On a star-studded evening at Meydan Racecourse in which six countries tasted success, the world’s best horse – Arrogate – became the highest-earning thoroughbred in history by winning the 22nd Dubai World Cup in unforgettable style. Sam Price reports from Meydan
When Dubai World Cup was first staged in 1996, it was the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, that the meeting would attract the best horses from all over the world by offering record prize money, unrivalled facilities and hospitality, and a convenient location – so that reputations could be staked on a truly international stage. More than 20 years on, as the world’s highest-rated horse thrilled the Meydan crowd at the climax of a US$30m card that saw champions crowned from the UAE, Qatar, France, Japan, England and the United States, this vision had clearly come to fruition.
In the build-up to the event – which was broadcast in 150 territories around the world – ebullient American trainer Bob Baffert, who won the Dubai World Cup in 1998 and 2001, exclusively told Vision Sport that he was “trying to build [Arrogate’s] legacy, to show everyone what he can really do”. If they were in any doubt before, nobody privileged enough to witness the four-year-old’s mighty display at Meydan would question his reputation now – and the circumstances in which he triumphed only added a layer to his greatness.
After breaking slowly from stall nine and being hampered, Arrogate was stone last approaching the first turn, more than 10 lengths off the pace he usually likes to sit behind. On a track favouring front-runners, and which had been turned muddy by torrential morning rain, an extraordinary performance was required for the favourite to defy the dirt ‘kickback’ and overtake his 13 rivals – but he delivered in style.
Gradually coaxed into the race by experienced big-race jockey Mike Smith, once Arrogate’s freakishly long stride was unleashed, he began to pass horses like they were running on the spot. The last target was Gun Runner, who had the dream run up the inside rail, but Arrogate was in effortlessly full flow by this stage, and forged clear to land the spoils and take his career earnings past US$13m – more than any other horse in history.
“I think what we saw today was [Arrogate] stamping his legacy,” an emotional Baffert reflected afterwards. “How did he pull it off? I knew this was going to be his toughest challenge.
“Anybody who was here tonight will leave thinking, ‘Wow, I’m glad I was there to see that and to witness greatness’.”
While Arrogate would adorn the front pages of the morning papers, it was also a memorable night for Godolphin. The iconic Burj Al Arab lit up in support of the ‘home team’ on the eve of the meeting, and wins for Jack Hobbs (Dubai Sheema Classic) and Thunder Snow (UAE Derby) – who provided trainer Saeed Bin Suroor with a record 35th Dubai World Cup night success – were greeted with euphoria by Emirati fans.
“This is the biggest night in horse racing,” said jockey William Buick, who saluted the crowd after slamming a top-class international field aboard Jack Hobbs. “It’s HH Sheikh Mohammed’s spectacle, and it’s just great to perform with a horse like this.”
The royal blue silks were almost carried to victory in the Dubai Gold Cup too, only for Beautiful Romance to be foiled close home by Vazirabad – one of two winners on the night for France – under an ice-cool ride from Christophe Soumillon. Seeing the best jockeys worldwide jet into Dubai to do battle is one of the thrills of the event, and another champagne moment was provided when Brazil’s ‘Magic Man’ Joao Moreira swept down the outside on Japanese mare Vivlos to win the Dubai Turf, sparking wild scenes of celebration.
The fact that the first two winners on the night were trained in the UAE and Qatar confirmed that no other race meeting can lay claim to providing this depth of international competition, a theme that was also encapsulated by the ‘Meydan Style Stakes’ – the UAE’s most-anticipated fashion event. The inclement weather forced the catwalk to moved inside but didn’t dampen the spirit of stylish racegoers, who competed in front of a panel of judges in categories such as ‘Best Dressed Couple’ and ‘Most Creative Hat’, with a host of luxurious prizes up for grabs.
“This is the event that I love to attend in Dubai,” said Nader Tearab, the Sudanese designer whose self-made peach suit helped him win the ‘Best Dressed Man’ accolade for the second year running. “It’s the richest day of horse racing in the world and the atmosphere is beautiful.”
Elsewhere, sports stars such as English cricketer James Anderson, former US sprinter Michael Johnson and legendary Argentine footballer Diego Maradona were among the many celebrity guests in attendance, and were treated to a five-star programme of entertainment that climaxed with a stunning Closing Ceremony lights show, followed by a power-packed concert from Australian popstar Sia.
A day that started with thunderstorms ended with fireworks, and with each race more exciting than the last during a remarkable equine extravaganza, a special atmosphere was created – to the delight of HH Sheikh Mohammed.
“I’m very pleased and honoured to have all of these people as our guests, and for good horses to come together here. This is the place that they meet; from the east, to the north, to the west,” he said in an on-course interview with CNN, before outlining plans to elevate the event to even greater heights.
"I always want to be one step ahead. I am always optimistic. We will definitely [increase the prize money of the Dubai World Cup]. We have a vision and we dream for that.”
With so much achieved already in little more than two decades, and with the 2017 edition delivering massive global excitement and publicity – as well as arguably the greatest racehorse ever seen in the emirate – it will be fascinating to see how the next chapter of the Dubai World Cup story unfolds.