Interestingly, one of the Coolmore partners, Michael Tabor, has already won the Derby, but with an American-based horse in Thunder Gulch (1995). Since then, other foreign owners have lifted the Derby trophy with exclusively American-raced horses, such as Japan's Fusao Sekiguchi (Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000) and Saudi Arabia's late Prince Ahmed bin Salman (War Emblem in 2002).
Sheikh Mohammed is following this path with Alpha. Although he wouldn't achieve the coveted Dubai-to-Kentucky glory, the homebred Alpha would still be a triumph for the sheikh's breeding operation. He is by another homebred in champion Bernardini, now a hot young sire for Darley, and he hails from a female line that has been in the Maktoum fold for more than 25 years.
Alpha immediately validated the decision to race him in the United States. A six-length winner in his debut at the ultra-competitive Saratoga meeting, he finished second to Union Rags in the Champagne Stakes. Alpha acted up in the gate prior to a disappointing 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, his final start of 2011.
In years past, Alpha would have been uprooted from McLaughlin and transplanted to Dubai to prepare for the Derby. But this time, the decision was made to keep the sheikh's bright prospect at home.
A key factor was the composition of Dubai's Meydan track. Unlike old Nad al Sheba, which had a traditional dirt surface, Meydan has a synthetic track (Tapeta) and the Godolphin team preferred to keep Alpha on the dirt.
"We felt that it would be more beneficial for Alpha to remain in the U.S. last winter," Crisford said.
"Meydan, as you know, now has an artificial surface, so we felt that by leaving Alpha in the U.S. to train and race on dirt tracks during the winter would be better for him.
"However, if we have the 'right' horse that we feel might be adept on either artificial or dirt surfaces, then we will potentially winter them in Dubai again.
"It totally depends on each individual horse, and final decisions are made following discussions with our American trainers and our North American Manager, Jimmy Bell."
Alpha prospered over the winter, rolling to impressive victories in the Count Fleet and Withers at Aqueduct. He missed narrowly to Gemologist after a troubled trip in the Wood Memorial, and will try to go one better in Louisville.
A horse named Alpha would be a fitting first Derby winner for Sheikh Mohammed, who always wants to lead the way.
Horses in the Belmont Stakes on June 8 will face tighter security for the second straight year.
The Godolphin doping scandal deepened Monday, with British racing authorities announcing that seven more horses have tested positive for steroids, including the winner of the world's oldest classic.