Cigar lured to Dubai's Cup

Richest race puts Godolphin ambitions on world stage. Chris Corrigan reports
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The Independent Online
Punters' concentration on the runners at Catterick Bridge on Wednesday 27 March is likely to be briefly distracted by a race being run elsewhere. The Dubai World Cup has its inaugural running that afternoon and has attracted a field worthy of its four million dollars in prize money.

Fourteen of the globe's top thoroughbreds have been selected for the event, to be run under floodlights at Nad Al Sheba. The race starts at 7pm local time (3pm BST) and will be televised by Channel 4.

The elite 14, nominated by an international panel of handicappers, are announced today. They include Cigar, top of the International Classification after his emphatic win in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Cigar heads a three-strong American team while Mahogany, a seven-times Group One winner in Australia, is one of two horses from the Southern Hemisphere.

Europe's three are Pentire, from the Newmarket yard of Geoff Wragg, and Freedom Cry and Pennekamp, both trained in France by Andre Fabre.

Two Japanese horses represent Asia, while the final places are being kept for the home side. Oaks winner Moonshell, International Stakes winner Halling, plus Annus Mirabilis and Cezanne represent the United Arab Emirates.

All four UAE horses are owned by Godolphin, the Maktoum family's expanding training operation. The Cup event in March is part of their desire to firmly establish Dubai on the world racing circuit.

Pentire is the only British-trained horse selected by the panel, though there are numerous reserves, including Bahri, Celtic Swing and Tamure.

Pentire's only defeat of the season came at the hands of Lammtarra in the King George at Ascot in July and yesterday his trainer, Geoff Wragg, commented: "Let's put it this way - he has been entered in the race and we are definitely thinking about running."

If Pentire lines up, then he could be competing against Jeune, a former inmate of Wragg's stable who went on to win the Melbourne Cup.

But the most exciting entry is Cigar. His owner, Allen Paulson has stated that his intentions for the horse are the Donn Handicap in Florida in February, followed by the Santa Anita Handicap in early March, and then to send Cigar to Dubai.

Geoffrey Gibbs, senior handicapper at the British Horseracing Board, said: "I can think of no international horse race in my experience that was presented with such a high quality entry of candidates, and an ultimate field with such significant achievements in important races worldwide."

Gibbs went on: ''We were charged with selecting four horses from the Emirates, three from the Americas, three from Europe, two from Asia and two from Oceania. So we were looking for the best horses in each geographical area, taking into account that the race is run over 10 furlongs. We took the distance into account as well as the surface.''

In the event of defectors from the selected list, replacements from the 53 reserves will be nominated by a committee. Connections of Celtic Swing had hoped their colt could rebuild his reputation in Dubai but they need others to drop out to stand a chance of a run.

DUBAI WORLD CUP (Provisional field): THE AMERICAS: Cigar, L'Carriere, Soul Of The Matter. ASIA: Lively Mount, Taiki Blizzard. EUROPE: Freedom Cry, Pennekamp, Pentire. OCEANIA: Jeune, Mahogany. UAE: Annus Mirabilis, Cezanne, Halling, Moonshell.