x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Calm before the storm to finish line

Horses participating in this weekend's Dubai World Cup "know something special is about to happen" a trainer says.

Groom Mohammed Faisal holds racehorse Maraheb at Grandstand Stables at Meydan Racetrack in Dubai.
Groom Mohammed Faisal holds racehorse Maraheb at Grandstand Stables at Meydan Racetrack in Dubai.

DUBAI // Over the coming week, calm will come to the Grandstand Stables at Meydan Racecourse. The multi-million-dirham horses housed here will break their daily routine and training will slow in anticipation of the racing world's richest day.

The Dubai World Cup, which takes place a week from today at Meydan, attracts some of the biggest names in the industry in pursuit of the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) top prize.

"When they are prepared, the horse knows something special is going to happen," said Ghulam Jilani Siddiqui, assistant to Ali Rashid Al Raihe, the stables' trainer. "They are going racing. Each and every day, the horse has the same routine. Then all of a sudden on this one day, they come in and they're cleaning him up, putting on his bandages."

Daily activity at the stables, which house 80 horses, usually starts at 4am.

The thoroughbreds avoid the stifling heat and most come from stock raised in cooler climes.

By 9.30am, four sets of 20 horses have been taken out for a gallop by the stable riders and jockeys.

"They warm up first and then go for their run," Mr Siddiqui said.

Later in the week, the horses' training will slow. By Thursday, they will go into the breeze stage, which is moderate running.

"They will be fresh for the day," Mr Siddiqui said.

Sagat Singh has seen many World Cup mornings.

The first Dubai World Cup was held in 1996 at Nad Al Sheba. As a foreman at the stables for nearly 18 of those years, Mr Singh knows all the horses, current and past. Each horse, he said, is treated with equal dedication.

"It is the same every year," he said, "but the World Cup day can be special."

As the Grandstand Stables are close to the track, Mr Singh will spend World Cup day shuttling between the stables at Meydan and his own.

Mr Siddiqui will groom the horses before they leave the stables. Some of the horses wear bandages.

"It's a little bit of support for them," he explained. "When galloping, their back legs can touch their front legs and they can get a cut. When they feel it, they don't want to scratch themselves so they slow down."

After that the horses are transported to the manicured track, five minutes away, which is in use only 20 nights a year.

"Some horses are very relaxed and don't mind," Mr Siddiqui said. "Some horses know they are going to race and they start to get jumpy and nervous."

They are stabled at the track half an hour before their race, then walk the two-kilometre tunnel to the saddling area, which has cork flooring and walls to protect the horses.

As race time nears, the horses enter the parade ring where they are met by their owners and trainers and some of the 80,000 expected spectators will take a look, trying to recognise a winning horse.

Some fans look for nervousness, others for pent-up energy or a lack thereof. Then the horses are moved out to the manicured track.

Last year's World Cup winner was an outsider, Victoire Pisa, and Transcend completed the 1-2 placing for Japan. It was the first victory by a Japanese horse in Dubai World Cup history.

This year there will be nine races on the night. The three most valuable races are the $5m Dubai Sheema Classic, the $5m Dubai Duty Free and the $10m Dubai World Cup. The other Group One races are the Dubai Golden Shaheen, the Al Quoz Sprint and the Dubai Kahayla Classic for purebred Arabians.

There are two Group Two races, the UAE Derby and Godolphin Mile. The Dubai Gold Cup will join the programme as a 3,200-metre Group Three turf event with a purse of $1m.

"The horses know it's a big day," Mr Singh said. "World Cup day is the biggest day on the calendar for everybody."

eharnan@thenational.ae

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