Author: Derek Thompson
IT’S 25 YEARS since I said into my microphone at Nad al Sheba racecourse, “they’re off in the very first running of the Dubai World Cup”, and now a quarter of a century later the whole meeting is off due to the virus that is sweeping the world. It’s a great shame of course in having to call it off but safety must come first and the right decision has been made even though it will cause despair and hardship. Top class horses are trained for the day and they have flown long distances from all over the world but despite all this the organisers have rightfully decided to call if off. They will miss out on the prestige of competing at such a top meeting and they will also miss out of the massive prize money for owners, trainers, jockeys and stable staff.
But the Dubai World Cup will be run next year and it will belatedly be the ‘25th running.’ A lot has changed since the great Cigar came up the home straight to take the prize back to America in 1996 and so put Dubai on the International Racing Map! It was a great piece of statesmanship by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum to stage the race in the first place and it didn’t come cheap! “There are an awful lot of noughts there” he joked with me one night after pointing out the proposed value of the race and he was right, there were a lot, but he put the money up and the world came to compete and watch. I remember him asking me, and a few others I believe, what distance we should have the race and I immediately answered, “a mile and a quarter because it will attract mile and a half horses as well as milers and it should be the optimum distance.”
And so the Dubai World Cup was born and how fitting that the legend that was Cigar should win the first running because he was a superstar in America and although his owner took a bit of persuading it certainly paid off because the race received live coverage in the States and with Cigar winning it made world wide headlines and it put Dubai and the UAE not just on the racing map but the world map! In those days the race took place at the old Nad Al Sheba racetrack and although the grandstand was much smaller there was a great feel and atmosphere to the place. The golf club house which was next door to the grandstand boasted the best restaurant in Dubai and many winning jockeys and race connections celebrated the night away in this great place. A new grandstand had to come of course to house the many more visitors and so Meydan was born and the biggest racecourse grandstand in the world was built.
It will be empty on Saturday because of the virus that is disrupting lives and sport all around the world. It has been postponed once before and that was because of rain which I’ve never seen the like of before or since that lashed Dubai over 20 years ago. “Don’t worry it just a passing shower” were the words I used from the commentary box as I tried to reassure the racegoers that it would stop raining. It did stop but not for another week!! Some of the world’s greatest ever horses have won the Dubai World Cup in those 24 years, Cigar was the first and one of the best, Dubai Millenium was awesome in millennium year, Arrogate was incredible and then there was Thunder Snow who became the first horse to win it twice. It’s hard to pick a favourite but the late Dubai Millenium will always stand out and I remember commentating not just on his big race win but his very first race at Yarmouth which he won with authority.
Tragically he died just a year later having sired only 56 foals and one of those turned out to be the legend that is Dubawi. He is buried at Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket and his grave is one of the first places I visit when I am at the stud. Dubai Millenium was trained by Saeed bin Suroor who also trained Thunder Snow and has somehow managed to train the winner of the often world’s richest race on no less than nine occasions, incredible! And what about Arrogate whose last to first victory was the most amazing Flat race I have ever seen! He must have given his rivals ten lengths start and despite having the sand from the track kicked in his face by his rivals virtually all the way he still somehow managed to win under Mike Smith for the California trainer Bob Baffert. It was amazing! It’s a shame It wont be happening on Saturday but it’s the same over here indeed it’s a total lockdown in the UK at the moment with no racing at all.
Indeed it’s off until the end of April at least! The traditional flat season opener the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster which was supposed to have been run this Saturday is off and so is next week’s Grand National which has deprived Tiger Roll of trying to win the race for a record breaking third consecutive time! There’s no Craven Meeting at Newmarket and who knows the virus might affect the Guineas, the Derby and Royal Ascot! Let’s stay healthy, beat the virus and get back enjoying our sport!