It All Started In The Desert

by Ed Meyer

posted on March 26, 2009 in General Discussion, Other Events | No Comments >>

The Dubai World Cup held its first meeting in 1996 at Nad Al Sheba racecourse and, with a winning purse of $6 million, it immediately established itself as the world’s richest horse race. Established by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, it has run annually in March ever since.  The 2009 running will take place this Saturday (Mar 28th).

The horses that race are thoroughbreds, meaning that they all share a pedigree that can be traced back to one of three Arab stallions from the 17th and 18th centuries: the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian. No horse has won the race more than once, but every year it attracts the world’s top horses and jockeys all vying for pole position. The American jockey Jerry Bailey has ridden to victory four times, closely followed by the Italian Frankie Dettori, who has won three times and is likely to partner My Indy this year, the entry of Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin stables.

The big draw on World Cup day itself is of course the main race at 9:30pm, held for horses aged four years or older, and with connections of the triumphant horse pocketing $3.6m from the $6m kitty. It is a flat race, which means no jumps, held on a dirt and sand track as opposed to turf.

This year, it looks likely that 15 entrants will make up the largest field in the race’s history, though this will not be confirmed until Saturday when the runners are officially declared. (If you’re no racing expert, then you might not know that generally runners will not be finally declared until race day itself.) The field will gallop a total of 1.8 kilometers. This is approximately 1 1/8 miles, or in racing-speak, 9 furlongs – a furlong being 220 yards or 660 feet – which derives from the Old English words furh (furrow) and lang (long), when fields were ploughed in furrows. On Saturday, the hot favorite is Albertus Maximus, owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and said by racing insiders to be in top form. His biggest threat comes in the form of the 2007 UAE Derby winner Asiatic Boy, trained by the legendary South African Mike De Kock and owned by Sheikh Mohammed. It is the final race of the day and is preceded by six other supporting races.

Chief among those are the $5m Dubai Duty Free and the $5m Sheema Classic. Look out for the Golden Shaheen race too, which is traditionally won by American horses. This year is no exception, with the American filly Indian Blessing tipped to take first place.

All in all, the day’s total prize money stands at $21.5m. Complimentary racecards will be available for all at information booths dotted around the racetrack, so make sure you pick one up to follow all the action.