x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

So near, so far for De Kock

Trainer's dream of maiden victory shattered by judge's verdict on blanket finish in the world's riches race.

Gloria de Campeao, second from right, beat Lizard's Desire in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse on Saturday.
Gloria de Campeao, second from right, beat Lizard's Desire in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse on Saturday.

DUBAI // Mike de Kock has enjoyed more than his fair share of success coaxing the best out of temperamental thoroughbreds in his second home of the UAE, but the South African trainer remains frustrated in his quest to nail the biggest prize of all.

He will be wondering how that elusive dream is still unfulfilled after his unheralded and unfancied gelding Lizard's Desire was denied victory in the world's richest race by the length of his nose. "We were the winner a jump past the line," said De Kock after hearing the judge's verdict - a surprise announcement to many in a crowd of more than 50,000 at the Meydan Racecourse - that Gloria de Campeao, not Lizard's Desire, had bagged the record prize of US$6million (Dh22m) from the $10m Dubai World Cup purse.

The verdict came as a shock in view of the way the principal protagonists in an epic finale to the first staging of the World Cup meeting at its new Dubai home behaved after the most exciting of blanket finishes. Ahmad Ajtebi, who may have won himself on Allybar in a few more strides, sportingly hunted down Lizard's Desire's jockey Kevin Shea to offer a congratula-tory handshake which an overjoyed Shea accepted with relish.

Those celebratory scenes knocked the wind out of the sails of Tiago Pereira who initially thought he had managed to keep Gloria de Campeao's head in front for every centimetre of the 2,000 metres battle but then concluded misguidedly that he had been overtaken right on the line. It was two agonising minutes before his despair turned to delight with the news his mount had held on and that he would as a consequence be entitled to 10 per cent of that massive winner's cheque.

Contrast that with the mood of Shea who saw his bounty of $600,000 cut to $200,000. "It's a very bitter pill to swallow but I've got to swallow it," said the South African rider about the moment that will surely haunt him for the rest of his career. "When I looked up it was just after the line and I was in front, so I thought I had got it," added Shea who had earlier been runner-up in the principal Turf race of the meeting - the Dubai Duty Free.

Ajtebi, who was the hero of this meeting a year ago when it was staged at Nad Al Sheba where he recorded a magnificent Duty Free/Sheema Classic double, offered a similar hard luck story. "There was a gap but my horse wouldn't take it," he reflected after being placed third a short-head behind Shea. "If he takes the gap we win by several lengths." Despite the thrilling finale to what was a hugely enjoyable meeting, students of form were asking searching World Cup questions for the second successive year with the American wonder horse Curlin the key to those inquiries.

Curlin fulfilled all expectations in 2008, winning by nearly eight lengths under the expert guidance of Robbie Albarado, the American jockey, and was rightly acclaimed as a rival for his illustrious predecessor Cigar, the inaugural World Cup champion in 1996, as the race's greatest winner. Hammered into third place that day was Well Armed, who last year to set a record winning margin of 14 lengths from, who else, Gloria de Campeao.

Curlin was undoubtedly a fitting claimant of the richest prize in the Sport of Kings. The two horses who have followed him into the winner's enclosure cannot, sadly, be mentioned in the same breath whenever a DWC Hall of Fame is discussed. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae