Racing: With Dalakhani in stunning form, the Aga Khan, right, is bound to make his mark at the Irish Derby. But, reports Paul Wheeler, it's breeding not buying that motivates him
Irish Derby day is always a vibrant occasion but this year green may prove to be the predominate colour. There will be the olive-and-red silks of the Aga Khan carried by Dalakhani and Alamshar, the first two in the betting for the country's premier Classic. Perhaps a close-matching hue in the envious eyes of the other high-rollers of the Turf who find themselves either in the background or out of the picture entirely and, for the favourite, it will be the green, green grass of home. Dalakhani may be trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre at Chantilly, and now rightly considered the pride of France, but he spent his early days grazing in the verdant fields of County Kildare under the care of Pat Dowes.
Downes manages the Aga's racing interests in Britain and Ireland and was on hand when a grey foal entered the world on unsteady legs. 'And now he'll be strutting his stuff less than a mile, as the crow would fly, from where he was born,' he said. 'It was only a couple of years ago that he and Alamshar were both happily roaming around the paddocks here on the Curragh.
'I think he would always have stood out purely by virtue of the fact that he was Daylami's half-brother and, when you were going round to look at the foals, you'd look twice, subconsciously, at Dalakhani.'
There have been plenty of admiring looks cast Dalakhani's way since he stamped himself the best of his generation in his Gallic backyard, with a victory in the Prix du Jockey Club which was a galloping definition of facile, and is odds-on to increase his domination to his homeland. 'I don't think it's overstating it to say he's the leading three-year-old in France,' Downes said, so heavy on the understatement he almost crushed the life out of it, 'and, hopefully, by Sunday evening he'll have widened that reputation a bit. But I would just be very happy if both horses run their race and let dice roll where it does.'
Of late the dice have landed on a double six for the sport's pre- eminent owner-breeder. While others slug it out in the sales ring, spending jaw-dropping sums, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims has followed his own quiet pilgrimage in pursuit of excellence through patience and planning. He might not be at the top every year but he is there often enough to make it count, and this year the most potent opposition appears ready to be counted out.
The Ballydoyle team might be able to muster six runners but even they cannot hope to find strength in mere numbers while the peacock-blue livery of Godolphin will be obvious only by its absence in the race for the second successive year. The adversaries are further depleted by the absence of the Derby winner, Kris Kin, after his trainer Sir Michael Stoute concluded that the going would be too fast for the colt .
The Aga has trod the path in search of racing's glittering prizes for more than 40 years since inheriting the racing interests of his father, Prince Aly Khan, in 1960 and has studs in Ireland and France with a total of 175 broodmares. Of his stallions, Kahyasi and Sendawar stand at the Haras de Bonneval while Sinndar, Daylami and Kalanisi stand at Gilltown Stud and most of his mares are boarded at the near-by Sheshoon Stud.
'We wouldn't be the biggest,' said Downes about an operation whose running costs would be mind-boggling . I don't know the exact numbers but I would suspect that the Maktoums, individually, would have probably more than that.'
This mid-range breeding empire (which is probably like calling Harrods a corner shop) has been built up slowly and the architect has never allowed it to become a monster out of control. He also takes satisfaction that all his runners for more than 25 years have been home-breds. 'We're producing, on average, 120 yearlings that go into training every year,' Downes said, 'and I'm sure he feels he doesn't need more than that. Also, to be with them from when the horse is a concept around a mating table, to flesh-and-blood on a racecourse, you couldn't get better than that.
'I think that as far as his Highness is concerned, that is the greatest satisfaction. He hasn't bought a horse since Blushing Groom in 1975. Since then it's been entirely home-bred. '
Dalakhani might never have been for sale but if the Aga follows his previous plan with his best middle-distance horses, starting with the ill-fated Shergar, then Dalakhani will be retired to stud at the end of his three-year-old season but his successor may already be at hand.
'Sinndar's getting on very well,' Downes said, 'just finishing his third season at stud now, and we'll be sending the first yearlings out in October. He'll have about 70 going into training of which we have 12.'
John Oxx, Sinndar's trainer, will not have to wait long to find out whether the wins of the father have been visited upon the sons and daughters.
'I mentioned to him not all that long ago that one of the first yearlings he would be getting would be a very, very impressive colt by Sinndar out of Timarida,' Downes said. 'It's not something that would happen an awful lot, that a trainer would get the produce of sire and dam that he trained with such distinction so I'm sure that'll be exciting for him.'
As ever the bloodlines are bred in the purple and that could be the green light straight to the winner's enclosure.
29 June 2003