DUBAI // The Dubai World Cup Carnival officially opens tonight with the first meeting of the two-day Meydan Masters jockeys' championship.
Twelve of the world's top jockeys will descend on Dubai's home of racing for the third renewal of the contest, which concludes tomorrow evening.
The participating jockeys together won 61 Group 1 races around the world during 2011 and include the winning riders of the Dubai World Cup, Caulfield Cup, WS Cox Plate, Melbourne Cup, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
In previous years the Meydan Masters had been held in February on the same two nights as major races, but the Dubai Racing Club (DRC) took the decision to bring the challenge forward as a stand-alone event.
"The Meydan Masters had been run alongside the double-header weekend which included a couple of Group 2 contests, the Al Fahidi Fort and the Balanchine," Martin Talty, DRC's racing manager, said.
"We felt it took a little bit away from those races and so decided that it would be a good way to kick off the World Cup carnival at the start of the season."
In its inaugural year, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid's first jockey, the British rider Richard Hills, claimed the Masters crown. Last year Calvin Borel, the US jockey and Kentucky Derby hero, took the honours.
This year 12 jockeys will fight for the title, including the young Frenchman Mikael Barzalona, who won the 2011 Epsom Derby with Pour Moi. Also in the line-up is the Norway-born William Buick, who dons the familiar yellow colours for Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid while in the UAE and rides for John Gosden, the top British trainer, in Europe.
Mirco Demuro, the 2011 Dubai World Cup winner, Godolphin's superstar rider, Frankie Dettori and top French jockeys Maxime Guyon and Christophe Lemaire also compete.
Japan's Kenichi Ikezoe and the globe-trotting Australian Craig Williams are making their Meydan Racecourse debuts.
They will face the three-time British champion Ryan Moore, the Irish rider Tom Queally, who has ridden super colt Frankel to every one of his nine victories, and Aidan O'Brien's jockey, Colm O'Donoghue.
Moore, who claimed both the English Derby and Oaks in 2010 with Workforce and Snow Fairy respectively, said he was looking forward to his third Meydan Masters.
"Jockeys' championships tend to be a more light-hearted competition compared some of the high-pressure meetings that you ride at, but we're all sportsmen and every jockey in the parade ring will be doing their utmost to beat every other jockey," he said.
For Mirco Demuro, the return to Meydan Racecourse will bring back some very happy memories. "It's a very special place for me," said Demuro, who arrived in the UAE for New Year's Eve and got some practice riding at Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club on New Year's Day.
"I won the biggest race of my life here in Dubai so I am very happy to come back."
In fact, so happy is Demuro to be back, that he is hoping to stay on in the UAE after the Meydan Masters is over.
"I am here and if I can stay on then I will," he said. "I am looking to see if there are going to be some rides for me during the Carnival and if so then I will stay here for the season."
Talty said that jockeys' championships tend to be crowd pleasers, which was why DRC decided to reschedule the double-header.
"It's like any sport, if you can bring the biggest names together then people are going to be interested," he said. "We have had the likes of Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori here before, of course, but it's the first time that Craig Williams and Kenichi Ikezoe have ridden here so we are looking forward to seeing them."
The jockeys do not know until just before the race which horses they will be riding as they are allotted their mounts in a draw. Points will be awarded according to the positions in which the jockeys finish with the rider with the most points taking the overall victory.
No magical recovery as an injured Snow Fairy misses out on Dubai
Snow Fairy will once again miss out on a trip to Dubai after Ed Dunlopís globe-trotting mare failed to recover from injury. Dunlop had hoped to run his five year old in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan Racecourse on March 31.
Snow Fairy was injured in a routine morning exercise at Sha Tin in December before her challenge in the Hong Kong Vase. The dual English Oaks winner, who has amassed over Dh20 million in her 19-race career, was expected to contest the turf feature last year in Dubai but had to pull out due to lameness.