Godolphin: breeding winners for 300 years

From a scrawny foal in Yemen to the most successful stables the world has ever seen: the meteoric rise of Godolphin.

Peter Iantorno March 26, 2015

Almost 300 years ago, in 1724, a little brown horse with a touch of white on his off-hind heel was foaled in Yemen. Standing at just 14.3 hands tall (less than 1.5 metres, or 4ft 11in), the boisterous colt was exported to Tunis via Syria, where he was to be presented, along with three other horses, by the Bey of Tunis to King Louis XV of France.

On receiving the horses, the king decreed that three of them were to be turned out to the Brittany forests, while one, the little brown colt, would be given to the Duke of Lorraine. Shortly after the duke decided to accept an offer of £3 (AED16) to buy the horse from Englishman Edward Coke, who shipped it back to his estate in Derbyshire, UK.

When Coke died in 1733, he left the horse - which had by this time grown from a weedy colt to a tall, muscular beast with broad, powerful quarters and legs of iron - to a coffee shop proprietor by the name of Roger Williams, who then sold it on to Francis the Second Earl of Godolphin. From that point on, the horse would always be known as the Godolphin Arabian.

Under the ownership of the Earl, the Arabian flourished, growing ever stronger and becoming an astoundingly successful stud, siring some 80 foals in a career lasting 22 years, in which he was the leading sire three times. Three of the Arabian's sons - including a horse named Regulus, which went unbeaten throughout its racing career - went on to dominate the sires' list for the next 20 years. Godolphin ArabianThe Arabian's successful offspring went on to sire many more thoroughbred champions, and so the illustrious Godolphin Arabian bloodline was established and began to thrive. Such was the Arabian's pedigree, 50 years after his death in 1753, every single one of the first 76 British Classic winners had at least one strain of him in their blood.

Jump forward almost 250 years to 1992, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, a man who has always loved horses, decided that he fancied opening up his own stables, after years of investment in horses - many of which were from the illustrious Arabian bloodline. With this in mind, when it came to naming the stables, there could be only one choice: Godolphin.

After being moved from the chilly English winters into the warmer conditions of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed's horses thrived, and the stables' first Group One triumph came in 1994 in the Oaks at Epsom Downs, with Balanchine powering to victory.

It was the first of many wins, as the stables grew in number and quality, with the likes of Lammtarra, Daylami, Fantastic Light, Street Cry, Sulamani, Dubawi and, Godolphin's greatest horse, Dubai Millennium, bringing home win after win. Fittingly, Dubai Millennium fulfilled his destiny by winning the Dubai World Cup in 2000 - a race Sheikh Mohammed had named him especially to win. Dubai MillenniumSince Godolphin started in 1992, the stables has seen unbridled success, producing 2,733 wins from less than 12,500 runs (that's a win ratio of 22 per cent, which, in the competitive and unpredictable world of horse racing, is virtually unheard of). But it's not all been praise and adulation for the famous stables, as in 2013, Godolphin became embroiled in a scandal that would shock the racing world to its core.

Widely regarded as the biggest doping scandal in horse racing history, on April 22, 2013, 11 Godolphin horses in the stables' Newmarket branch were found to have been injected with anabolic steroids. It was a dark day for racing, as the trainer at fault, Mahmood Al Zarooni, admitted a "catastrophic mistake" in administering the treatments.

Sheikh Mohammed was quoted as saying that he was "absolutely appalled" by the incident, and that Al Zarooni was "finished" at Godolphin, despite the trainer only receiving an eight-year ban from the British Horse Racing Authority. Mahmood Al ZarooniThere's no doubt that the scandal tarnished the shining reputation of the legendary stables, and nobody will be more upset by that than Sheikh Mohammed, who had no knowledge of the drug-related incidents, and has had a passion for horses since an early age. But as with any great organisation, Godolphin will bounce back.

The stables already took the first step on the road to recovery last year, as African Story, ridden by Silvestre de Sousa, won the Dubai World Cup, taking the $10 million prize money and setting a new course record at Meydan in the process.

This year African Story will be aiming to defend its World Cup title and bring glory to Godolphin once again. And with the stables' trainer Saeed bin Suroor also entering another horse, Prince Bishop, in the world's richest race, you certainly wouldn't bet against another win for the racing institution that is Godolphin. We've certainly come a long way from that scrawny foal in Yemen. African StoryImages: Godolphin.com, Dubairacingclub.com