The planet is nowhere more barren, and nowhere more abundant. In Dubai, glass and steel seem to come alive as new towers, nursed by a forest of cranes and gantries, surge ever higher into the cluttered skyline. Global thirst for the desert's only crop has invested this pulsating emirate with global ambition - measured at Nad al Sheba today by the richest race meeting in history.
At $6m (£3.4m), the 11th Dubai World Cup remains the sport's biggest prize, but the supporting card has been dizzily inflated as well. The Sheema Classic, worth $2m last year, this time carries a purse of $5m, and as such has helped to postpone the retirement of one of the most cherished British fillies of recent years.
The presence of Ouija Board makes it difficult for Electrocutionist, the World Cup favourite, to claim top billing on a night when his own stablemate, Discreet Cat, may also command more attention in a fascinating race for the UAE Derby. Having crowned her three-year-old campaign at the Breeders' Cup, Ouija Board came off the rails last summer but retrieved her best to win in Hong Kong in December. This latest adventure provides the perfect prologue to a season that her rider yesterday described as "for sure the most exciting" of his career.
Kieren Fallon remains as big a paradox as Dubai itself. The more arid the soil - an alcohol clinic, arrested but not charged, libel cases - the more he seems to bloom. And if he looked conspicuously fit and focused after partnering Ouija Board in her final exercise, little wonder. Earlier in the week, Frankie Dettori made not even the most perfunctory effort to disguise his apathy as he contemplated the new season in Europe. He might have been more effusive if the Godolphin stable housed the three-year-olds awaiting Fallon at Ballydoyle.
Fallon's infatuation with George Washington seems only to have deepened over the winter, and he still reproaches himself that Horatio Nelson should have remained unbeaten in the Dewhurst Stakes. "We have a very strong team this year," he said. "We won most of the top two-year-old races last season, bar one or two that we should have won as well, that we missed out on - i.e. the Dewhurst. Everyone knows how good George is, and he's the one most attention will be on. But we've got plenty of other good ones, like Horatio Nelson and Art Museum, and super fillies like Rumpelstiltskin. The list goes on and on."
Fallon reckons that Aidan O'Brien also has half a dozen eligible types for Epsom. "Until they're asked to do serious work, you don't really know," he said. "They're all going through their paces nicely and I have my little hopes for different ones. Horatio Nelson is favourite, and has done very well, but so has Septimus and one or two others: Dylan Thomas, James Joyce. It's exciting, but it all has to happen for you. We're looking forward to a great season, God willing it will turn out that way. But you never know, horseracing is a funny game."
He is "pretty confident" that Ouija Board can reverse Japan Cup form with Heart's Lake, who finished two lengths in front of her when beaten only a nose in Tokyo. "I probably went too soon in Japan and this time I'll probably hold on to her a bit longer, like I did in Hong Kong," he said. "She has done very well physically, in fact she has never felt better than she does now."
Fallon rides Court Masterpiece for Ed Dunlop in the Godolphin Mile, but admits to doubt as to how he will cope with the dirt. In contrast this is a home game for Jack Sullivan, who managed fourth in the World Cup last year despite palpably failing for stamina.
That betrayed the lack of depth that often afflicts the big race, and the decision to run David Junior in the Dubai Duty Free Stakes instead certainly weakens the field this time. But it is not so thin that Electrocutionist should be so short a price.
He does set a legitimate standard, and Saeed bin Suroor has always excelled in getting more from mature horses like this one. Even so, the stable is cautious in its expectations. Electrocutionist outclassed inferior animals over course and distance three weeks ago, when sampling dirt for the first time, but his aptitude is likely to be examined more thoroughly this time.
Maraahel has barely a neck to make up on Electrocutionist on their meeting at York last summer, but his pedigree is unadulterated turf. Kane Hekili, conversely, is an outstanding dirt runner but Japanese horses have not always prospered here. The reverse is true of the Americans, who have won half the previous runnings, and while Magna Graduate is no Cigar, nor indeed a Silver Charm or Pleasantly Perfect, he represents good value at 14-1.
Having begun to thrive only in the second half of 2005, he was washed away by a sloppy surface when reappearing behind Brass Hat seven weeks ago. Todd Pletcher expects a much better show today, as will anyone who has watched the horse training here.
Chris McGrath's Sunday nap is Big Rob (Market Rasen 4.10).
Nap: Outer Hebrides (Redcar 2.10)
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