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From the Desert to the Derby: Inside the Ruling Family of Dubai's Billion-Dollar Quest to Win America's Greatest Horse Race
by Jason Levin
from DRF Press, 224 pages hardcover

Having dominated European racing by buying up the world's most expensive, well-bred horses and wintering them in his base at Nad al Sheba in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, leader of Godolphin Stables, boldly announced: "We will win the Kentucky Derby within four years." This is year four.

In his first book, From The Desert to the Derby, Jason Levin personally follows the progress of Godolphin's two year olds over the 2001 season, the horses targeted to this year's Derby. In a worldwide tour that took Levin to Dubai, Lexington, Southern California, New York, France, and England, he examines their unique training methods and outlines the successes and failures of Godolphin's bold mission. He flawlessly paints the picture of Godolphin as the most powerful force in Thoroughbred racing today, one with a seemingly infinite budget and equine and human talent equipped to capture every Group 1 race in the world.

Much of his time was spent in California with former Bob Baffert assistant Eoin Harty, who was hired by Godolphin to train a select group of 2-year-olds bred for American dirt racing. It became clear that money can't buy everything as the group started off very slowly. Harty's horses suffered from seconditis, never winning a photo finish for win, while Baffert enjoyed every minute of it. It was only at the end of the season when Harty would be vindicated by his two fillies, Tempera and Imperial Gesture, finishing 1-2 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in a faster winning time than Juvenile winner Johannesburg. Unfortunately, the two chapters about the stable's Del Mar failures seemed to drag a bit but once you are past them the book picks up again.

This book is more than just a narrative of one season of racing. Interspersed throughout are history lessons, looking backwards in time to give the reader a better understanding of how we got to the current situation. He explains how the three original stallions, all of whom came from the Middle East, founded the Thoroughbred breed in the 1700's. With this in mind, when asked why he loves Thoroughbreds so much, Sheikh Mohammed said, "We invented them." He shows how Irish powerhouse Coolmore rose to prominence and how Godolphin came along to supplant them, with some collusion between them leaving American breeders as the losers with falling auction prices. He demonstrates how the Maktoum family found their wealth in oil and how in a short time brought Dubai into prominence, tells the reader how King Charles II started the sport of racing as we know it in Newmarket, and he gives a brief history of the Kentucky Derby itself.

Unlike some other books on horse racing that have been released in recent years, From the Desert to the Derby does not leave the reader feeling short-changed. Potential readers of Levin's work will find it entertaining yet informative, and will not only learn a lot more about Godolphin, but about the sport of Thoroughbred racing in general. We strongly recommend this book to old and new fans alike. It is a thorough, well-written piece and an excellent effort in Levin's "maiden effort", and we hope he will continue to write books on racing in the future.

From the Desert to the Derby has a list price of $24.95 and is available from for $17.47.

Rating:     4.5 / 5

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