Dubai comes and goes like a dream

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The Independent Online

Dubai is racing's never never land, it's Oz, so we should not have been surprised when Dubai Millennium completed his improbable tale by winning the World Cup at Nad Al Sheba.

Renamed as a two-year-old with the specific aim of winning the world's richest race, the huge colt had hacked his way through the many thorns along the way to emerge with breastplate gleaming for Saturday evening's race. Then, in devastating manner, he put all his rivals to the sword.

Sheikh Mohammed thanked his God, thanked his helpers for their part in realising the grand ambition. He did not consider that jamminess was part of the deal. But then this is Dubai, where money shows anything is possible. Grass grows in the desert, westerners are enticed to a place unheard of 20 years ago and people talk of the greatest race meeting on earth. Yet the Dubai World Cup is not a race meeting at all but a pageant of power, an expensively staged piece of one-upmanship.

It is Sheikh Mohammed's grand design to leave behind something more permanent than his name in the dunes. He said last week that racing was merely one per cent of his life, but it is still something he takes rather seriously. For a start, the great imperialistic Godolphin operation he has constructed means to take over the world.

Godolphin's hegemony is accepted just about everywhere but the United States, though that is an attitude the Sheikh is keen to alter. Thus we have the Dubai World Cup, with its perception of a world championship and the reality of a triumphant flypast by the home machine. The Americans are enticed out of their frontiers by the megabuck language they understand and are as happy as they ever can be in defeat after a week of poodle pampering and considerable subsidy.

All that remains is for Sheikh Mohammed to go into the Yankee bosom and prove his point there. The time is approaching. In China Visit and Dubai Millennium he has the best tools yet to take the prizes he most covets, probably the only worthwhile races he has yet to win, the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup Classic.

China Visit performed just before Saturday's mid-card opening ceremony, which was traditionally Arabic, yet also reflected western-leaning Dubai, combining as it did local music played through bagpipes. Up in the stands an immense gannet colony of white dish-dashes were crammed together. Standing out in his black robe, like the lead man in a Busby Berkeley musical, was Sheikh Mohammed.

China Visit, too, looked special as he scooted four lengths clear of his stablemate Bachir in the inaugural UAE Derby. Post race there was the usual stonewalling about whether he would go to the Kentucky Derby or 2,000 Guineas, even though there is much chance of seeing China Visit on the moon as at Newmarket on 6 May. He will be supplemented at a cost of $6,000 for the Run For The Roses and then he will run in it, probably in tandem with Godolphin's American buy, Chief Seattle.

If Dubai is an unbelievable place then it has an appropriate equine figurehead in Dubai Millennium. It will take some time to establish what the colt actually achieved on Saturday, but he certainly did not beat rubbish by six lengths in a track record time. All the top 10-furlong races are now being considered, though the programme is likely to be Ascot's Prince Of Wales Stakes (Group One for the first time) followed by the International Stakes at York and then the Breeders' Cup Classic (for which he is 6-1 with Coral).

Dubai Millennium, like many of ability, has some devilment in him and he had been sent to Nad Al Sheba several times already to practise keeping his talents in harness. Still there was a worry. Those that attempted to applaud him on the way out on Saturday were upbraided by Frankie Dettori, who put forefinger on lips to quieten them. In the parade ring, Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, got through cigarettes with the minimum of draws.

"It's been scarey for us because of what he's been showing at home," Dettori reported. He admitted he had been up for three hours in the middle of the night thinking of the task ahead. "At the furlong marker I could hear the crowd clapping and they obviously thought I had won. I could afford to have a look round but I nearly broke my neck because I couldn't see anybody. I almost had tears of disbelief in my eyes."

On the Sheikhs' balcony there was a celebratory touching of noses, but Sheikh Mohammed was soon at Dubai Millennium's bridle, leading the big horse out again in front of his people. It seemed a preposterously unlikely end to the story which started when he watched a horse called Yaazer work at Newmarket and decided to rename it Dubai Millennium as he could envisage the World Cup of 2000.

But then as those who have crawled over sand will recount, much in the desert is not as it seems. Dubai is no different, and even with the extra grandstand that is planned and the new slogan of a "journey to the centre of the earth", it remains a peculiar stop-off for racing's caravan. Dubai Millennium, however, is for real, the result of a fortune spent in the sport by the Maktoum brothers. He, at least, is no mirage.

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