x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A world stage grown on Bedouin rootstock

The horse is part of the local heritage, used by the Bedouin tribes wandering the deserts as a mode of transport as well as in war.

The horse is part of the local heritage, used by the Bedouin tribes wandering the deserts as a mode of transport as well as in war.

Every thoroughbred racehorse can be traced to one of three Purebred Arabian stallions and, today, as you drive past Godolphin's Al Quoz stables there is a huge Godolphin billboard by the road proclaiming "Bringing the Racehorse Home". The Godolphin Arabian was one of the three horses in question.

Whether you consider it a sport, a hobby or a business, horse racing is a truly multibillion dollar global industry. Oil has obviously helped to fund the region's large investments in the industry.

Take the breeding empires of the Maktoums, be it the Gainsborough Stud of the late Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed's Shadwell or Darley, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

All have required major investment in land, with Sheikh Mohammed's 1981 purchase of Dalham Hall in Newmarket, England, an early example.

He has since purchased Stonerside Stables in the United States and Australia's Woodlands Stud, to add to his long-established UK properties and Kildangan Stud in Ireland.

Clearly these acquisitions have not been cheap, but land and property values tend to appreciate.

We do not know how much Dalham Hall, for instance, cost but we do know it is worth an awful lot more now.

When a filly called Hatta won at Brighton in 1977, she became the first Maktoum-owned winner. Less than 20 years later, in 1994, Balanchine won the Epsom Oaks and Godolphin was born.

The clever part is that Sheikh Mohammed made it clear that it was "the Dubai-based Godolphin" who was to target the world's most prestigious horse races. Many at the time had no idea where Dubai was, but that soon changed.

And Sheikh Mohammed has not stopped innovating since; wintering his horses in the Dubai sunshine produced great rewards when mounts such as the Epsom Derby winner Lammtarra returned to Europe and hit the headlines.

Godolphin has Group 1 wins in 12 countries and recently celebrated its 200th such win. Having proved Group 1 and Classic winners could be wintered in Dubai, the next step came when Darley UAE was formed near Hatta to foal and raise them in the Emirates.

Horses carrying the UAE suffix were then racing around the world, including the 2010 Group 1 winner Cutlass Bay.

The joyous scenes of the Emirati jockey Ahmed Ajtebi celebrating in 2009 with the UAE flag draped around him after winning on Godolphin's Vale Of York at the Breeders' Cup added to the emirate's renown.

And, of course, there is the world's richest horse race, the now US$10 million (Dh36.7m) Dubai World Cup, again the brainchild of Sheikh Mohammed. Meydan Racecourse's predecessor, Nad Al Sheba, was opened in 1991 and traditionally hosted an international jockeys' challenge.

Watching one year, Sheikh Mohammed reportedly declared "we have had the world's best jockeys here, now we want the best horses". In 1996, the first Dubai World Cup was contested with Cigar, the best racehorse in the world, fittingly landing the spoils.

In 2002, the Dubai World Cup Carnival was launched as a springboard into the main event in March, and today its races are beamed to countries around the world, with runners coming competing for $35m in total.

Horse racing's eyes now stayed glued to Dubai from January to March.

Meanwhile, France's biggest race of the year, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, is sponsored by a Qatari enterprise, while in England, Channel 4 racing is "sponsored by Dubai"- further examples of the region's effortsat marketing abroad.

And it is certainly working.

The Dubai World Cup may not yet have the prestige of an Epsom Derby, a Breeders' Cup Classic or a Prix de L'arc de Triomphe, but the whole meeting has one thing in abundance - prize money.

And in these hard times the fixture's appeal gathers momentum. Last year, for the first time, Ireland's champion trainer Aidan O'Brien saddled runners in Dubai and was rewarded with a win in the UAE Derby and a second in the Sheema Classic. He is back for more this year.

The obvious Godolphin candidates, other local racers, the ever-strong South African challenge from Mike De Kock, and contenders from Japan, Germany, Qatar, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and Ireland will be represented this year.

Trade Storm, trained in the UK by David Simcock, is a particularly interesting runner. A winner twice already at the Carnival, he was sold privately and will be representing Qatari owners.

He joins a long list of horses, including those from South Africa and Brazil, who have found new owners as a result of their UAE exploits.

Trade Storm cost his original connections £1,500 (Dh8,736), won them more than £230,000 in prize money and would certainly have been sold on at a enormous profit. Another example of the benefit of showcasing your horse's talents on the world stage of Dubai.

 

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