Racing: Deluge in the desert

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The Independent Online
The weather, the one element in Dubai that Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum cannot control, destroyed his dream here yesterday as a thunderstorm of Wagnerian proportions washed out the richest horse-race in the world. The second running of the $4m Dubai World Cup, the Sheikh's pet project, was abandoned on safety grounds as torrential rain rendered the Nad Al Sheba track unraceable and lightning played about the grandstand.

Officials and participants meet this morning to discuss the possibility of restaging the contest, which drew 13 of the best middle-distance horses in the world, as soon as ground conditions allow. The consensus of opinion was that Thursday would be favourite, but obstacles - jockey commitments, quarantine regulations and TV scheduling being but three - have to be overcome.

The will, however, is there. Brough Scott, a member of the organising committee, said: "It would be a crying shame to give up, having got the horses here. The people involved want to go out there and rumble."

Nearly half Dubai's normal annual rainfall of three inches fell yesterday afternoon, and the first four races on the card had already been abandoned by the time the inevitable decision to call off the big race, for which a crowd of 30,000 had gathered, was taken three hours before its off-time. The Sheikh himself walked out to the track in the teeming rain and after testing the waterlogged sand, turned to those remaining huddled in the stands and drew his forefinger across his throat in an unmistakable gesture of finality.

The safety aspect - and Mohammed is a horseman first and Dubai's defence minister second - was paramount in his decision. Michael Osborne, chairman of the World Cup committee, said: "The state of the track apart, it would not have been right to put horses and jockeys into the starting stalls - a steel structure - in the middle of an electrical storm."

The World Cup, won so memorably last year by the American champion Cigar, is part of Sheikh Mohammed's desire to build Dubai's reputation as one of the sporting capitals of the world. It has cost an estimated $10m to stage and was due to be broadcast to a world-wide TV audience in 150 countries.

The horses involved - five from Britain, three from the United States, one each from France, Japan, Australia, and two trained locally - are arguably the most talented bunch of thoroughbreds ever assembled. The occasion was, as modern sporting events tend to be, attended by so-called celebrities and had been built into a social occasion but, that aspect aside, promised a fascinating international clash between top-class horses. Yesterday's freak conditions were an undeserved outcome to a grand design.

All bar one of the trainers involved - who include Michael Stoute (responsible for Singspiel), John Gosden (Flemensfirth), Mark Tompkins (Even Top), Mark Johnston (Bijou D'Inde) and Clive Brittain (Luso) from England - are most willing to try to salvage what they can from yesterday's chaos and disappointment. Tompkins said: I've never had my horse better and, if the ground is safe, he will run."

The exception was Elie Lellouche, who had been ambivalent about the participation of Helissio, the French champion, anyway. His regular jockey Olivier Peslier is booked to ride in France during the week and if the field does reconvene it will be without the Arc winner, who was last night on his way home to Chantilly.

Unseasonal rainstorms interrupted training schedules at Nad Al Sheba, where the foreign runners are stabled, two weeks ago. Osborne said: "Then, it took three or four days for the track to dry out, so we would be looking at Wednesday at the earliest for a re-run, and most likely Thursday. This has been the most desperately disappointing end to a lot of work and effort, but the circumstances were absolutely beyond our control."

The outlook for the next few days is favourable, but any more rain would wash the event out completely. The schedules of the American jockeys would not allow them to compete at the weekend which, as far as British sporting interest is concerned, would mean a clash with the Grand National.

All bets on the World Cup with Ladbrokes, both ante-post and on the day, will be refunded by the firm, who took around pounds 5m on the feature event and the Dubai Duty Free race.