RIYADH: John Gosden was proud to witness an exciting new chapter in his family’s horse racing history, after Mishriff won the $20 million Saudi Cup for owner Prince Abdulrahman bin Abdullah Al-Faisal.
Five years ago, he had tried to dissuade his 25-year-old son Thady from following in his footsteps as a trainer — just as his own father, “Towser” Gosden, had done before his death in 1967.
John, 16 then, turns 70 three days after Saturday’s Dubai World Cup meeting, and Thady will soon share a license with him to extend the Gosden dynasty.
With coronavirus quarantine protocols preventing John from attending the world’s richest race in Riyadh last month, it was left to Thady to oversee Mishriff’s surprise victory, which he now hopes to repeat in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic as part of Meydan’s showpiece.
“It was wild after the race, (Thady) was getting a bit run over by everybody,” said Gosden. “It was great, he did a good job in Riyadh so doesn’t need the old man in Dubai.
“I’m not retiring yet. I don’t mean to hang on forever, but a great friend of mine, the wonderful American trainer Charlie Whittingham, had never won the Kentucky Derby and people always used to tease him about it. Then when he was 73 and 76 he won it twice,” he added. “Age is a number and, as long as you are contributing and being a positive influence, that’s fine. If not, then get out of the way.
“My father, the last thing he said to me before he died, was ‘whatever you do, don’t be a racehorse trainer.’ It’s 52 weeks of the year, seven days a week. Our house was in the stable yard so I was brought up with horses all around me.”
It’s a piece of advice he dutifully passed on to his own son, with little success.
“I did try to persuade Thady. Five years ago, I said to him, ‘I’m going to be really clear: This is your idea, not mine,’ and he said ‘I’m very clear on that’,” Gosden said. “He’s got a passion for it and the appetite, and that’s what you need. I tried to do something else, but I came back to racing.”
That something, after graduating from Cambridge, was to help design a science park in Venezuela. “But when I was going to the track at 4.30 a.m. in Caracas, I knew it was time to be honest with myself,” he said.
John returned to work for Sir Noel Murless and Vincent O’Brien before heading to California in 1979 to make his own mark. He was persuaded to leave America in 1988 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and vice president of the UAE, paving the way for the rise of the Godolphin operation.
“I was a little surprised when I came back to discover they had 42 other trainers as well in Europe so I wondered at the time why they needed me,” laughed Gosden, who has four children with his wife Rachel.
“It all goes hand in hand with his vision for Dubai to become an international meeting place. I remember picking the training track at Al-Quoz with him — and it turned into being an amazingly successful operation.”
The Sheikh Mohammed-owned Benny The Dip gave Gosden his first Epsom Derby win in 1997. As Godolphin grew, he moved on to work with Robert Sangster before spending the last 15 years running his own Clarehaven Stables in Newmarket.
Gosden, though, has long had an affinity with the Gulf and a successful relationship with Prince Khalid bin Abdullah Al-Saud, founder of the Juddmonte Farms breeding operation, before his passing in January aged 83.
“He was a very brilliant man, a great judge of every situation. He had a great sense of humour too — a man of extraordinary humility which is quite a rare quality these days.
“He was very incisive in his thinking and, in 40 years, he developed the greatest breeding operation in thoroughbred racing history,” Gosden added. “That is something that will never be seen or done again, a quite extraordinary achievement.”
While the American dirt horse Spectacular Bid, which he described as a “phenomenal machine,” is one he would have loved to train, Gosden picks the Prince Khalid-owned Enable as the best he did.
“She was absolutely amazing, the type of horse that made you want to get up in the morning,” he said of the horse that retired in 2020 with 15 wins in 19 races. “She was the most consistently brilliant horse I ever trained. To win three King George’s, back-to-back Arcs, the Eclipse Stakes and a Breeders’ Cup Turf, there’s not many that will ever do that again. A third Arc was one dance too far. But that’s life.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky. The races I’ve dreamt of winning, I’ve won. The Saudi Cup was probably one I never thought I would win — and we did. It was special.”
While a first Dubai World Cup will have to wait, Gosden said the Sheema Classic — which he won with Dar Re Mi in 2010 and Jack Hobbs seven years later — will be a test run to see if Mishriff is considered for October’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
“We are trying something quite new by going for the Sheema Classic,” he added. “It’s a step up and a bit of a fact-finding mission. I think he will stay the mile and a half on turf, but you never know.
“If he doesn’t stay, then we come back mid-summer and go for the Group 1 mile-and-a-quarter European races like the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the Eclipse Stakes and the Juddmonte International.
“If he does, then he can attack one of those in the summer and be pointing for the Arc. Whether he goes to a Breeders’ Cup is way off anyone’s thinking right now,” said Gosden.
“As a trainer I’d also be dead keen for another Saudi Cup next year, but the owner, Prince Faisal, is a breeder and he might have other ideas.”