The Grey Panel


DIKTAT: The gain in Spain

The Darley July Cup is maintaining its status as one of the world's most interesting races. One of the more remarkable aspects of this year's July Cup was the fact that it contained three Australian horses (, and ) all trained in different countries (Australia, England and Germany respectively). Another interesting aspect was the fact that one of the runners () hadn't won for four years but had spent two full seasons during the intervening period covering mares at Norman Court Stud. Understandably, Winker Watson, one of a relatively small number of Godolphin Arabian-line stallions at stud in Europe during the 2011 stud season, wasn't able to break his drought - but even so victory still went to a horse produced by this sire-line, thanks to the impressive victory of , an imposing three-year-old son of , writes John Berry.

The fact that the Godolphin Arabian sire-line is alive at all in Europe seems to rest solely on the fact that Prince Khalid Abdullah bought as a yearling in America in 1978, brought him to race in Britain and then retained him for stud duties in the UK at a time when the most exciting stallion prospects (of which Known Fact was definitely one) generally retired to stud in Kentucky. It now appears to be the case that there is no Godolphin Arabian-line sire currently at stud in Europe who does not descend in the male line through Known Fact.

We now see Prince Khalid Abdullah as one of the great owner/breeders in the history of the bloodstock world. His more-or-less self-sufficient breeding operation is (and has been for so long) so extensively successful that it would be easy to conclude that it is the product of several human generations. However, that is far from the case: the Prince started out as an owner, and then breeder, from scratch in the late '70s. His subsequent success, therefore, reflects massive credit on him and his advisors.

At the outset, the Prince's natural modesty led him to request that he merely be known as 'Mr Abdullah'. (Presumably he would still prefer to be thus addressed, but the respect in which the racing world holds him causes us to favour a grander title). Mr Abdullah clearly wished to make an under-stated entrance into the racing world, and consequently dispatched the retired Newmarket trainer Humphrey Cottrill to Keeneland Yearling Sale in July 1978 with an order for just one yearling. Cottrill duly filled this order in a rather surprising manner: he eschewed the Northern Dancers, the Nijinskys, the Vaguely Nobles and the Sir Ivors who were so much in favour among European buyers at the time, preferring to pay $225,000 for a yearling whose pedigree seemed suited only for American dirt racing. This chunky dark brown son of the Florida-based stallion was out of . A daughter of the 1958 Kentucky Derby winner , Tamarett was a half-sister to Sharpen Up's sire , and she had already bred the multiple dirt Grade One winner , a son of In Reality's sire , a great-grandson of the great . This pedigree must have looked very out of place when the colt, named Known Fact, arrived in deepest rural Wiltshire, in the quintessentially English stable of Jeremy Tree at Beckhampton.

However, nobody had told Known Fact that he was living on the wrong side of the Atlantic. He proved to be a true star of the English turf. He strung together a series of good runs as a two-year-old in 1979, culminating in a defeat of the Gimcrack winner and the Mill Reef Stakes winner in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. As a three-year-old he did even better. He was fortunate to be awarded the 2,000 Guineas on the disqualification of the (worthy) winner , but in the autumn, in his fourth and final victory of the season, he proved himself to be superior to most Classic winners by becoming one of only two horses ever to finish in front of the great champion miler . The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot was only a Group Two race in 1980, but arguably none of its runnings as a Group One have seen as high-class a duel as the one in which Known Fact beat Kris by a hard-fought neck.

It has always been the policy of Prince Khalid Abdullah that his best horses retire to stud as a last resort (rather than as a first resort, as is generally the case nowadays) so Known Fact stayed in training as a four-year-old in 1981. Disappointingly, he achieved nothing that season, so retired to stud, still in the prince's ownership, as a five-year-old in 1982 at a property which the prince had just bought and named Juddmonte Farm at Wargrave in Berkshire. At the time, Timeform enthused, "European breeders should be clamouring to send their mares to Known Fact".

As the '80s progressed, Prince Khalid Abdullah, his enthusiasm fired no doubt by the success of Known Fact, was rapidly building up a top-class stud. He, naturally, provided many of Known Fact's best mates. One of these was (a grand-daughter of 1963 Oaks winner ) who had carried the Prince's colours into second place behind the mighty in the Oaks in 1982 when trained by Barry Hills. She was covered by Known Fact in his third season at stud (1984) and duly produced far and away the stallion's best son: .

For much of the 1980s, Prince Khalid Abdullah's principal trainers were Jeremy Tree and Guy Harwood. The former followed his successes with Known Fact by sending out (whose dam was a half-sister to Slightly Dangerous) to win the 1985 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe for the same owner, while Harwood prepared an even greater horse for the Prince: , winner of the Arc two years later. One year younger than Dancing Brave, Warning joined Harwood's stable as a yearling in the autumn of 1986. Over the next three years, he demonstrated that he deserves to be ranked up with the likes of , , Kris, , , and among the greatest milers to have raced in Britain since the war. On the face of it, Warning's record is very good without being awesome - but anyone who saw him race will remember him as a true champion. He was a very promising two-year-old, winning the Richmond Stakes and Champagne Stakes, and became a top-class three-year-old, winning the Sussex Stakes and the emulating his father by taking the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (which had by then attained Group One status). His finest hour, though, came as a four-year-old when he strolled home by a wide margin in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot (now a Group One race, but then only a Group Two). That win was magnificent enough to ensure that, although Slightly Dangerous was to breed five more Group One performers including the 1993 Derby winner , Warning has to be rated her most talented child.

When Warning retired to join Juddmonte's European stallion roster (which had been relocated from Wargrave to Banstead Manor Stud, near Newmarket), Known Fact moved across the Atlantic to America. He spent the rest of his life there before dying in 2000. He produced two US-foaled sons (the full-brothers and ) who have each done a small amount to keep the sire-line alive, but Warning has proved to be far and away the line's principal conduit.

Sadly, Warning did not live into old age, dying as a 15-year-old in 2000. However, he still managed to sire the Group One-winning sprinters Diktat, and , as well as and , Group One winners over 2400m and (bizarrely) 4000m respectively. He also sired the Group One place-getters , , , , , , , , and . His other good horses included the Group Two winners and . Several of these horses made the grade as sires of good racehorses and, in some cases, stallions, and thus Warning has proved far and away the most influential son of Known Fact - and it is believed that the only representation of the Godolphin Arabian sireline in Europe today comes via Known Fact. As regards the line's representatives in this year's Darley July Cup, Winker Watson is a son of Piccolo, while Dream Ahead is a son of Diktat.

While the biographies of Known Fact and Warning have revolved almost exclusively around Juddmonte, Warning's best son Diktat was bred by Sheikh Mohammed, raced for him and was stood by him. And Diktat's best son Dream Ahead is also a Darley-bred, even if a failure to appreciate the colt's potential saw him sold for only $11,000 as a yearling in America. (Dream Ahead, although conceived in England, was born in America, his dam , a Group Two-winning sprinter in the colours of Sheikh Mohammed's now-deceased elder brother Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum in her racing days, having been sent by Darley to America to be covered by while she was carrying Dream Ahead).

The ownership careers of Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai and Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia have run alongside each other for more than 30 years. Both started owning horses during the late '70s. Both initially bought yearlings (and Sheikh Mohammed still does) before building up an impressive band of broodmares, largely stemming from high-class fillies and mares which they had bought in the early years. One of Sheikh Mohammed's best purchases has proved to be , a daughter of Ahonoora who had won two Group One races (the Moyglare Stud Stakes in Ireland and the Cheveley Park Stakes in England) as a two-year-old in 1984 when trained by Jim Bolger. This is a family which has proved to be a goldmine for the Burns family, owner/breeders of Park Appeal, from whose dam they also bred another Cheveley Park Stakes heroine (, successful in the race in 1983 when trained for Catherine Corbett by Barry Hills). Similarly influential has proved another Burns-bred and Bolger-trained daughter of Ahonoora: , successful in the Irish Champion Stakes in 1986, from whom the family subsequently bred the 2008 Derby winner (as well as the afore-mentioned Warning filly Dazzling Park).

While Balidaress did many good turns for the Burns family, Park Appeal turned out to be at least equally bounteous for Sheikh Mohammed. The decision to buy her as a broodmare proved to have been a very wise one. To Green Desert she bred . To Nureyev she bred , the dam of another very good racehorse and sire, . And to Sadler's Wells she bred , who won only one minor race (a mile maiden race at Nottingham in 1993) in the Sheikh's colours when trained by John Gosden but who, sent to Warning during her first season at stud, produced . It is, incidentally, no wonder that Arvola turned out to be such a good broodmare because the whole family has proved to be a rich source of class. Not only did Balidaress breed the two Cheveley Park-winning half-sisters Desirable and Park Appeal, but she also bred (an Irish Oaks winner in Sheikh Mohammed's colours who now ranks as grand-dam of the successful young French-based sire ), (dam of the 2003 1,000 Guineas winner ) and (dam of the 1993 2,000 Guineas place-getter ).

Diktat, like Known Fact and Warning a muscular dark brown horse, was a super-tough racehorse as well as a very fast one. He raced at a time when many of Sheikh Mohammed's juveniles were trained by David Loder before joining Godolpin later in life, which in retrospect was not a great idea because Loder was such a specialist two-year-old trainer that it seemed as if many of the horses whose careers he launched enjoyed their finest hours before they had even reached the main Godolphin fold. (Admittedly, we should remember that the greatest horse to graduate along this career path, , did not reach his peak until he was a four-year-old). Diktat was trained by David Loder at two and three. As a juvenile in 1997 he was unplaced on his only start, but at three he raced four times for three wins (including in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot) and one narrow defeat by his paternal half-brother Decorated Hero in the Group Three Beeswing Stakes at Newcastle, now a low-grade handicap but then a time-honoured and high-class contest.

Having carried Sheikh Mohammed's maroon and white colours for two seasons, Diktat raced in the Godolphin blue as a four- and five-year-old, trained by Saeed bin Suroor. He won four of his five starts as a four-year-old in 1999, his victories including the Group One Prix Maurice de Gheest over 1300m at Deauville (in which he beat by a length) and the Group One Haydock Park Sprint Cup over six furlongs, in which he beat by a neck. Diktat's four starts as a five-year-old in 2000 yielded no victories, but he still ran well that season, most notably when second of 18 behind the Hong Kong champion in the Grade One Yasuda Kinen over 1600m in Tokyo, and third to and (with the likes of and in arrears) in the Group One Prix du Moulin de Lonchamp over 1600m.

Naturally, on his retirement Diktat took up residence at Dalham Hall Stud in 2001. The fact that he is no longer there says more for the trends of the modern breeding world than it does for his merit as a stallion. He is clearly a very good sire. His first crop contained the good two-year-olds , and , as well as the 2005 1,000 Guineas place-getter . His second crop contained two more Group One-performed fillies: , who won the Group One Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket's July Meeting as a three-year-old in 2006, and , a relative of the aforementioned Warning horse Little Rock who was third in that year's Oaks after winning the Musidora Stakes at York easily. It also contained (who won the Cambridgeshire as a three-year-old in 2006 and was a graded stakes winner at both four and five) as well as the multiple German Group winner .

Diktat continued to get good horses and plenty of winners - but, with Darley never having seemed particularly interested in using him much on its own good mares, he soon began to struggle for patronage as 'commercial breeders' did what commercial breeders seemingly always do: they began to overlook the stallion once he had proved his merit, preferring instead to use unproven sires who might, just might, prove superior. (But probably won't do).

Diktat thus was moved to Japan. And then he was moved to France. Darley finally removed him from its roster and he headed off to Spain - where he now stands proudly as the sire of Dream Ahead, a young colt who shared top weight with Frankel in the 2010 European Free Handicap thanks to his easy Group One wins in the Prix Morny and the Middle Park Stakes, and who now should be regarded as the best sprinter in Europe. England's loss has definitely proved to be Spain's gain.

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