If you like your sport with a generous dose of adrenaline, then Saturday’s 27th edition of the $12 million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates, has the potential to serve up an absolute thriller at the iconic Meydan Racecourse.
A field of 15 horses, just one short of the maximum field, will face the starter Shayne Ryan before bursting from the gates in front of the racecourse’s towering Grandstand, to deliver two minutes of unsettling suspense and excitement.
There will be many subplots but the overall theme of the 2,000-metre dirt contest is a monumental battle between Japan and the Rest of the World, the likes of which have never been seen before in the sport’s long and colourful history.
Fuelled by burgeoning global successes and highlighted by Panthalassa’s stunning victory in last month’s $20 million Saudi Cup, Japanese connections have descended on Dubai en masse. As many as 27 runners will represent the Land of the Rising Sun across the nine glittering races, with no less than eight being aimed at the Dubai World Cup itself.
Taking on the Asian power is a universal seven-strong contingent representing the UAE, the USA, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Peru, and Chile.
Together, the 15 runners are an elite bunch of some of horse racing’s most successful and prestigious equine athletes who have collectively earned more than $65 million, double the amount of the $30.5 million total prize money on offer on Saturday.
Among them are winners of some of the world’s finest races including the Dubai World Cup, the Saudi Cup, the Japan Cup, Hollywood Gold Cup, and the Gran Premio Hipodromo Chile.
The World Cup field is headed by Country Grammer, victorious 12 months ago and seeking to make history as only the second horse to win the great race twice, after Thunder Snow in 2018-2019.
Country Grammer will also be the last horse that the legendary Frankie Dettori will ride in the race, which he has won three times in the past with Dubai Millennium (2000), Moon Ballad (2003) and Electrocutionist (2006).
Without doubt, it will be an emotional evening for the charismatic Italian-Brit should the Bob Baffert-trained son of Tonalist meet his destiny as it will provide a fitting swansong for Dettori, who spent many of 18 years as retained rider to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, spending his winters in Dubai.
In the absence of a runner from Team Godolphin, the stable that was founded by Sheikh Mohammed in 1994, it would be safe to assume that Dettori will have the full support of a large chunk of the 50,000-plus crowd at Meydan who have adored him over the past three decades.
Assessing his chances, the 52-year-old veteran of the turf said earlier this week: “This year there’s more strength in depth. There are eight Japanese runners, multiple Group 1 winners, and a big field,” he said. “One thing for sure with Country Grammer is that he’s all about leaving everything on the track. You know he’s going to run until the end so I couldn’t ask for a better companion.
“It’s not going to be easy and stall 14 is not ideal. We can’t change it now so let’s get on with it and see how the race unfolds,: he added.
“I can’t really say a bad word about Country Grammer because if you look at his form he’s all guts — he’s a proper horse.”
If Country Grammer holds a special place in American hearts, then Panthalassa will have horse-loving Japanese fans rooting for him just as they did when he won the $5 million Dubai Turf last month.
“Even if he misses the break, we have one tactic and that is to roll forward,” said his trainer, Yoshito Yahagi. “We considered going towards the Dubai Turf again but, given his win in Saudi Arabia, we thought why not have a go at the Dubai World Cup. He deserves his chance.”
The Japanese contingent also includes dirt specialists Ushba Tesoro, T O Keynes, Cafe Pharoah, and Jun Light Bolt who have proven their ability at the highest level together with Japan Cup victory Vela Azul.
Leading the Dubai contingent is part British-trained Algiers for Simon and Ed Crisford, the locally trained Bendoog and Remorse for Bhupat Seemar, and Bahrain’s Salute The Soldier for Fawzi Nass.
Many believe that Algiers could be the horse to test Country Grammer, Panthalassa, and the rest of the field. No stranger to the Meydan dirt, Algiers has thrived this year following his also-ran effort in last year’s Godolphin Mile. He has posted two imperious victories in the hands of Godolphin’s big race jockey who believes that the horse has yet to reach his full potential.
As the former Racing Manager of Godolphin, Crisford Sr, has experienced many successes in the Dubai World Cup with the likes of Dubai Millennium, Street Cry, and Moon Ballad, but this time it’s different. He’s an individual trainer sharing the management and supervising of racehorses with his son, Ed.
“The horse has transformed for racing on this surface,” the Crisford Sr. said. “He was a rock solid horse on turf but since he’s been running on the Meydan dirt, which really plays to his strengths, he’s stepped up to another level. He’s the best local horse in the race and if he can run the same sort of race as he’s done in the lead-up, he’ll be right in the mix.”
Reflecting on what it will mean to win a race that he has been so much a part of since its inception, Crisford Sr. commented: “This is an extraordinary race. The winners have been the best horses in the world and I think what the race set out to achieve has been achieved in absolute international spades.”
Among the rest of the local hopes is Remorse, a Zabeel Stables veteran who has been campaigned at the highest level where he has performed creditably.
He was sixth in the World Cup last year but was well-beaten by Algiers on his penultimate start before he underperformed in the Saudi Cup on his latest start, where he did not like the dirt.
Seemar, however, remains hopeful of his two runners and said: “You’ve got to be in the race to win it. I think both Remorse and Bendoog have earned their spot in the race and we remain optimistic.
“There are some very classy horses but in big races like the Dubai
World Cup anything can happen. Everything is possible.”
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