By Jon Lees
GB: After completing 25 years as a Godolphin trainer in Britain, Saeed Bin Suroor is being kept waiting to start the next 25.
With more than 2,400 career victories to his name worldwide – 194 of them at G1 level – the popular former policeman is ambitious to improve his phenomenal record at the helm of Sheikh Mohammed’s elite stable.
Now Bin Suroor is back in Newmarket, having arrived from the UAE where the early suspension of the campaign put paid to his hopes of winning a tenth Dubai World Cup with stable star Benbatl.
Just like in Dubai, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic will dictate what happens next and Bin Suroor, 51, wants to make sure his 179-strong string is ready to run when the suspension of racing is lifted.
“We are waiting for the BHA to tell us when we can start racing,” he says. “The horses are in full training. They are ready for any action. We just need the green light.
“Whatever they say we will follow the government’s instruction, but people’s health and safety must be number one.”
Until the season was delayed Godolphin had plenty to look forward to. The outstanding Pinatubo, trained by Charlie Appleby, and the Andre Fabre-trained Earthlight were the two best juveniles in Europe last year.
While they are first and second favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, Bin Suroor has his own Classic hopeful in Military March, who won the G3 Autumn Stakes in October after recording a debut win in July.
“Military March worked on the Limekilns last week and we were really happy with him,” says the trainer. “He looks strong, stronger than last year. That’s the reason he had a gap between his first and second races in Newmarket.
“He looks a better horse now. The plan for him is to start him in the 2,000 Guineas then go straight to the Derby; unfortunately there is no Dante. We know he is a miler but he also looks like a mile-and-a-half horse.”
Benbatl, who made a seamless transition to dirt to finish third in the Saudi Cup in February, will return to action later in the year. “He was a star in Dubai,” says Bin Suroor.
“On the Saturday before the World Cup he was looking in really good form, but they cancelled the race and now we have given him a break. He will run in the second half of the year when we will work out a programme for him, the same as we did last year.”
Bin Suroor was working as a policeman in Dubai while also training a small team when he came to the notice of Sheikh Mohammed and was suddenly catapulted from obscurity to fulfil his boss’s ambitions to become an international force.
That became evident from the outset with Godolphin having recorded G1 wins in the USA, Japan, Italy and France by the time Moonshell won the 1995 Oaks – 24 hours before Lammtarra captured the Derby.
“This year I will have worked for Sheikh Mohammed for 28 years and this year I will have been 26 years in England,” reflects Bin Suroor. “It’s been a long time but it feels like yesterday.
“I was a police officer and I would train horses at the same time. Then Sheikh Mohammed said I needed to stop, and so I did it full time.
“Life changes,” he goes on. “I knew some English because I had English friends in Dubai. Like Frankie when he came from Italy, he couldn’t speak English either, but with time we learn.
“At my base in Newmarket I am here more than seven months of the year and outside Dubai more than eight months a year. I enjoy every moment in England. I have thousands of friends and meet a lot of people here.
“Wherever I go the reputation of Godolphin is very good. We are treated with respect for what we have done.”
From numerous happy memories he singles out his first Breeders’ Cup victory with Daylami in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Turf as being special.
He recalls: “I remember I met John McCririck out in America and ten days before the race he asked me about Daylami and I said, ‘Listen, I can tell you now 110 per cent he is going to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf’. It was a great moment.
“I remember Dubai Millennium winning the Dubai World Cup and last year Thunder Snow becoming the first horse to win the Dubai World Cup twice. There have been so many good times, the Arc, Royal Ascot, King George. Those three horses plus Fantastic Light and Swain were probably the best.”
Bin Suroor still has one outstanding goal: to win the Kentucky Derby. He thought he had the ideal candidate in Thunder Snow but the colt exited the stalls bucking and kicking and had to be pulled up before he had travelled a furlong at Churchill Downs in 2017.
“When Thunder Snow ran there I thought he was going to win,” he says. “He was training amazingly. He was such a special horse. It rained for five days, all day and all night, and he still trained unbelievably.
“But he jumped from the stalls and things happened. Afterwards Christophe [Soumillon] was angry. Of course I was angry and upset.
“I said to him in the car on the way to the airport: ‘I can tell you something that will make you happy. Next year you are going to win the Dubai World Cup. Remember what I say.’ It turned out he won and last year he won it again.”
There won’t be a Bin Suroor challenger in Kentucky this year but he won’t stop trying. “We will keep searching,” he says. “Every year we have new horses. This is the good thing about our sport. There is always next year.”