Sheikh plans Derby assault

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The Independent Online

Sheikh Mohammed likes to do things properly. He likes to do things big. A regular line this week has been: "the best is the sole mission". His projects abound, but none is more staggering than the Burj Al Arab (tower of the Arabs), the world's tallest and most opulent hotel, opened here last December. The Burj stands on a man-made island, the architectural interpretation of the main sail of a J-class yacht. They missed out six to make this the world's first seven-star hotel.

All 202 rooms are suites, each with its designated butler available to wade through the yellow and gold carpeting to turn on the two jacuzzis in the Brazilian-marbled bathroom. The bottom rate is £600 a night, up to the two royal suites at £4,500 a night. Guests have a choice of four restaurants, including the Al Mahara seafood restaurant which circles an immense indoor tropical reef. Diners arrive by submarine. It is not a modest place, but coyness is not part of the equation in this acre of the Gulf.

When the fifth Dubai World Cup is run tomorrow it will form the centrepiece of a new $12m (£7.6m) card, surpassed in value by only Breeders' Cup day in America. That will change, as being runner-up is as bad as finishing last to Sheikh Mohammed. "Who remembers the second man to climb Everest?" he asked yesterday.

Tomorrow's UAE Derby, essentially a prep race for the Kentucky Derby, will leap from its inaugural value of $500,000 (£300,000) to $2m (£1.3m) next year. "One day the winner of this race will win the big races in North America," the Sheikh insisted yesterday. There are plans, too, to extend this into a two-day meeting, beginning on a Thursday, missing out the holy day of Friday, and finishing on Saturday. "I promise you in two years' time this will be even better and much bigger," Sheikh Mohammed added. "There will be more horses, and if we get the better horses the money will go up."

By then, Godolphin will have added to the 50-plus Group One races they have accumulated in their six years of existence. Godolphin is much more than a racing stable to the crown prince. It is a billboard for Dubai around the globe and he insists it is successful, and he continues to buy the most expensive horses to fuel its ranks. "Always in business there is a risk, but if you take a risk the profit can be great," he said. "We have no fear. We just push forward. Godolphin is an advertisement. It is expensive but very profitable."

Most prized of all is the thought of taking from the Americans the race they hold most dear. Godolphin will increase their Kentucky Derby options next month by sending a fleet of horses to be trained in California. "I am a military man," said Sheikh Mohammed, "and I know you have to attack from different directions." It is not a battle he expects to lose.

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