Since its beginning in 1996, the Dubai World Cup meeting has been the biggest annual sporting event in the UAE and the Middle East.
It has repeatedly set new standards and demonstrated why it unfailingly attracts the Who’s Who of the horse racing world.
Saturday’s 27th edition was no exception and arguably the best meeting ever staged, numerically and statistically.
As many as 130 horses representing every racing jurisdiction on the planet, ridden by the finest jockeys and trained by the greatest tacticians and methodologists of the sport, vied for prizes worth a staggering $30.5 million across nine world-class races.
What is it about the Dubai World Cup that attracts such a diverse group of horses and horsemen every year to seek out fame and glory at a venue far away from where they belong?
The answer is simple. But nobody sums it up better that Saeed bin Suroor, the most successful trainer in the history of the Dubai World Cup and the winner of over 30 races at the meeting, including nine in the $12 million showpiece itself.
“The Dubai World Cup was conceptualised to be the world championships of horse racing and it has more than justified that ambition," the Emirati trainer told Khaleej Times yesterday.
“It’s an event like no other. It is full of surprises, quality, melodrama, and emotions and I have experienced them all. Many race meetings are older, more prestigious, and perhaps even more viewed than the Dubai World Cup, but this race stands out as the most definitive of them all.”
The Dubai World Cup never set out to be a commercial enterprise, but the tremendous success that it has achieved is a result of its simplicity and integrity.
If the participants and crowds are happy, so are the organisers of the event, the 30-year-old Dubai Racing Club.
“Every year we have tried to do something new, to innovate,” said Major General Dr. Mohammed Essa Al Adhab, the club’s driving force.
“Next year there will be more additions, more surprises. We are particularly proud of what we accomplished this year. The event has exceeded all expectations with the numbers, diversity, and quality of horses, jockeys, and trainers.
“This will motivate us in the years to come.”
The Japanese-bred capped another memorable night for the Land of the Rising Sun when he came from the back of the 15-strong field to win the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1).
The six-year-old son of Japanese stallion Orfevre crossed the finish line by two-and-three-quarter lengths from UAE hope Algiers and 2022 Saudi Cup scorer Emblem Road.
The winner was ridden by Yuga Kawada the reigning champion jockey in Japan who banked a purse of $6.5 for the horse’s owners.
“I was on the horse for the first time today but it was a tremendous honour to ride him,” said a stone-faced Kawada. “There was a lot of pressure as the leading Japanese jockey heading into the race. But thanks to the effort of the horse he fought on very well and I'm very proud of myself as the leading Japanese jockey by winning the leading race in the world today."
The seven-year-old showed why horse racing is a sport that you can easily fall in love with when winning the $5 million Dubai Turf for the third straight time.
It was an extraordinary feat that was all guts and glory as Lord North overwhelmed a pair of younger horses including Japan’s Danon Beluga and Godolphin’s Nations Pride.
His jockey, Frankie Dettori, who is riding at Meydan for the last time before he retires at the end of the year, was struggling to control his emotions.
"Lord North himself, what a star. To just get one on the board at this beautiful place, in Dubai that has been my home for so many winters, it's pretty special," Dettori said.
Perhaps Emirati handler Musabbeh Al Mheiri has not been given the respect he deserves but he helped deliver the shock of the night when he saddled 50/1 Danyah to upstage an international field in one of the strongest renewals of the Group 1 $1 million Al Quoz Sprint
Al Mheiri shrewdly dropped the Shadwell-owned sprinter back in the trip and the tactic paid off as he reveled under a strong ride by jockey Dane O’Neill to land the spoils. as Shadwell owner, Sheikha Hissa bint Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, cheered from the Royal Enclosure.
“We felt he had enough speed to run well and maybe finish in the placings but to win is a very nice surprise. Great credit to Shadwell for how they planned it and it is a special day for us all,” said Al Mheiri.
Watson has been a staple of UAE racing since the early nineties and is a seven-time champion trainer. But like everyone else he has always craved success on the big night and was duly rewarded when Isolate went wire-to-wire to give him a third success in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile.
The five-year-old had the measure of some high-class dirt miler including defending champion Bathrat Leon to score by five and a half lengths. Fellow UAE trained Law Of Peace battled through heavy traffic to finish a brave second while South American raider Atletico El Culano took third.
"I'm just thrilled for Sheikh Rashid (bin Humaid al Nuaimi) and the whole team at home. I've been here for almost 30 years, I've progressed from being in charge of the ambulance at the first Dubai World Cup to now having winners on the night. It's quite remarkable.”
The soon to be eleven-time champion jockey in the UAE was hoping to win the Golden Shaheen for the second straight year and also make his mother, who passed away last month, proud in heaven.
However, the popular Irish rider was cruelly denied victory thanks to an outstanding ride by former British champion jockey Ryan Moore aboard the American-trained Sibelius who beat Switzerland. There was only a nose separating the two sprinters who crossed the finish line in a blur.
"He's a tough horse. He's done everything right, he's just unfortunate to come out the wrong side of a photo,” said O’Shea. “But he's lost nothing in defeat."
Switzerland’s trainer Bhupat Seemar summed up the heartache in the team when he said: "It’s hard to get beat like that; he did everything right. These horses if you take care of them they pay you back. I thought we had it there but unfortunately, it was not to be.”
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