Millennium meets date with destiny

Dubai World Cup: Sheikh Mohammed's pride and joy lives up to his name with an awesome performance
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The Independent Online

Dubai Millennium, pride and joy of Sheikh Mohammed, his owner, fulfilled his destiny by winning the fifth running of the Dubai World Cup, at $6 million the world's richest race and the opening heat of the World Series, here in the Emirates last night. The imposing four-year-old colt blew an international field apart like a duststorm from the desert, making every yard of the running under Frankie Dettori to win by six lengths in a new track record.

Behrens, winner of three Grade One contests in America last year, was a gallant but absolutely unavailing runner-up, in front of his compatriots Public Purse and Puerto Madera. But in truth, it was a one-horse race and an awesome display by that one horse.

Before the sleek son of Seeking The Gold ever raced his raw talent was such that Mohammed changed his name from Yazzer with the hope he should prove good enough to represent his élite Dubai-based operation Godolphin in the race that is the cornerstone of his owner's global dreams. Those lofty ambitions took a blow when Dubai Millennium could finish only ninth as favourite for last year's Derby - his only defeat in nine starts - but he since developed into a top miler and now has the world at his elegant feet.

He was a first World Cup winner for Dettori, who had previously never finished better than last. "This is the best I've ever ridden," said the man who partnered last year's champion Daylami, "he was absolutely unbelievable."

The next round of the World Series is not until the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot in July. Of more immediate concern are the early Classics, the most significant of which, to Sheikh Mohammed at any rate, is the Kentucky Derby. The first leg of the American Triple Crown is run on the same day as the first leg of the more venerable and difficult original English version, the 2,000 Guineas, and Mohammed has already indicated he will be at Churchill Downs, not Newmarket, on 6 May.

As far as the Guineas is concerned it is a case of been there, done that, most recently 10 months ago with the subsequently undistinguished Godolphin stable second string Island Sands, and the mile test is not now the most pressing challenge of Mohammed's global quest.

His first assault on the Kentucky Derby last year ended in ignominious failure when his expensive head-hunted Worldly Manner finished in the ruck. He was critisised afterwards for not giving the colt a prep race and although he stands by that decision, the venture spawned the creation of the UAE Derby, a contest over the same nine furlongs as the American race. Last night's inaugural running had a value of $500,000. Next year, with a $2 million purse, it will be the most valuable Derby on earth.

Things went smoothly to plan; the three Godolphin colourbearers finished first, second and fourth and the winner, China Visit, was undeniably impressive. Always travelling close to the pace under Richard Hills, he cut through the leading group to tackle Bachir and drew away to win by four and a quarter lengths. But the result did not actually provide an immediate answer to the Kentucky Derby question. And in fact, the colt was immediately installed as 4-1 second favourite for the Guineas by Ladbrokes. He was a 66-1 shot 10 days ago.

He has not yet been entered for the Churchill Downs race, but will be at the next entry stage on Saturday. "He won very well and the door to America is now open", said Sheikh Mohammed.

China Visit, a Kentucky-bred son of Red Ransom out of a very fast mare closely related to 1997 Guineas winner King Of Kings, is a product of Mohammed's David Loder-run nursery at Evry in Paris. He raced just once last year and caught a few eyes with his spreadeagling eight-length victory at Deauville.

The winning distance last night may have been flattered by Bachir's stamina running out in the final furlong; in fact the ex-John Gosden inmate held third-placed Curule by only a neck. But against that must be weighed the fact that Bachir, winner of the Richmond Stakes and placed in two Group Ones last year, looked fully wound up; proper trial tackle in fact.

"This was a very polished performance," said Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford. "but we'll have to go and look at the video a zillion times and get feedback from all the jockeys before we make any decision. But this race will have done him nothing but good. There is plenty of improvement to come."

The same can surely be said of Epsom Derby fancy Inchlonaig, who stayed on really well through the final furlong to take fourth place just ahead of local horse Markhan and Clive Brittain-trained Crimplene, last year's Cheveley Park Stakes third and the only filly in the field.

Fantastic Light, trained by Brittain's Newmarket neighbour Michael Stoute, put Britain on the scoreboard in the first of the night's grass contests, the 12-furlong Dubai Sheema Classic. The four-year-old, in the colours of Maktoum Al Maktoum, took nearly a second off the track record, but then, it has not rained here for 14 months.

For his wide outside draw Kieren Fallon, riding as Stoute's number one for the first time this year, showed the expertise that has made him three-times British champion as he dropped Fantastic Light into the pack on the rail and then gunned down the middle in the wake of High-Rise as the 1998 Derby winner went in pursuit of and past Japanese contender Going Suzuka.

When High-Rise cried enough he left Fantastic Light, a lazy type, vulnerable in front. But although Caitano from Germany finished with a flourish that took him into second spot he was three lengths adrift at the line. "We were in front far too soon," said Fallon, "but he likes this lively ground. He's been training well here and is a happy little horse."

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