Top-level international racing is fairly black and white but the age-old argument about whether performance or success is the decisive factor in sport will be brought to the fore tonight at Meydan Racecourse.
Coaches in nearly every sport are preoccupied in an attempt to find the balance between building up a team to peak at a certain competition and maintaining the confidence that only winning can provide.
In racing, the philosophy is geared more towards victory, but in the pressure cooker of the Dubai World Cup Carnival the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) purse on offer for the richest race on the planet often casts a shadow over the 10-week event.
Variety Club will enter the starting gate Thursday alongside eight others in the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes as the highest-rated thoroughbred to line up at Meydan this season.
South Africa’s dual horse of the year looks tailor-made for the Dubai Duty Free on March 29 over nine furlongs on turf, ahead of all the world’s top mile races on turf, through to the Hong Kong Mile in December.
The six-year-old stallion has won 14 of his 19 starts and is unbeaten in his past eight. On form, there is little to beat the quadruple Group 1 winner, with the exception of Mike de Kock’s Mars, who is the only other horse in the US$200,000 (Dh734,000) contest that has not raced for more than 200 days.
Even though Variety Club is owned by Markus Jooste, one of South Africa’s richest men, the lure of Dubai World Cup riches has skewed his thinking, and tonight’s 1,600-metre contest on Tapeta, the World Cup surface, has been chosen as the starting point.
“No matter which horse it is, if they haven’t raced for eight months and travelled half way across the world you’d be pretty satisfied with a first run into second or third,” said Joey Ramsden, Variety Club’s trainer. “Of course, there is a bigger picture other than the Firebreak, but when you’ve worked hard to work up a string of wins it is going to hurt if he doesn’t win; it’s a proud record.”
Heavy Metal, also a South African runner, made his Meydan debut three weeks ago in the Al Fahidi Fort on turf before trying Tapeta for the first time when 10th in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 last week.
Sean Tarry, the trainer, decided not to fly over Heavy Metal’s regular rider for either race, but Ramsden is keen on a team ethos and to reacquaint Variety Club with Anton Marcus, Jooste’s retained rider who last rode in the UAE when taking the Dubai Duty Free aboard Jay Peg in 2008.
Like Heavy Metal, Variety Club’s route to Dubai from South Africa was overseen by De Kock, but where Tarry missed Heavy Metal’s first Dubai race Ramsden has been overseeing Variety Club’s training at Meydan for two weeks.
“Before arriving I saw Variety Club in Mauritius in September,” Ramsden said. “He looks fantastic. He is a big, round, bull of an individual and as he’s another year older so he has filled out further.
“It’s going to be a tough race, but he’d have to run pretty dismally to not be competitive. He has trained well and, although the logical target for him is the Duty Free, if he puts in a good performance it might leave us scratching our heads.”