Monday, Jul 28, 2003
Gina Rarick IHT

Horse Racing: Alamshar scores a victory for youth

ASCOT, England To be successful at the top level of horse racing, you need a lot of money and at least a little luck.

Every now and then, a dollop of patience pays off, too.

On Saturday at Ascot, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond stakes turned into a battle between two guys with plenty of money and more than a little luck, leaving patience to tip the balance.

Alamshar, a 3-year-old colt, the result of 80 years of breeding by the Aga Khan's family, beat Sulamani, a 4-year-old colt that Sheik Mohammed al-Maktoum bought late last year.

Alamshar can trace his line back to Mumtaz Mahal, one of the foundation mares of the Aga Khan's family breeding operation.

The horse chasing Alamshar down the stretch, Sulamani, was bought by Sheik Mohammed after he was impressed with the horse's second-place effort in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

It's often said that it is better to regret having sold a horse than to regret having kept it, but Sheik Mohammed has left plenty of owners with a dose of remorse.

Sulamani was one of three entries Saturday for the sheik's Godolphin operation, and all of them had been bought privately after starting their careers elsewhere.

The sheik has a breeding operation, too, but with an ambitious checklist of Group 1 races around the world to win, he does not have time to wait generations for results. His Godolphin stable has racked up 99 Group 1 victories, and the boys in blue are itching for No. 100.

The Aga Khan, on the other hand, only runs horses that come from the family breeding operation, which has been around since the early 1900's. This year has been the best ever for the famous green-and-red silks, and the Aga Khan sees it as a reward for many years of patience. "What's most exciting is the continuation of the breeding stock," the Aga Khan said. "Alamshar is from one of the oldest bloodlines in my family, so it's very rewarding." Alamshar, trained by John Oxx in Currabeg, Ireland, settled for third in the Epsom Derby on June 7 before going on to win the Irish Derby three weeks later. The King George is the first serious chance for the Derby generation of 3-year-olds to take on older horses, and before Saturday the results were evenly split between up-and-comers and experienced runners, at 26 victories each.

Alamshar's victory was also one for youth. He outran not only Sulamani but Nayef, the 5-year-old colt owned by Sheik Hamdan al-Maktoum that had gone off as the favorite. Nayef's jockey, Richard Hills, said the horse never settled into the race after rain Friday left the turf tacky.

"He just cannot use ground like that," Hills said.

Nayef's distaste for the turf allowed Johnny Murtagh, Alamshar's jockey, to take advantage of Nayef's pacemaker, Izdiham. Murtagh settled his horse in behind Izdiham for most of the trip in the mile-and-a-half, or 2,400-meter, race.

Coming out of the turn for home, Alamshar looked for room to run, but Murtagh kept him idling next to Izdiham for another 200 meters. Then, about 400 yards from home, he let the colt open distance on the field.

"I asked him to really quicken then, and it got quiet all of a sudden," Murtagh said. "I was surprised to be so far out front all alone." Sulamani shook free from the pack and gave chase, but he could not catch Alamshar and finished three and a half lengths back. The Epsom Derby winner, Kris Kin, finished third.

"We didn't expect to win as easy as that, taking on such a high-class field," Oxx said. "But he was getting a nice lead from the pacemaker, and he was really bombing along into the straight." Oxx said Alamshar would probably run next in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, with the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita, California, also a possibility.

But the horse's program depends on how his back holds out. Alamshar requires attention from a physical therapist every day, along with occasional visits from a chiropractor.

"The problem seems to move around a bit, and you can never be sure exactly how he's going to go; he keeps us thinking," Oxx said.

"But hopefully we can build him up and strengthen him."

Meanwhile, the Godolphin team will have to keep the Champagne on ice a little longer for that 100th Group 1 victory.

"We will think about the Arc and the Breeders' Cup for Sulamani," said Saeed bin Suroor, Godolphin's head trainer.

He said the performance of Leadership and Grandera, Godolphin's other two horses in the race, was "disappointing."

"We'll have to take them back and see about them," Suroor said.

The victory for Alamshar put him into a tie with Eishin Preston of Japan for first place in the World Series Racing Championship.

The next leg of the Series is the Arlington Million in Chicago, followed by the Irish Champion Stakes in September.

The series, developed by Godolphin five years ago to group the world's major races into a fan-friendly championship, fizzled this year after the Dubai World Cup, which would have acted as the opening leg, withdrew from the series and the Singapore International Cup was canceled because of the SARS outbreak. That left 12 races and no big sponsor until Friday, when Rolls-Royce Motor Cars stepped in for a one-year commitment.

There is still a $1 million prize for the Series winner, but since the likes of the Aga Khan and Sheik Mohammed, who has won it every year so far, don't really need the money, there is some doubt about the future of the idea.