Nine races and 13 countries represented, Dubai World Cup the real ‘Olympics of horse racing’
When trainer Jessica Harrington won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in England on Friday with Sizing John she mentioned that the four-day National Hunt Festival was the “Olympics of horse racing”.
If there is any comparison to be made at all between the premier world athletics event and horse racing it can only be the Dubai World Cup meeting at Meydan racecourse next Saturday.
Horses running over fences sourced mainly from England and the Republic of Ireland is no comparison to the 13 countries who will be sending horses to Dubai to compete for a part of the $US30 million (Dh6.5m) in prize-money available across the nine races.
The Dubai World Cup is one of five races on the night to be held on dirt, with the UAE Derby, Dubai Golden Shaheen and the Godolphin Mile also taking place on the surface.
The Dubai Kahayla Classic, for Purebred Arabian horses, is also a dirt race. The other four, the Dubai Sheema Classic, Dubai Turf, Al Quoz Sprint and Dubai Gold Cup are run on turf.
■ Dubai World Cup: Information guide
■ Dubai World Cup: Line-up announced
■ Dubai World Cup: Arrogate ready to run
The main talking point ahead of the build-up to the race is that the action at Meydan is a stage on which the world’s best horse Arrogate can show what he is capable of on his first trip abroad and without the diuretic drug Lasix, which has performance-enhancing qualities and is banned on race day in the UAE.
Arrogate leads a huge American team of 14 in total, but the Breeders’ Cup and Pegasus World Cup winner is one of only two international horses considered favourite for any of the thoroughbred races on dirt. The other is Chad Summer’s Mind Your Biscuits, who bids to give the United States a second win in the $US2m Dubai Golden Shaheen sprint since Meydan returned from Tapeta to dirt for the 2015 season.
The UAE has assembled 45 horses across the card with which to defend each race from the international raiders and Godolphin’s Thunder Snow looks the most likely to fly the country’s standard with success in the UAE Derby.
Satish Seemar’s North America has a strong chance in the Godolphin Mile, but faces the dangerous US-challenger Sharp Azteca.
Ali Rashid Al Rayhi’s sprinter Ertijaal is a rare UAE favourite for a turf race but his fine form this season means the Al Quoz Sprint, run this year for the first time over 1,200 metres, is within his grasp.
None of those horses mentioned have previously won a race on World Cup night, but there will be five defending champions on show, in addition to Lani, the Japanese raider who won the UAE Derby 12 months ago who runs in the World Cup itself.
Al Rayhi will saddle Muarrab in the Dubai Gold Shaheen with the intention of emulating the American sprinter Caller One who won at Nad Al Sheba in 2001 and 2002.
AF Mathmoon, who has also transferred to Al Rayhi’s stable, will bid to become the first horse since Madjani’s third Kahayla Classic in 2007 to win back-to-back in the Arabian race.
The Dubai Gold Cup has barely been around long enough to have multiple winners, having first been staged in 2012, so France’s Vazriabad will be seen as a pathfinder, as will Postponed in the Dubai Sheema Classic and Japan’s Real Steel in the Dubai Turf.
Arrogate arrived in Dubai this week and had a sighter of the Meydan dirt surface for the first time on Friday. His fellow American World Cup challenger Gun Runner and Sharp Azteca have cleared quarantine and were out at Meydan on Saturday morning.
Let the games begin.
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Updated: March 18, 2017 04:00 AM