Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Pat Valenzuela works Arazi at Churchill Downs in 1991. The jockey described the horse's run as 'the fastest turn of foot I've ever experienced'. Chris Wilkins / AFP
Pat Valenzuela works Arazi at Churchill Downs in 1991. The jockey described the horse's run as 'the fastest turn of foot I've ever experienced'. Chris Wilkins / AFP

When Azari put Dubai on the world map

A certain cute little chestnut colt's performance in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 1991 was something of a landmark in Dubai's history.

Well back into last century at Churchill Downs, the humongous horse track in Kentucky in the United States, a mysterious proper noun began popping up. We amateur geographers in the media room circa 1992 knew little about this "Dubai" although I do believe everybody did spell it correctly. We did not know much about what it meant or just where it reposed on the globe. It did have some sort of mystical sound, as if it might gleam with castles.

One excellent horse-racing writer called it "a pristine country on the [Arabian] Gulf where the roads are perfect, the schools and hospitals are free and there is no income tax".

And while he erred some in there - emirate, not "country" many of us Yanks, forever flanked by oceans, probably would have remained completely oblivious to this "Dubai" for several more years were it not for a cute little chestnut colt with a blaze from the middle of his forehead to his right nostril.

______________

More

Underdogs bark loud on a night of upsets at Dubai World Cup
Presvis keeps his cool to hold off River Jetez
Victory for Japan at the World Cup gives a ravaged nation hope
Prestige of the Dubai World Cup keeps getting bigger
Emotions run high on Dubai World Cup night of delight for Victoire Pisa
_______________

In those ancient days of no internet, no mobile phones and scant 24-hour news channels how ever did we persist with breathing? Arazi made us know about Dubai.

The previous November, Arazi had come as an interloper to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he blew the doors off the thing with a charge so searing that it counted as singular. He faced his first left-turn dirt course and an outside post of No 14 but, as Paul Moran of New York's Newsday wrote it, "The French colt not only leapt the stacked deck without taking notice of the obstacle but ran a race for which no frame of reference has ever been supplied by a two-year-old."

Pat Valenzuela, the veteran jockey, called it "the fastest turn of foot I've ever experienced". Shug McGaughey, the veteran trainer, went with "the greatest performance I've ever seen by a horse" - his own charge had finished fourth - and the celebrated announcer, Tom Durkin, punctuated the stretch run with, "Here indeed is a superstar!"

As sport again took its most excellent role as bridge-maker, everyone began referring to this far-off Dubai because Arazi's owners included the jet magnate Allen Paulson, but also Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, who had grown so enchanted with Arazi in Europe that he had persisted until Paulson sold him a half-interest in the colt.

From there to the next May, Arazi turned three years old and dominated the chatter sweeping into the Kentucky Derby, the most important race in the United States, even as he underwent knee surgery in November. The word "Dubai" became familiar well beyond the arcane circles of horse sales. Fascination with Sheikh Mohammed grew.

When Arazi won a preparatory race in France in April, the International Herald Tribune noted the Sheikh's arrival at the track with, "His hair was perfect. His body was perfect. His suit was absolutely perfect."

Dubai became part of the annual Kentucky Derby tapestry as 18 contestants gathered at Churchill Downs for one of the more unique - and maybe even absurd - lead-in weeks of the 136 that have transpired. From barn to track and back to barn, multitudes followed Arazi as if he held some secret for eternal youth. The commotion seemed to grate upon the trainer Francois Boutin as he sought to concentrate.

Idle talk strayed once or twice to the remarkable confluence of Sheikh Mohammed and the rapper MC Hammer among debut Derby owners, but all talk hurried back to Arazi. Would he try the US Triple Crown or the Epsom Derby?

With a jockey for Europe and a jockey for the US, the European half, Steve Cauthen, said, "Nothing will beat him in the Kentucky Derby. Everything about him is perfect. He is so intelligent and relaxed."

Well, in the thick cavalry charge of May 2, 1992, Arazi made his captivating bolt until his gas gauge struck "E". He finished eighth. It counted as decrescendo.

Still, Dubai had entered many new consciousnesses through sport, and would remain there as Sheikh Mohammed continued trying to win the Kentucky Derby and as Dubai gained renown for other matters not involving chestnut colts.

It marks time, then, to note that almost 20 years on from Arazi's rush, 14 horses from six countries made off last night in the Dubai World Cup at a gleaming castle of racing called Meydan Racecourse. Dubai has become an entrenched entity. Everybody knows about Dubai. The proper phrase "Dubai World Cup" always turns up around a phrase such as "world's richest horse race".

From those primordial days of Arazi to the lush rush of 14 for the giant prize, you can measure Dubai's headway into final frontiers of global awareness.

Appraising history through horses might seem frivolous except that it also might be flawless. Given all they have done and endured for humanity, they probably even deserve the distinction.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 The Retreat at the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa will screen IPL games on request. Lee Hoagland / The National

Top five places to catch an IPL game in the UAE

Enjoy all the 20/20 cricket action at a sports lounge near you – whether in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain or Dubai

This April 17 don’t take our word, we’ll take yours

Have a catchy caption for our picture above? Share it with us.

 Fans braved long queues and early morning hassles to buy IPL tickets in person rather than buy them online, such has been the enthusiasm for the tournament. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

Love it, hate it but IPL is too big to be ignored

The tournament steamrolls its way through life perennially from the throes of extinction to the prospect of expansion; alive one moment through its on-field spectacle, dying the next because of another off-field wrangle.

 An employee plays the game Flappy Bird at a smartphone store in Hanoi. Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP

How Flappy Bird made app developer $50,000 a day

The game propelled the unknown Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen to rock-star status.

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world today

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National