They say that it is “better to be born lucky than rich” but it helps if you pull out a trump card from both packs, and Sheikh Mohammed certainly had Dame Fortune on his side last week-end when the 22nd running of the Dubai World Cup proved the best yet.
Meydan staged the richest one day’s racing on the planet, but being someone who is never content with second-best, the Sheikh has vowed that by next year the World Cup will have reclaimed top spot from Florida’s Pegasus International as the most valuable in thoroughbred racing
Saudi Arabian owner Khalid Abdullah already has both trophies on his mantelpiece, courtesy of America’s wonder horse Arrogate, who was the undoubted star of Saturday’s nine-race extravaganza, producing the perfect climax to a night none of us lucky enough to be there will ever forget when being brought from last to first to win the feature in spectacular fashion.
Less than 24 hours earlier it seemed those same elements that had scuppered the 1997 World Cup – thunder and lightning, plus torrential rain and gale-force winds that make-up those famous desert storms – would again bring Dubai to a standstill and cause a temporary postponement.
However, the Sheikh’s genie worked the oracle overnight, and, though the turf course was a sodden mess, racing went ahead, and the mega bucks were shared around equally, with the Americans, French and Godolphin all pocketing two each, and John Gosden, Doug Watson and Japan also enjoying their moment of glory.
Dirt racing is what the Americans are all about, and during a five-year experiment with Tapeta at Nad Al Sheba they won the World Cup only once, so the Sheikhs knew that if Dubai was going to rival the Breeders’ Cup and attract top US horses they would have to revert to dirt when deciding on the surface for the move to Meydan in 2015.
Godolphin “fluked” the first running at the new track with Prince Bishop, but normal service has been resumed thanks to California Chrome and Arrogate, two proper champions who have taken America’s tally of World Cup victories to 11, as against the eight of the home-based boys in blue.
Arrogate did not make his racecourse debut until 18 April last year when, despite starting odds-on, he missed the break and finished only third in a maiden at Los Alamitos, a small Californian racetrack more often associated with quarter-horses.
However, unbeaten since in seven subsequent races, Arrogate is now being compared favourably with the legendary Secretariat, being described by trainer Bob Baffert before the race as “America’s Frankel on dirt”.
Veteran jockey Mike Smith had an open pre-race plan, declaring he would not be afraid to make the running, as he had done so successfully when Arrogate broke the track record in the Travers at Saratoga, but the 1-3 favourite was taking a nap when the stalls opened and completely blew the start again.
Baffert shook his head with disbelief and turned to his wife Jill and said: “We’ve come 8,500 miles (13,600km) and if we get out of jail here, Arrogate will be the best dirt horse I’ve ever seen’,
“It seems like we’ve only just said farewell to American Pharoah, our Triple Crown winner, and, while I hate comparing my horses, this fellow has to be number one.”
Being a big horse with a massive stride and the most amazing lung capacity, Arrogate was always going to improve with racing, but he still needs that early morning wake-up call.
Once in full flow, however, he was Seabiscuit and Arazi rolled into one as he picked off his rivals one by one, but he was still only fourth on the last bend and the leader, Gun Runner was showing no signs of stopping.
However, Smith, who keeps his nerves in the freezer, had never gone for the panic button, and Arrogate clocked an incredible 24.72sec for the final 400m, only missing California Chrome’s course record by 0.32s – and that having given his main rivals a 10- length start.
Reflecting on those two minutes in the pressure cooker, Smith said: “It was unreal what happened at the start – I was history but I said to myself, ‘Ok I’ll ride him like I rode Zenyatta’, and Arrogate showed that he can do anything. He went like the wind and once we hit the front at the furlong-pole we were easing down.”
Arrogate, whose earnings thus soar to a record $17-million, will now have the summer off before being prepared for the defence of his Breeders’ Cup Classic crown at Del Mar.
Godolphin’s Thunder Snow showed his undoubted ability is matched only by his courage when snatching the UAE Derby out of the fire, and, being proven on the dirt, might now head to Churchill Downs in an attempt to give Sheikh Mohammed that elusive first Kentucky Derby triumph.
Jack Hobbs and Vazirabad were the two stars on the turf on Saturday. John Gosden’s Irish Derby winner, who missed most of last season through injury, was hugely impressive when winning the Sheema Classic, and he’ll now take in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot en route to the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes there in July.
There were no excuses for Postponed, but Roger Varian hopes he’ll bounce back in the Coronation Cup at Epsom.
French-trained Vazirabad, who won the Dubai Gold Cup, would only be aimed at the Ascot Gold Cup if he got his favoured soft ground – the Goodwood Cup, which has been promoted to Group 1 status, is his main aim – while Godolphin’s Ribchester, who failed to stay the 1800m in the Dubai Turf, will now be aimed at the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May.
The UK turf season gets under way at Doncaster on Saturday, with the Lincoln Handicap.
I’ve had two wagers, YUFTEN, who prepped on the all-weather at Wolverhampton recently, is my number one, but save on Gosden’s SACRED ACT, who is as fragile as Dresden China but hugely talented.