More upheaval at Godolphin as John Ferguson resigns

By Geoffrey Riddle@Louchepunter
Tue 6 Jun 2017

John Ferguson (left) has brought to an end his 25-year association with Sheikh Mohammed (Racingfotos)

By Geoffrey Riddle

When John Ferguson took up the combined roles of racing manager and chief executive officer of Godolphin 18 months ago he did so with the intention of getting the various parts of the operation working as a team.

On his appointment in December 2015 Ferguson said: "What we need is to pull everything together and get everybody working in the right direction towards maximising the potential of every horse."

He has failed.

On Tuesday he resigned as he felt his position was untenable at the apex of the Dubai-based organisation that was founded and is presided over by Sheikh Mohammed due to a break down in relations between him and the long-standing trainer Saeed Bin Suroor.

Last week Bin Suroor revealed that he had circumnavigated Ferguson and that, once again, Sheikh Mohammed himself made the final decisions at Stanley House in Newmarket. They talk on the phone frequently. Bin Suroor has his ear, so to speak.

The Emirati trainer revealed his personal mission to get his stable back on top, when once he and Frankie Dettori plundered some of the world’s greatest races. He also revealed that he believed he had received a sub-standard crop of juveniles, particularly in relation to the team that Charlie Appleby is mopping up two-year-old races with this season in tandem with Ferguson’s son, James, as his assistant.

It was noticeable from the winter season in Dubai that Ferguson was becoming an increasingly marginalised figure – he was barely there. If Bin Suroor was not taking Ferguson’s position as CEO seriously, then it is understandable why the Sheikh’s former bloodstock advisor felt he had to go.

"At times such as these, what matters is the future and my stepping down will allow everyone to draw a line under things and move forward," Ferguson said in a statement.

"The course of action is best for everyone.

"All the staff at Godolphin are wonderful people who work so hard for the greater good and I want to thank each and every one.

"His Highness Sheikh Mohammed has given me so much over the years - trust, opportunities, key experiences and perhaps most importantly kindness and counsel. 

"For all of these things, I thank him with all of my heart."

Since Mahmood Al Zarooni was banned for eight years for using anabolic steroids in 2013 Godolphin have been in a state of almost permanent flux. Ferguson is just the latest casualty in an organisation that has not successfully navigated out of choppy waters.

Gone are Dettori, former racing manager Simon Crisford, jockeys Silvestre De Sousa, Kerrin McEvoy and James McDonald, while James Doyle and Mickael Barzalona have seen their roles downsized. 

Ferguson worked for Sheikh Mohammed for a quarter of a century. Apart from a few halcyon seasons when the two superpowers went head-to-head, the fact of the matter is that Godolphin have struggled to contend with the purring machine of Coolmore.

Last week Godolphin had three runners in the Derby, all trained by Bin Suroor who was having his first runners in the race for several years. They were trounced by Aidan O’Brien’s squad of six, which included the first two home in Wings Of Eagles and Cliffs Of Moher. Godolphin have now run 33 horses in the Epsom showpiece and have never won it. The last time they won a British Classic was Dawn Approach’ 2013 Guineas.

There is much work to be done if Godolphin are ever to realise their ambition of being in the same league as Coolmore. At least the indefatigable Bin Suroor has the track record that shows he will work every hour of the day to get his ship back on the right course.

Quite why and how Ferguson was appointed in to the role of racing manager are two key questions. The answers would go a long way in to understanding how things fell apart so quickly. In February 2014 in the wake of Al Zarooni’s disgrace Godolphin made a raft of structural changes that included the departure of Simon Crisford.

In response to Lord Stevens’ report that found serious management oversight Bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby were given ultimate responsibility for their particular stables with delegated authority of the owner as of the condition of their licence. They were also handed the role of stable spokesman, and in the words of Godolphin’s statement at the time, "the position of racing manager no longer exists."

In February James Clarke, formerly the Godolphin media manager, was appointed as the assistant racing manager. It remains to be seen how interim chief executive Joe Osborne, who steps up from running the show in Ireland, structures Godolphin.

"We are committed to our objective of achieving success for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and his family," Osborne said. "Our thanks go to John Ferguson for his longstanding contribution to Godolphin and Darley."

Godolphin timeline of upheaval:

06 June, 2017: John Ferguson resigns as chief executive of Godolphin.

23 May, 2017: James Cummings appointed new Godolphin Australia trainer.

1 May, 2017: John O'Shea quits as Godolphin Australia trainer.

22 December, 2016: Jockey James McDonald disqualified for 18 months for a betting transgression and released from his Godolphin contract in Australia.

20 September, 2016: James Doyle loses position as first rider to Saeed bin Suroor.

22 December, 2015: John Ferguson moves up from bloodstock advisor to Sheikh Mohammed and racing manager of Godolphin. His Bloomfields operation is wound down and the process of absorbing those staff in to Godolphin begins.

Darley, the bloodstock arm of the ruler of Dubai’s thoroughbred empire, is merged and is only used to promote stallions. 

November 2014: James Doyle and William Buick appointed as Godolphin riders. Silvestre De Sousa sacked. Mickael Barzalona relocated to France.

July 2014: John O'Shea appointed as Godolphin Australia.

May 2014: Peter Snowden stands down as Godolphin Australia trainer.

25 February 2014: Simon Crisford departs Godolphin as racing manager. James MacEwan, the managing director of Sheikh Mohammed's horse transport business, also leaves his post.

April 2013: Mahmood Al Zarooni banned for eight years for use of anabolic steroids

Specials - Paddy Power: 1-4 John Ferguson to renew his training licence by the end of 2017, 25-1 John Ferguson to train the winner of the Triumph Hurdle in 2018.  

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