Classic redemption for Godolphin
(CNN) — The curtain was raised on the English flat racing season in emphatic style as the Godolphin-owned Dawn Approach stormed to victory in the 2,000 Guineas, the first "classic" of the season, at Newmarket's Rowley Mile Saturday.
The powerful chestnut, ridden by Kevin Manning, took the lead inside the final furlong and never looked like tiring, running out a five-length winner from Glory Awaits.
It was a dominant performance in a race which has traditionally served as a bellwether for future greatness; a roll call of just the last few winners of this race includes no less personages as Camelot, Frankel, Makfi and Sea The Stars.
It was also the first step towards redemption for Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai.
After a tumultuous fortnight for Godolphin, which saw Sheikh Mohammed's racing operation engulfed by a doping scandal the likes of which has never been seen in British racing, the Sheikh himself was in attendance to witness his famous royal blue colors flying high once more, albeit courtesy of a horse trained outside of his Godolphin power base.
Although he refused to be drawn on the scandal in his post-race remarks, Dubai's ruler was clearly relieved.
"I am very happy to come and to see a good horse winning the Guineas -- and I think he is a great horse," he said.
Sheikh Mohammed purchased this horse as a two-year-old from Irish owner/trainer Jim Bolger.
Indeed, the Sheikh is almost certainly thanking his lucky stars that he elected to keep Dawn Approach in training with Bolger in Ireland rather than move him into the care of Mahmood Al Zarooni, his disgraced former trainer who is currently serving an eight-year ban from the sport after he admitted to doping 15 of his horses with anabolic steroids, including 1,000 Guineas hopeful Certify.
That yard in Newmarket remains on lock down until every horse can be demonstrated to be clean and steroid free.
This race had been billed as a showdown between two unbeaten superstars, Dawn Approach and rival Toronado.
At least one horse had to lose his unbeaten record today, and it was Toronado who appeared to fade badly at the business end of the race, having been kept in contention up to that point by Richard Hughes.
Dawn Approach, meanwhile, though he took longer to get into his stride, appeared to promise much more as he flew past the winning post to the delight of a packed Rowley Mile crowd.
"He is a very special horse. He traveled very well throughout the race," winning rider Kevin Manning said.
Although considered the first leg of English racing's Triple Crown, it is by no means a certainty that a Guineas winner will go to contest the longer distance Epsom Derby, racing's 'blue riband' event and the second leg of the treble.
Bolger disclosed after the race that any decision about the Derby would be taken in consultation with the owner.
"Sheikh Mohammed said we would sleep on it and we will see from there," said Bolger. "He's a hardy horse and I'm sure he will come out of it well."
Despite this, Dawn Approach is widely expected to head to Epsom next month and has already moved into firm favoritism for the Derby, a race that has never been won by Godolphin.
What price the ultimate comeback for racing's most famous patron? For Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin, the journey of one thousand miles may just have begun with eight furlongs in Suffolk.
Hughes bounced back from Saturday's disappointment to win the first British Classic of his career in Sunday's 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
The 40-year-old Irishman, who was last season's champion jockey, came home first on Sky Lantern -- like Toronado, trained by his father in law Richard Hannon.
The champion two-year-old last year, Sky Lantern worked her way through the field to win in sunny conditions.