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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 April 2019

A night of Godolphin glory at Dubai's Meydan racecourse

Sheikh Mohammed’s global racing operation makes history as its horse, Thunder Snow, wins Dubai World Cup for second consecutive year

It was sealed with a salute. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, arrived on the podium to collect the Dubai World Cup for the second year running, he acknowledged the crowd of ecstatic home-grown racing fans with a simple tap of the forehead. Last year, there was a little jig. This year, it was a little more understated.

But as fireworks lit up the night sky over Meydan, the significance of the occasion was not lost on any of the thousands who attended the races on Saturday. Thunder Snow, trained by Saeed bin Suroor, became the first horse to win the world’s richest race on two occasions, winning a prize of $7.2 million (Dh26.45m). The noise that greeted horse and jockey as the they arrived in the winner’s enclosure would have been heard all the way back in Newmarket, where Mr bin Suroor trains Sheikh Mohammed’s horses. “I was here last year,” an Emirati man shouted, his phone recording every moment. “It’s better this year.”

The victory capped an extraordinary day for Godolphin, Sheikh Mohammed’s global racing operation. The Dubai Ruler's stable had already had three winners and, in truth, as Thunder Snow came round the final bend in the Dubai World Cup, that seemed to be all there would be. He was travelling well enough without ever really looking like the winner. But under a dogged ride by Christophe Soumillon, Thunder Snow seemed to keep finding something and, with his head lowered and ears back, eventually ground down the admirable Gronkowski in a photo finish. “I am so proud of him,” said an emotional Mr Soumillon afterwards.

The Godolphin party had already begun — and frankly, probably hasn’t finished yet — when Cross Counter, who won the Melbourne Cup in November, asserted himself over stablemate Ispolini in the closing stages of the Dubai Gold Cup.

“It’s what tonight is all about,” said British trainer Charlie Appleby afterwards. “It’s good to get the first one out of the way.” Mr Appleby did not have to wait long for the next victory. Blue Point put the following race, the Al Quoz Sprint, to bed authoritatively enough before Old Persian, again ridden by William Buick, took the Dubai Sheema Classic.

Not that anyone was complaining when the spoils went elsewhere, of course. The immensely popular Japanese-trained filly Almond Eye romped home in the Dubai Turf, prompting a mini festival at the winner’s enclosure as dozens and dozens of Japanese flags shot up into the air. “Something special,” one man whispered. “Not of this world,” his friend replied. These thoroughbreds have a strange ability to make us misty-eyed.

With its panoramic views and otherworldly grandstand, Meydan is a striking racecourse at any time of the day. But after the sun goes down, it acquires a magical quality. The floodlights seem to mark a boundary at the far edges of the course, cocooning visitors in a little slice of racing paradise. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating in the swanky Winner’s Circle restaurant or grabbing something on the hoof below the free grandstand. If you’re at the track at all on Dubai World Cup night, you’re in the right place.

For British racing fan, James Chidgey, just getting out there has long been an ambition. “I saw the first Dubai World Cup on television in 1996 and thought, ‘I’ve got to go there,’” he said. “What a stunning grandstand.” There are visitors here from all over the world. A man from Sudan made his first trip; a woman from Germany had been coming back for the past 14 years. It, truly, was an all-singing, all-dancing global gathering.

And we must not forget the fashion, either. As one racegoer said indignantly when asked for a tip, “We don’t know about horses!” Anything seems to go at Meydan on Dubai World Cup night.

People dressed to impress on Saturday and the place thrummed with colour. There are yellows and reds, oranges and greens. A gentleman in a mint green suit posed for a photograph with a lady in a lavender dress. Her hat was a flurry of extravagant feathers, the result perhaps of an unfortunate accident involving a lawnmower and a peacock. Another woman brushed past, her outfit so shockingly pink it made bystanders recoil.

Everyone looked fabulous — and didn’t they just know it, as the queues to enter the “Best Dressed” competitions attested.

But however eye-catching the outfits, the action on the track ensured that there was only ever going to be one colour that people will remember from the day — and that’s the bright blue of Godolphin carried by Thunder Snow into the history books.

Updated: March 31, 2019 08:44 AM

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