By Julian Muscat
Saddling U.S. champion sprinter Trinniberg in the ]$2 million Golden Shaheen sponsored by Gulf News (UAE-I) March 30 was always going to be a challenge, but trainer Shivananda Parbhoo has had other preoccupations this week.
Trinniberg returns to the scene of Giant Ryan's bid to win the same race for the same connections 12 months ago. That ended in disappointment when Giant Ryan finished fifth behind Krypton Factor, yet far worse befell him on his next outing.
Giant Ryan perished after he broke down in the True North Stakes (gr. II) June 9, requiring his removal from Belmont Park racetrack by horse ambulance. Then, within two hours, Trinniberg blazed to victory in the $400,000 Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II).
"It was the craziest day for us in the sport, ever," Parbhoo reflected.
For that reason Trinniberg's desert odyssey was bound to revive the link between the two horses. And on reaching Dubai the first sentiment to swell inside Parbhoo was a sense of grief.
"When I arrived at Meydan I felt Giant Ryan was still here in spirit," the trainer said. "After we lost him I didn't go to the track for 21 days. I was going to give it up, to be honest. He wasn't just a nice horse, he was a horse we loved.
"It was so hard to take. We own all of our horses, we don't train for anyone else, so they are part of us. Racing can be like that but it is something that we as a family will never understand."
For all his distress, you only have to mention Trinniberg's name for Parbhoo's furrowed features to dissolve into a wide smile. The son of Teuflesberg —Bella Dorato, by Goldminers Gold, has had trainer and jockey Willie Martinez purring all week.
Trinniberg's schooling through the starting gate the morning of March 28 completed a preparation as flawless as it has been encouraging. Even the unfamiliar Tapeta surface cannot dilute enthusiasm for the 4-year-old's prospects.
"Wherever we finish in the race, I think he really likes the track," Parbhoo said. "I see something totally different in him here. If the USA had more of this type of track I would leave him on it rather than put him back on the dirt. It isn't what he knows but I think he likes it better."
Martinez is equally optimistic. "When I rode him (Thursday) morning he was definitely the strongest he has ever been," the jockey said. "Everything is right on schedule. I really don't want to jinx anything but I really don't think the track will be a factor. It will be more about what happens around me on the day."
There is one further source of encouragement within the debate about Trinniberg handling the surface.
"Not many people know that I galloped his sire (Teuflesberg ) quite a few times on the poly and he certainly went on it," Martinez said. "I was even going to ride him in a stakes race at Turfway but he was withdrawn in the paddock after a dispute between the owners. He was a monster, big and powerful. Trinniberg is heading the same way."
Parbhoo is clear in his mind about the right route to the winner's circle.
"For me, it's all about the break from the gate," he said. "The post position (stall 3) is nice but I hope those inside have a little speed to go with him from the gate. I don't want him by himself early."
Parbhoo's father, Bisnath, arrived in Dubai March 27 intent on keeping a low profile now that Shivananda has taken over the trainer's licence.
"It makes no difference whose name is on the licence," Shivananda said. "My father is 72. He doesn't want to have to ring up and call a scratch, or put blinkers on. It's too much for him now but he is very much hands-on."
No horse has ever doubled up in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) and the Golden Shaheen, so history beckons Trinniberg.
"We have proved we are the best in the USA," Parbhoo said. "Now let's see if we can beat the best in the world here. I am really excited about it."