DUBAI // Meydan's debut as venue for the Dubai World Cup will linger long in the memory after last night's breathtaking finish to the US$10m (Dh36.7m) classic saw a courageous Gloria de Campeao hold off the storming challenges of Lizard's Desire and Allybar in a three-way photo finish. The packed galleries at the new course, which has proved to be a wonderful replacement for the traditional home of Nad al Sheba, the host of the world's richest meeting for the previous 14 years, were convinced that they were witnessing a night of glory for locally based trainer Mike de Kock.
The South African handler, who had earlier saddled a stunning one-two in the UAE Derby, looked like he had finally earned an elusive first success in the main event when his Lizard's Desire came with a storming finish under the powerful driving of jockey Kevin Shea. Similarly Ahmad Ajtebi, the brilliant Emirati jockey who was the hero of last year's meeting by completing a rapid turf double in the Dubai Duty Free and Sheema Classic, thought he was on the verge of even greater glory as he coaxed Allybar into what seemed to be a decisive late burst for the finish line.
Photographic evidence ruled against both local hopes as the judge declared "Gloria" the winner by the margin of a nose and a short head from his two close pursuers. Stefan Friborg, owner of Gloria de Campeao, was mentally drained afterwards. "When he crossed the line he [Portuguese jockey Tiago Pereira] felt he had won but when he saw the replay he was not so sure. "He went from a feeling of elation to deflation and then elation again after hearing the judge's announcement.
"We are all so delighted. Gloria is a great fighter he has such a big heart. He certainly proved that onight. We all thought that it might be third time lucky for us in this race and that's how it has worked out for us." Pascal Bary, the winning trainer, was also ecstatic at securing the $6m payday to follow the $1.2m runner-up prize of last year. He said: "My horse has been in good shape all through the season and he arrived here in better condition than he was last year [when he was a distant second behind the record-breaking winner Well Armed]
"He won at the first meeting held at Meydan and was just touched off last time here by Red Desire so we had every confidence that things would go well for us tonight." It was a remarkable front-running feat by "Gloria" who simply refused to be headed as challenger after challenger tried in vain to go past her in what turned into one of the finest races in the 15-year history of this showpiece event.
Enthusiasm for one of the favourites Vision D'Etat dwindled a few hours before the big race when it was discovered that the French-trained five-year-old was forced to undergo a vet's examination before being cleared to take part. Concerns over stiffness in the 2008 French Derby winner's limbs led to his surrendering his place as favourite to Twice Over, whom he had defeated at Royal Ascot last year, and another of the British raiders Gitando Hernando.
The world's richest race, which finished 80 long minutes after the preceding Dubai Sheema Classic, brought down the curtain on another short but eventful UAE season and completed a smooth transition to the new venue of Meydan from Nad Al Sheba. First time visitors to the ultra-modern Meydan venue were surely impressed, despite frustrations in gaining access and entry to the course. The packed stands and terracing along the finishing straight looked a picture as "Gloria" gloriously completed another magnificent international sporting occasion in the UAE.