Dubai World Cup: was it a night to remember for the locals?

The show must go on: Dubai World Cup Night is a distant memory for trainer Doug Watson (second right) and jockey Tadhg O’Shea after victory with the Argentinian-bred Tobaco at the Chengdu Dubai International Cup race meeting in China last Saturday. Photo: Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins

It was the main focus in Northern Hemisphere flat racing for much of last month, the richest one-day race meeting there is, featuring three of the five most valuable races on the planet, and the 2018 edition of Dubai World Cup Night certainly left a huge mark internationally.

For many from overseas, of course, it is but one step on a season-long campaign trail, yet for connections in the UAE it is the ultimate, the Kentucky Derby, Royal Ascot, the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup all rolled into one. So how was it for them, and how did the day go down with the local crowds? TRC contributor Laura King, who is the lead English language presenter/producer on Dubai Racing Channel, reports.


Delight for a loyal crowd

The 2018 World Cup meeting will be remembered, at least in the UAE, as a very good one for Dubai. It was a night when all of the stars aligned for Godolphin and they picked up four Group 1s, including the biggest of them all, the admirable Thunder Snow winning an eighth World Cup for trainer Saeed Bin Suroor. Charlie Appleby and Bin Suroor rocketed up the TRC Global Rankings as a result, into third and eighth places respectively.

Meydan is vast and, as such, can be a difficult place in which to drum up much of an atmosphere. However, Godolphin wins bring out the best in the predominantly Sudanese crowd in the public enclosure, and they are fiercely loyal to the leader of their temporary homeland. Images of HH Sheikh Mohammed dancing with delight are hugely beneficial for racing in the UAE, which still struggles to resonate with the wider population.

A fairytale for Jadhav

The Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed’s son Sheikh Hamdan, is also a popular figure, revered in particular by the younger generation, so the victory of his Heavy Metal in the G2 Godolphin Mile, the first race, was also helpful for the sport’s profile.

The win was something of a fairytale for his trainer, Sandeep Jadhav, who took over the licence after Salem Bin Ghadayer’s suspension for a positive test on one of his horses. For the likeable, Indian-born Jadhav, who has worked his way up from groom at Doug Watson’s yard to standing on the podium on World Cup night, it won’t get much better.

His was the sole victory for a locally-based trainer. Satish Seemar endured a night to forget, and Doug Watson had to settle for second in the Godolphin Mile

Reverting to synthetics would be a backward step

Heavy Metal and Ryan Moore won from the front, and, in five months of dirt racing at Meydan this season, there has been a notable speed bias; horses faring much the best if forwardly-placed, ideally on the rail. This worked for Heavy Metal, Mendelssohn, and, to a lesser degree, the brilliantly-ridden Thunder Snow.

Therefore, the spellbinding run of Mind Your Biscuits in passing the entire field to win the Golden Shaheen has to be the performance of the night. He was also the only U.S.-trained winner. Many would argue that the dirt surface largely benefits the Americans. In winning two of the four World Cups since the Tapeta was replaced, however, the new track isn’t doing Godolphin any harm, either.

There will always be unhappy people in racing, as in life. The Tapeta surface was unpopular with plenty of the local trainers and scared off the Americans, and now there are calls for the dirt to be replaced. It would be naïve to argue that some work shouldn’t be done on it, and this will happen during the summer, but going back to synthetic would surely be a backward step.

If the Tapeta had stayed, we wouldn’t have had superstars such as California Chrome and Arrogate win Dubai’s greatest race. The meeting needs such big-name horses.  

What’s next for the UAE horses

For Heavy Metal and the other UAE-based horses who won major races during the season, it’s now time for a well-earned break; trainers here rarely target races abroad. Yulong Warrior, winner of the listed Al Bastikiya on Super Saturday before flopping into seventh in the UAE Derby, was nominated for the U.S. Triple Crown but will remain in Dubai, as will stablemate North America, who lost all chance of World Cup success when blowing the start.

After the World Cup, most of Dubai’s trainers, including Watson and Seemar, headed to Chengdu in China for the Meydan-run meeting at Jinma Lake Racecourse last Saturday. Five races were contested by Dubai-based horses, all of whom will now fly back home.

Then there’s a few months of rest before the horses and riders return to work in August, alongside plenty of new recruits from Europe and, increasingly, the States. In November, Meydan starts racing and it all begins again – five months to try to develop stars to run at the 2019 Dubai World Cup meeting.

It might be the shortest season in the world, but it also has to be one of the best.

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