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Pointers to bright future on World Cup night

Author: Howard Wright

05/04/2018
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New names, old names; horses coming from behind to win, others following the golden Meydan dirt highway by scorching away from the front; track records by the barrowload; and a scare or two before class prevailed. The 23rd staging of Dubai World Cup night had something for everyone. Everyone except the British contingent of horses, that is. They drew a blank for the first time since 2013, and several connections will have to go back to the drawing board to rethink a policy of bringing horses that can be competitive on the world’s most international stage for the richest prize money on a single programme.

There were two standout performances by the Brits: Sheikhzayedroad, on his fifth consecutive appearance at the meeting, fully justified trainer David Simcock’s faith that he would improve on his prep run and ran home a gallant second to Vazirabad in the Dubai Gold Cup. Then Poet’s Word, carrying the colours of local, Saeed Suhail, occupied the same finishing position behind Hawkbill in the Dubai Sheema Classic, the third time trainer Sir Michael Stoute, who won with Fantastic Light in 2000, has occupied the runner-up spot. “Second place is no good,” Stoute had said earlier in the week when reminded of his previous near misses, but although Poet’s Word, who gave Frankie Dettori his only good cheer of the evening, could not repeat the losing margin of a nose recorded by Fantastic Light in 2001 and Spanish Moon in 2009, he did run with sufficient credit to suggest he will be a force in middle distance races in the UK this year.

For the rest of the British squad and much of the Irish brigade, though, the trip provided an escape from horrible weather back home but no joy. Dettori had a miserable time on Big Orange, 12th in the Dubai Gold Cup, where Dal Harraild failed to sparkle for the otherwise in form William Haggas team, finishing 15th, and Torcedor, Jessica Harrington’s first runner on the card, brought up the tail in 16th. There was a similar tale of woe in the Al Quoz, where Librisa Breeze, despite being highest rated, finished ninth, and Dettoriridden Magical Memory last of 13, a place ahead of Ireland’s carnival winner Hit The Bid, while John Gosden’s sole runner on the programme, Monarch’s Glen, also piloted by Dettori, beat just one of 14 rivals in the Dubai Turf.

To complete the British rout, Desert Encounter and Khalidi claimed the last two places in the ten runner Dubai Sheema Classic. Khalidi’s jockey Silvestre de Sousa summed up: “They were better than him.” He could have been talking for most of the British team. For the Irish and French there were high spots mixed with the low. Mendelssohn, the star of Aidan O’Brien’s seven strong challenge, sent scribes scurrying for the history books after winning the UAE Derby by 18 and a half lengths in a track best time, and Vazirabad, trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre for the Aga Khan, etched his own name in the night’s records by becoming the first Thoroughbred to win three times on the card, with subsequent World Cup winner Christophe Soumillon timing his run to perfection in the Dubai Gold Cup.

As expected, US trainers dominated the 6f races. The Peter Miller pairing of Stormy Liberal and Conquest Liberal were touched off by Godolphin’s first winner of the night, Jungle Cat in the Al Quoz Sprint, but normal service was resumed when last year’s Golden Shaheen winner Mind Your Biscuits wore down X Y Jet and Roy H for a US 1-2-3. Mind Your Biscuits thus joined Caller One, Firebreak and Vazirabad as the only Thoroughbreds to have won the same race on the card more than once. Elsewhere, it was Godolphin, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum with Heavy Metal in the Godolphin Mile, all the way, with a carbon copy of the team’s overall performance in the Dubai World Cup Carnival, where they won exactly half of the races up for grabs. Saturday’s eight Thoroughbred prizes were split 50- 50 between Godolphin and the rest, and the four Godolphin rewards were split 50-50 between Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor.

Appleby had never eclipsed Bin Suroor in four previous sessions of the carnival, but this year he came out on top. Nor had Appleby ever saddled a winner on World Cup night. This year he broke through with Jungle Cat, after stablemate and favourite Blue Point had been withdrawn at the start on vet’s advice, and doubled his score with Hawkbill, who returned to Group One winning form under an inspired William Buick front running ride in the Sheema Classic. Just as throughout the carnival, the rivalry between Godolphin and the rest was a fascinating feature of Saturday’s proceedings. There was another throwback to the carnival, in that interest was added by what seemed to be a competition within a competition, between the two Godolphin trainers, who had shaken hands for the cameras at Thursday’s Breakfast With the Stars, as if to confirm to the world that they are on the same side.

Godolphin’s backstage administration has experienced some high profile changes in the last nine months, while its international on track performances have reached familiar heights. There seemed to be an unusually high turnout of prominent Godolphin figures in Dubai last week, with top level management decisions rumoured to have been discussed. Nevertheless, for those who look on from the sidelines, it was comforting to see so many of the ‘old’ faces in attendance: David Loder, Simon Crisford, Anthony Stroud and Alan Byrne were all spotted in close proximity to the principals, although, of course, one or two members of the previous hierarchy were missing. Horses aside, perhaps the abiding memories of the days leading up to Saturday and the big night itself revolve around Sheikh Mohammed, creator of the World Cup wonder and the Meydan miracle.

His attendance at Wednesday’s post position draw for only the second time in 23 years prompted a suggestion that maybe a massive announcement would be forthcoming; the World Cup to be worth more than the Pegasus, for example, but no, this was Sheikh Mohammed taking a few hours out of his busy schedule to mingle with racing folk. Then on Thursday night, Sheikh Mohammed attended the special awards event he has instigated, and finally on Saturday he turned owner, racegoer and family man, making his first public appearance when inspecting runners for the Kahayla Classic, and his last when performing a celebratory jig on the podium after Thunder Snow had claimed his seventh Dubai World Cup, including Singspiel’s 1997 success in his personal colours.

All the while, Sheikh Mohammed was accompanied by members of his family, ranging from the oldest, Sheikh Hamdan, to the youngest, his grandchildren, whom he guided hand in hand, while his younger children Sheikha Al Jalila and Sheikh Zayed joined in on the winner’s podium. The future of horse racing in Dubai would seem to be in good hands.

Howard Wright

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