Racing: American stars duel in the desert
Wednesday 24 March 2004
Sandwiched between the desert for comfort, the Cheltenham Festival, and the desert for race viewing, the Grand National, we have the desert's desert this weekend, the Dubai World Cup card at Nad Al Sheba in the balmy Emirates.
And balmy it has been over the last few days in the Gulf, where Flat races, for a brief respite at least, will be thrust to the fore. The Dubai World Cup meeting may well be the most trumped-up meeting in the world, but it is solidly good trumping. Each year an American racing star is lured out to a venue connections have never heard about and this year we have two. On a hugely lucrative Saturday card, Pleasantly Perfect and Medaglia d'Oro will fight it out once again in the Dubai World Cup itself to determine which is the best middle distance dirt horse in the world. These were the two that finished first and second in the other big money race of the racing calendar, the Breeders' Cup Classic last October at Santa Anita in California. Now they are reunited by a sense of competition and travelling expenses.
Since the great Cigar was tempted here for the first Dubai World Cup in 1996, the draw of the dirham has been a constant. What has usually run parallel is domination by the home Godolphin team. Yet the boys in blue are a relatively thin line this year. A total of 23 and 18 Godolphin runners respectively took part at the meeting in the last two years, but this year just nine have been declared, an indication of a reported change in policy at Sheikh Mohammed's operation which will see their horses campaigned with a long season in mind.
Sheikh Mohammed embraces failure as he would a cobra and last season is probably still stale in his mind. He has shown he can switch horses around with great alacrity and now the human tenders may be sliding a little in their seats.
Of the nine, the most significant booking for the stable man Frankie Dettori appears to be his decision to partner recent purchase Crimson Palace over last year's 2,000 Guineas winner Refuse To Bend, another cheque book job, in the Dubai Duty Free. Bought by Godolphin after winning at the Carnival for Mike de Kock, the South African mare has been pleasing her new connections in recent work.
However, some eyebrows were raised by the scarcity of Godolphin representatives at a meeting they have traditionally dominated. Bookmakers Coral reacted to Dettori's decision by cutting Crimson Palace's price for the race to 9-2 from 6-1, with Refuse To Bend, who will be ridden by Aussie Kerrin McEvoy, pushed out to 10-1 from the same price.
William Hill have opened a book on the number of winners Dettori will ride and make one the favourite at 10-11, although he is only 11-8 to draw a blank - an eventuality that has occurred only once in the past seven years. According to Hills, Dettori's best chance will come on Firebreak in the Godolphin Mile. The five-year-old, who won the race last year, has not run since finishing a close fifth in the Hong Kong Mile in December. Hills rate Firebreak a 3-1 chance, with Coral offering 11-4. Both firms make the Bob Baffert-trained American raider During their favourite.
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