Carter. His numbers indicate that he should be a leading player this weekend, but he must have his running shoes on, taking on a horse like Flightline and a Breeders’ Cup [Sprint] winner in Aloha West. 

“I would imagine Flightline is probably going to jump out of there running and in California he showed plenty of speed, so we could sit off him if we have to,” he continued. “At the same time, if we break the best, we will be more than happy to get a lead on him. May the best horse win!”

Santin is the newest Godolphin Grade 1 winner for the Brendan Walsh barn that campaigned Maxfield to an 8-for-11, dual Grade 1-winning career. A homebred son of Distorted Humor and Godolphin’s dual NYRA Grade 2 winner Sentiero Italia, he exits a gritty victory in the Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs—just his sixth career start and second in top-tier company following a second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in just his third start last December. 

“He’s doing very well and we’re very happy with him. He jumped up in class quickly for us last year in just his third race and ran a great race to place in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby,” Banahan said. “Then he had a couple good races at the Fair Grounds where he was learning on the job and running against some Grade 1 and Grade 2 winners with 20 starts to their names. Last out, it finally came all together for him and the blinkers helped him focus and he ran a big race at Churchill Downs. We’re hopeful he will run another big race. The 10 furlongs looks like it will be in his wheelhouse, but we will know a lot more this weekend. He was really reaching for the line in the Old Forester and he tries hard every time. He’s a big player in the race.”

Banahan said building excellence has long been the business and focus of Godolphin USA. 

“It’s fantastic to see these horses do well, especially being homebreds,” Banahan said. “It is also satisfying for three different trainers to have opportunities to win Grade 1 races. These three horses in particular are very exciting because two are first foals and one is a second foal of mares we still have on the farm, so you have a whole career with those broodmares in front of you. It’s very satisfying and we are hopeful for a great day on Saturday and hopefully another great year.”

NYRA Press Office
Godolphin’s Essential Quality winning the 2021 edition of the Belmont Stakes. (Chelsea Durand)

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