Sam Price attends the prestigious Dubai World Cup appetiser at Meydan Racecourse, as key contenders were put through their paces in front of an enthusiastic crowd
Those who arrived at Meydan Racecourse early enough on the Thursday prior to Dubai World Cup night were well rewarded, as big-race favourite Arrogate exercised in front of the watchful eye of the world’s media. Illuminated by the floodlights as he glided over Meydan’s state-of-the-art dirt surface under work rider Dana Barnes at 5am local time, the highest-rated horse in the world – whose gleaming grey coat and muscular physique drew nods of approval from the equine experts trackside – looked completely at ease with his surroundings.
By the time the gloom lifted and members of the public began to arrive at the Apron for the glamorous Breakfast with the Stars preview event, Arrogate was on his way back to the barn, but his jockey for the feature race, Mike Smith, stuck around to take pictures with fans and talk up the superstar’s chances.
“[Arrogate] needs to go out there and run his race, but given the opportunity I think we could see something very special,” said the 51-year-old American known as “Big Money Mike”, who has won many of the top races around the world – but not the Dubai World Cup.
“Just look at [Meydan],” he added, gesticulating towards the magnificent grandstand. “Nothing really compares with this. Whether it’s golf, tennis, racing – whatever it is that Dubai does, it’s second to none. So it’s a very special place to come. The Dubai World Cup is a race that’s eluded my career, and I’m getting towards the end of it so I’d sure love to win.”
Godolphin out in force
A sun-drenched morning provided the perfect opportunity for jockeys, trainers and owners to mingle with celebrity guests, racing enthusiasts and rivals from different continents, while legendary racecourse commentator Terry Spargo provided the lowdown on the equine athletes who were tearing up the track adjacent, as the crowd helped themselves to a lavish breakfast buffet spread.
The Godolphin Jockey Challenge, meanwhile, gave wannabes the opportunity to try race riding themselves on an equicizer, and a lucky few were treated to a masterclass by Godolphin’s William Buick, winner of the Dubai World Cup two years ago aboard Prince Bishop.
Buick is set to partner leading Group 1 fancies Jungle Cat [Al Quoz Sprint], Ribchester [Dubai Turf] and Jack Hobbs [Dubai Sheema Classic] on Saturday, and has enjoyed a stellar Dubai World Cup carnival in the build-up with Team Godolphin sweeping all before them.
Incredibly, the blue silks were carried to success 23 times during the carnival thanks to the sparkling form of Charlie Appleby and Saeed Bin Suroor, who is the leading trainer in Dubai World Cup history with seven victories in the blue riband event – but would be happy with just one winner on the night this time around.
“The racing here at Meydan is tough – it’s very hard to win,” he said, before taking further questions on stage from television presenter Rishi Persad. “It’s brilliant to run our horses against the stars, but the quality coming [to Dubai] from around the world is amazing now.”
An international event
Indeed, 12 countries will be represented on the world’s richest day of racing, with the Republic of Korea sending their first-ever World Cup night runner, Triple Nine, for the opening Godolphin Mile; the best jockey in the world, Brazil’s “Magic Man” Joao Moreira jetting in to showcase his skills; and a bumper Japanese entry spearheaded by four runners in the main event.
“The range of countries that come to participate is what makes this event so unique,” says Dubai Racing Club executive director Frank Gabriel, whose team have worked hard to grow the event year-on-year, and are now reaping the rewards.
“This is one of those relaxed days,” he added, as he surveyed the bustling, light-hearted atmosphere in front of him. “The jockeys and trainers are in their casual clothes having come from the stables, and are just enjoying some nice food and chit-chat, which is what Breakfast with the Stars is all about.”
Now, it’s time for the talking to stop and the serious business to commence.
Dubai World Cup takes place on 25 March, with the first of nine races starting at 3.45pm GST and the feature race at 8.45pm