Racing world in thrall

Ray Petersen –

The Dubai World Cup is not just for the horse-racing aficionados. It was, this year, a full blown fashion, entertainment and racing spectacular that offered new and old, yet thoroughly entertaining storylines. This year was all about Arrogate and Jack Hobbs, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, Bob Baffert, Mike Smith, and a young star in William Buick. After years of pseudo-acceptance by the international racing establishment, it seems the DWC is achieving true legitimacy at last, with equine superstars on four and two legs, taking centre stage.
Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing has an astounding presence on the global racing scene over the last twenty plus years. Inaugurated in 1992, and making their international debut two years later, the Godolphin Racing Stables is named after the Arabian foundation bloodline of the modern thoroughbred. Godolphin has huge racing investments in the UAE, Australia, the UK, and America.
In common with being the biggest, and the best, the first running of the Dubai World Cup took place in 1996, and was won by superstar American galloper Cigar. Since then, Godolphin has triumphed on seven occasions, while Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Britain and Ireland have all been represented in the winning circle. This year’s winner, Arrogate, is trained in America by Bob Baffert, his third win in the race, and is owned by the Saudi Arabian Judmonte Farms Stables. Baffert is no stranger to the headlines, and in fact suffered a heart attack while he was in Dubai in 1998, with Silver Charm. He showed immense character, responding to the best of care, and lo and behold, six days later Baffert was able to see his beloved grey romp home in the cup.
This year’s winning jockey, Mike E Smith, has ridden over 5000 winners, is a ‘Hall of Fame’ inductee, and in his twilight years as a hoop, was overcome with emotion following the race. To be fair, it was pretty much a ‘steering’ job, as, slow away, Smith looped the field to be close to the leaders turning for home, and four hundred metres from the finish stretched out impressively to win with something in hand. He is a superstar horse, and the $6million prize for first place was well earned.
Forty five minutes earlier, Godolphin took the limelight, with young William Buick riding Jack Hobbs to a facile victory in the Dubai Sheema Classic. Buick is the Norwegian born son of a Scotsman, who was the leading Scandinavian jockey on eight occasions. Not your usual pathway to fame! However, young Buick has always demonstrated talent and from his earliest days was always going to be an equine industry superstar. While it helps to be on the best horses all over the world, Buick, with his boyish good looks, impeccable manners, and talent in the saddle, is a great advertisement for racing.
Horseracing has always been seen as a ‘plaything’ of the affluent, and while occasional stories pop up in the ‘rags-to-riches’ department, it was notable on a night where $30 million in prize money was on offer, most of the participants were of the ‘immensely wealthy’ variety. Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, Teruya (Terry) Yoshida, Japanese industrialist and Shaddai Farms kingpin, the Coolmore trio of Magnier, Smith and Tabor, Qatar Racing which is owned by the Qatari Al Thani family, His Highness the Aga Khan, Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and of course, the ubiquitous Godolphin, are just a few of the rich and famous.
All in all though, after attending six Dubai World Cups since 2000, it remains one of the global social and sporting events of the year, maybe even becoming iconic, and with even more prize money guaranteed in the future, it might be a good time for any of you romantics to invest in a few tail hairs of a young thoroughbred? I mean, the fairy tale could come true, couldn’t it?
(Photos by Yelena Glukhovtseva)