In 50 years as a racing journalist I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anything more bizarre than the abandonment of the 1997 Dubai World Cup.
The sight of Sheikh Mohammed inspecting the waterlogged Nad Al Sheba track after the heaviest storm they had experienced in years and then looking up at the packed dish-dash filled grandstands before pulling out a dagger to signal the meeting was off is etched in the memory.
Remarkably, five days later, with Sheikh Hamdan ordering a fleet of helicopters to act like a hair-dryer by hovering daily over the racecourse to soak up some 100mm of rain, the richest race in the world did take place, being won by Sir Michael Stoute’s Singspiel.
And, while Dubai remains confused by the crazy weather patterns we have endured ever since, they are now better equipped to deal with such extreme conditions.
And, while it was raining cats and dogs when the world’s media arrived on Monday for the richest one day’s racing on the globe at Meydan Saturday, all is set fair for the $US10-million feature.
The best deserves the best, and the Americans, who lead the UAE 10-8 in World Cup successes, have brought ARROGATE, the number one horse on the planet, to attempt to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Cigar, Silver Charm and California Chrome.
Arrogate, who beat California Chrome in the Breeders Cup Classic in California in November, showed that run to be no fluke when subsequently winning what is now the world’s richest race, the $US12-million Pegasus International in Florida in January.
His trainer, Bob Baffert, already has two Cups from Nad Al Sheba on his mantelpiece, but, though Arrogate has outstanding claims on form, one never knows how much such a gruelling journey can take out of a horse.
As we learned at Cheltenham last week – thank God for Buveur d’Air in the Champion Hurdle – there are no such things as penalty kicks in racing.
Mike de Kock, who has rattled the crossbar in the race with Lizard’s Desire, Asiatic Boy, Victory Moon and, of course, last year with Mubtaahij, relies on the last named again and is far from pessimistic.
He said: “Arrogate has looked a super horse, but Mubtaahij knows the surface well, having won the UAE Derby as well as running a stormer in the big one last year.
“And though I would have preferred two races en route, he is very well and if the favourite has got jetlag then we are ready to strike.”
For the third consecutive year there is no representative from Britain or Ireland, but Saeed bin Suroor, who has hit the jackpot seven times in this race, runs Move Up, though all his form has been on turf and he struggled in the Maktoum Challenge, so I take Baffert to complete a one-two, with Hoppertunity, third last year, catching the eye of work-watchers in the morning this week.
De Kock’s FAWREE might be worth chancing in the UAE Derby.
He has only won a maiden so has it all to do with Godolphin-owned favourite Thunder Snow, who bolted up first time out on the dirt in the UAE 2000 Guineas but could be up against it from his wide draw,
Fawree’s stalls problems have been well-documented, but flying in South African horse whisperer Malan du Toit looks to have paid off as the colt went in fine when put to the test without a hood on the track last Friday and if all goes well at the start has what it take to cause an upset.
There is a small but select field for the $US5-million Sheema Classic, with Postponed defending his crown, Aidan O’Brien being two-handed, courtesy of the globe-trotting Highland Reel and Seventh Heaven, and John Gosden running his Irish Derby hero JACK HOBBS.
Postponed will have blown away the cobwebs for his City Of Gold run, in which he was surprisingly beaten, while Highland Reel, who chased home Roger Varian’s superstar in the Juddmonte International at York last August, has since won the Breeders Cup Turf, though he was disappointing subsequently in Hong Kong.
However, Jack Hobbs, whose four-year-old season was curtailed by injury, ran a race full of promise when returning at Ascot on Champions Day last October, and, fresh from a recent gallop at Chelmsford, he is primed for a big run in the Godolphin blue, though my Newmarket mole insists “he won’t beat Postponed”.
The Brits have a strong team in the Dubai Turf, and I particularly like Decorated Knight, while Godolphin have a big player in Ribchester and the Japanese crackerjack Real Steel tries to repeat last year’s success.
But I was very taken with French raider ZARAK in his prep-race, and with Christophe Soumillon oozing coincidence, his finishing kick can stand him in good stead here.
The Aga Khan, who owns Zarak, can also win the Dubai Gold Cup with VAZIRABAD, who was not finely tuned when beaten by Godolphin’s Beautiful Romance in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy and judged on his recent work on the track has improved enough to take revenge on the filly.
ERTIJAAL is the banker of the night in the Al Quoz Sprint on turf.
He broke the track record over 1000m last time, but connections are confident he’ll be just as effective over the 1200m and I fancy his early speed might be too much for classy UK challenger Limato.
The Americans will obviously be strong in the dirt equivalent, the Golden Shaheen, but Mind Your Biscuits, who will probably go off favourite, was a 25-1 shot when third at the Breeders Cup at Santa Anita and I like locally-trained COOL COWBOY, who was just touched off in his prep-race but has done well since being switched back to sprinting, having finished third in the Godolphin Mile on this day 12 months ago.
Another one for the locals could be HEAVY METAL in the Godolphin Mile.
He did not break sweat when winning his last two races on this surface, showing electric early pace, and I doubt whether the opposition will be able to peg him back if he gets into a rhythm.