Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition

Off to hot start, Godolphin looks to add Preakness win

- By Nicole Russo

The mission is excellence. And Godolphin’s American arm, chasing a third consecutiv­e sweep of the Eclipse Award outstandin­g owner and breeder titles, is already in hot pursuit of that mission.

Godolphin comes to this weekend’s Preakness Stakes with First Mission, looking to add another American classic to an already impressive seasonal haul. The signature blue has already been carried to victory in 11 graded stakes this year in the United States alone. That included three Grade 1s at Churchill Downs on the first weekend in May, led by Kentucky Oaks winner Pretty Mischievou­s. Her stablemate Wet Paint was fourth as the favorite.

“Sheikh Mohammed has developed a beautiful broodmare band here in the U.S.,” Michael Banahan, Godolphin’s American director of bloodstock, said of the operation’s founder. “I think we are reaping the rewards with the horses we’ve had over the last couple of years.”

Banahan and Godolphin’s U.S. COO Dan Pride led a “big team” from its Jonabell Farm in Lexington that attended the races in Louisville and enjoyed Pretty Mischievou­s’s breakthrou­gh first victory in the filly classic for the operation.

“We felt like we had as good an opportunit­y as we’ve ever had to win it,” Banahan said. “And we just wanted to give all the people that work so hard on the farms every day, between foaling and raising the yearlings and rehabbing them as well, to give them an opportunit­y to go up and experience something as great as having runners in the Oaks. And then the icing on the cake is to actually win the race as well.”

After Pretty Mischievou­s won the Oaks on May 5, Godolphin enjoyed a strong Kentucky Derby undercard on May 6. Fan favorite Cody’s Wish, making his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, started his season with a victory in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs Stakes and Matareya defeated champion Goodnight Olive in the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff.

Along with Cody’s Wish and Matareya’s Grade 1 wins, and sophomore standouts Pretty Mischievou­s and Wet Paint with two graded wins each, Godolphin also has sent out graded stakes winners Caramel Swirl, First Mission, Frost Point, Ottoman Fleet, and Proxy already this year. The quality of Godolphin’s bloodstock is unquestion­ed, with powerhouse stallion rosters in internatio­nal locations and a carefully curated broodmare band spanning multiple generation­s. All but one of this year’s U.S. graded winners – Ottoman Fleet – are homebreds, and First Mission and Frost Point are by its Kentucky stallions.

Godolphin leads the nation’s owners by earnings, with its strong start to the season perhaps paving the way to more hardware. Godolphin, or the synonymous Darley moniker it has bred and stands stallions under, has earned, in a tie or outright, six Eclipse Awards as outstandin­g owner, including the last three straight years. It has earned breeder titles three times, including in 2021 and 2022. The most recent awards have, no doubt, been bolstered by unpreceden­ted success at the Breeders’ Cup. In 2021 at Del Mar, Modern Games (Juvenile Turf), Space Blues (Mile), and Yibir (Turf) made Godolphin the first owner to win three Breeders’ Cup races in a single year with homebreds. Last year at Keeneland, the blue team went one better, winning with Cody’s Wish (Dirt Mile), Mischief Magic (Juvenile Turf Sprint), Modern Games (Mile), and Rebel’s Romance (Turf).

All those Breeders’ Cup winners, save Cody’s Wish, with Bill Mott, are based in Newmarket, England, with Charlie Appleby. Since 2021, Appleby has shipped Godolphin horses to the United States to win 17 graded stakes, most recently with Ottoman Fleet. Godolphin entrusts its U.S. horses to several trainers, with its 11 graded wins in the country this season coming for five different barns.

Two of those barns will be represente­d in this weekend’s graded stakes at Pimlico. Brad Cox, who has Matareya and Wet Paint in his barn, will run First Mission in the Preakness and will saddle Comparativ­e in the sister race, the Grade 2 BlackEyed Susan on Friday. Brendan Walsh, who has had a lengthy associatio­n with Godolphin beginning as an exercise rider decades ago, will send out Prevalence in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint on Saturday, just more than two weeks after saddling his first Kentucky Oaks winner.

“It’s unbelievab­le,” said Walsh, who also has trained multiple Grade 1 winners Maxfield and Santin, after sending out Pretty Mischievou­s to her signature victory. “Obviously, I have had a very close associatio­n with [Godolphin] my whole life. I did nine winters in Dubai. I worked for them in Al Quoz as a rider. You know, when you’re there and you’re doing that, it was like working for an all-star team and getting on all-stars.

“And now to actually have the opportunit­y to train the all-stars is just, that’s the stuff you dream of when you’re a kid,” Walsh continued. “If you want to be a footballer or a coach or whatever, [you want] to be around the very best. And it’s just a great opportunit­y for me to be able to work with horses of this caliber.”

First Mission, last-out winner of the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in his third career start, will be seeking a second Preakness victory for this breeding operation. In 2006, Bernardini, racing under the Darley banner, captured the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct in his third start, then bypassed the Kentucky Derby to target the Preakness, a path that proved correct as he eventually marched on to the 3-yearold championsh­ip.

Bernardini gave Godolphin the first of its two U.S. classic victories to date. Two-time Eclipse Award champion Essential Quality captured the 2021 Belmont Stakes as one of his four career Grade 1 wins. Essential Quality also was trained by Cox.

“We’ve been very lucky to work for them,” Cox said of Godolphin. “World-class operation, bottom line. And I mean, world class – they’re all over the world. Very classy people to deal with, a very organized organizati­on. They’ve got it all down. They’re great to work for.”

 ?? BARBARA D. LIVINGSTON ?? First Mission, who will be ridden by Luis Saez in Saturday’s Preakness, will be making just his fourth start. The Brad Cox-trained colt won the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland last month.
BARBARA D. LIVINGSTON First Mission, who will be ridden by Luis Saez in Saturday’s Preakness, will be making just his fourth start. The Brad Cox-trained colt won the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland last month.

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