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In Flat racing, there is nothing quite like it. Where else in a single day’s racing could you hope to see Britain’s favourite mare Ouija Board, Japan’s new dirt star Kane Hekili, and top US performers such as Brass Hat and Choctaw Nation? To that list, add the Argentine-raised Chiquitin and Simpatico Bribon, labelled “the Chilean Monster” by his rivals after winning his last seven races and now representing Saudi Arabia.
England’s Royal Ascot and Hong Kong’s International Day rarely draw the Americans. The Breeder’s Cup in the US is dominated by American horses, with an occasional success for the Europeans.
But the Dubai World Cup meeting, the richest day’s racing in the world that takes place on Saturday, has steadily acquired a truly international flavour.
Not only does the 10-furlong Dubai World Cup, run on dirt, carry a purse of $6m but the 12-furlong Sheema Classic and the nine-furlong Dubai Duty Free have become the two richest turf races on the planet with $5m purses.
Racehorse owners and trainers tend to share the opinion of blues composer W.C. Handy: “While true riches may well be laid up in heaven, it’s sure nice to have a little pocket money on the way there.” The single-day prize money of $20.25m does tend to concentrate the mind, not to mention the training programme.
-even if the riches on offer are this year being spurned by Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore empire.
Coolmore’s great rivals on the European scene and The “home team” for the Dubai events, the Godolphin racing organisation owned by the ruling Maktoum family, supply the favourite for this year’s World Cup with Electrocutionist.
The lightly raced five-year-old, previously trained in Italy, was purchased for the Maktoum operation after winning last year’s Juddmonte International at York, England, catching Zenno Rob Roy and Maraahel in the dying strides. He made a brilliant debut on dirt during the 10-week Dubai carnival meeting this month, triumphing by seven lengths in the Maktoum Challenge III, a race Dubai Millennium and Street Cry previously won before going on to take the World Cup.
Jockey Frankie Dettori said: “He won well, travelled well and picked up well.” Unfortunately for Electrocutionist, he has also picked up the worst possible draw for the race in stall one. In 10 runnings, no horse has yet managed even a place from this stall.
A feature of the international racing scene is the growing strength of Japanese horses. Vying to be second favourite is Kane Hekili, who triumphed in a blanket finish to the Japan Cup Dirt last year. Kane Hekili’s compatriot Hat Trick, who is favourite for the Dubai Duty Free, beat a strong international field in last December’s Hong Kong Mile. Heart’s Cry, trained by Kojiro Hashiguchi, is second favourite for the Dubai Sheema Classic, which probably carries the strongest European interest.
The favourite for this race is Britain’s heroine Ouija Board, winner of the Oaks and the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare in 2004 and a Group One race winner on three continents. Last year brought her a series of minor calamities. A splint on her near-fore, bruising to a heel, a stress fracture to her cannon bone and then a bout of coughing ensured that the British season was nearly over before she was ready.
After a second attempt at the Breeders Cup brought second place, she finished fifth in the Japan Cup with jockey Kieren Fallon blaming himself for bringing her to the front too soon. But there was no mistake in Hong Kong’s Vase, where the jockey coolly kept her in last place, threaded his way through the field up the short Sha Tin straight and then drew clear to win by nearly three lengths. Trainer Ed Dunlop, who has a real knack with fillies, says Ouija Board is stronger than last year.
Also in the Sheema Classic are Collier Hill, trained in Yorkshire by Alan Swinbank and ridden by veteran British jockey Dean McKeown, and the confusingly named filly Alexander Goldrun. Collier Hill provides the fairy-tale element in Dubai. Not many thoroughbreds in the kind of company he is now keeping have scored their first win in a north of England bumper – a Flat race for jumpers – and won a novice hurdle race.
Bought originally for 5,500 guineas as an unraced three-year-old, Collier Hill rose through the handicap ranks. As a 40/1 shot in last year’s Sheema Classic he finished third behind Phoenix Reach and Razkalla and then went on to Classic victory,
winning the Irish Field St Leger. When he was sent to the sales to dissolve a partnership, his trainer bought him back, this time for 97,000 guineas. He will be looking for some of that back.
Alexander Goldrun, trained in Ireland by Jim Bolger and invariably held up for a late run, is a true globe-trotter. Only four of her 14 Group One contests have been on Irish soil.
In last year’s Dubai World Cup, Americans took the top three spots through Roses in May, Dynever and Choctaw Nation, the fifth time in 10 years the US had picked up the top prize. Just to rub home the superiority of American contenders on dirt, Saratoga County’s victory in the Dubai Golden Shaheen was the fifth for America in the past six years.
Choctaw Nation goes again for the big race but tighter in the betting is Brass Hat, trained by William “Buff” Bradley, who ran a lifetime best in the Group One Dunn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, Florida, last time out. And US contender Magna Graduate has one advantage. The work rider during his preparation has been the great Angel Cordero, rider of 7,000 winners before injury forced him to retire in the 1990s.