Certain sports proceed with the spectre of suspicion and controversy hovering over them. The disgraceful antics of people like Lance Amstrong and, going back even further, Ben Johnson, cast a cloud over their respective codes. Such murkiness is akin to the weather in this country at times – debilitating to those engulfed therein and very difficult to move on from.
Yet, there must always be an antidote to that type of behaviour. Ireland’s Dan Martin has been exactly that on the cycling scene of late following two high profile victories. Moreover, the most high profile – and by direct consequence influential – person in the sport, Sir Bradley Wiggins, espouses everything that’s good about cycling. This after having experience of how things are on the dark side in his own life.
In terms of athletics, the whirlwind of rumour and innuendo is every bit as bad as in the world of the bike. For all that, though, look no further than competitors like Derval O’Rourke, Fionnuala Britton and – in terms of profile – Jessica Ennis, for the epitome of good example and greatness on the track and field scene.
Horse Racing has, to a large degree, avoided being surrounded by such doubt and negativity. Or at least it had up until a year or so ago. When the bang did come however, boy it was dramatic. Firstly, Frankie Dettori – the pinup boy of the sport – gets busted for drugs and then, even more shockingly, horses owned by his principal employer Godolphin – the equine empire of Sheikh Mohammad – are found to have been doped.
Take the Dettori case first. He was not the first – nor do you suspect he will be the last – jockey to get into bother for such things. Undoubtedly, though, his was the most high profile name to end up in hot water. Until, that is, his boss was dragged into unwanted limelight due to the unscrupulous behaviour of one of his retained trainers (under the Godolphin banner), Mahmood Al Zarooni.
It’s a measure of the size of the Sheikh’s operation – from a Godolphin perspective alone – that he took on Al Zarooni. While the investment may have delivered a fairly solid dividend in terms of concrete results, the ramifications of the handler’s antics could be catastrophic for British racing.
The trainer has, rightly, been suspended – for eight years – sacked and most likely had his career ended due to his own stupidity. More interesting will be to see what, if any, impact the whole scenario has on Sheikh Mohammad’s standing within racing. Temptation is to say not a lot. Firstly because of his abhorrence of his now former trainer’s actions and secondly, more crucially, due to his importance to the racing industry around the world.
Of course, the deposing of Al Zarooni opens a door of opportunity for somebody given the vast swathes of horses that compete in the unmistakable Godolphin blue. Jim Bolger won’t have done his chances of gaining from the situation any harm at all as Dawn Approach has remained imperious since transferring from the well known purple and white silks of Jim’s wife, Jackie, to the Godolphin blue.
In fact, you’d have to wonder is gentleman Jim on the verge of another new dawn? As far as I’m aware (and if incorrect wholehearted apologies) Dawn Approach was the first Irish trained runner bedecked in the famed colours. Given that the association with the legendary Wexford man has gone swimmingly thus far, it is only reasonable to expect that Godolphin will send more stock to Coolcullen, surely?
While the Coolmore operation is undoubtedly the mainstay of the racing scene here – in many ways – the Arab influence cannot be ignored either. Indeed, only recently, Sheikh Mohammad bought the now Johnny Murtagh trained Fort Knox from leading English based owner Andrew Tinkler. Coming days after Dawn Approach sluiced up in the Guineas, the only surprising thing about the sale was the news that the 3-year-old will run in the maroon and white silks that carry the Sheikh’s name rather than in the blue hue!
Gut feeling says it’ll not be long before there is more Godolphin blue resident in Ireland. A similar template exists on the National Hunt scene. Graham Wylie – once one of the leading owners across the water – sent horses to Willie Mullins. Having (unsurprisingly) garnered success there, more stock has gone to Closutton.
Ditto Alan and Ann Potts. Having initially seemingly started with Henry De Bromhead here, they too cut all ties with elsewhere, put horses in training with Jim Dreaper and Mullins and have won plenty there too. For that reason, expectation would be that Godolphin may send more horses to Bolger. And maybe even elsewhere.
While it would of course leave things even more competitive for those outside of the top operators, the good, if any, to come from the Godolphin doping scandal might manifest itself here too.