Racing: Dust turns to gold in sport of sheikhs: The world's top jockeys jostle for eminence in the Emirates, but Britain's new Flat season on turf makes an uncertain beginning Richard Edmondson, in Dubai,

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT IS promised that the best jockey in the world will be identified today at the Nad Al Sheba racecourse in Dubai.

The purpose of the 10-man, four- race international challenge is to prove who is the best rider breathing. But despite the intricate format whereby each participant will ride a cross-section of top-weights, middle- ranking horses and lowly weighted animals, the idea is specious.

Though quality men from Australia, Japan, the home country and established giants such as Pat Eddery and Michael Kinane from Europe and the Americans Mike Smith and Chris McCarron will be on view, it could be that the best jockey will not even be here.

Ladbrokes, needless to say, are here (where aren't they) and they know the contest to be unequal. Though the races are handicaps there is an odds-on shot in one, while the favourite to take the title, the Irishman John Murtagh, who has ridden here for some time, is as low as 3-1. (Eddery's draw of mounts has made him a 16-1 chance). Speculation on the challenge will, of course, not be taking place in this Islamic country as gambling is forbidden.

While visitors this week are unlikely to be convinced by this competition, there can be little doubt that racing in Dubai is on the move. The sport cannot be progressing quicker anywhere else on the planet.

Starting from dust in the desert barely four years ago, Dubai now has two modern racecourses (Jebel Ali is the other), a corps of international trainers and almost 400 thoroughbreds. The ruling house of Maktoum has pledged to make their homeland an international racing centre and whatever the brothers want, backed by their extraordinary, oil-generated wealth, they usually get. If money makes the world go round, the engine is probably located round this part of the Middle East.

And while visits to the Emirates will be out of reach of all but the most affluent British racegoers, movements here will have much effect on European racing.

For a start, as the sport expands through the Gulf many familiar names will be removed from British racecards. In terms of personnel, there are men around the place such as Paddy Rudkin, formerly part of Henry Cecil's workforce at Warren Place and now a trainer, and the former Newmarket trainer Lord John Fitzgerald, the secretary of the Emirates Racing Association.

There are some well-known thoroughbreds conducting their careers here too such as the one-time Oaks favourite, Criquette, the Group winner Red Bishop and the Emirates' outstanding performer, Cezanne.

There are those, also, who will be making the trip back to Britain in a month's time and who may have an impact on the Classics. Buoyed by the performance of Dayflower, who finished fifth in the 1,000 Guineas last year after a winter in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed has repeated the greenhouse effect with many more horses going into the 1994 season.

Anyone who saw the shimmering figures of Balanchine and State Performer, two of 30 horses in quarantine at the Al Quoz stables, this week would struggle to disagree with the local belief that they are six weeks ahead of their Newmarket brethren in terms of condition. Both will fly out on the Monday before the Guineas meeting in an effort to minimise the shock of different climates. 'Travelling horses is difficult,' Simon Crisford, one of Sheikh Mohammed's men out here, said. 'But I would tell you that shipping from a warm country to a cold one is a lot easier than vice versa. These horses will be ready to run when they get there. They might not be good enough, but they will certainly be fit enough.'

Both Balanchine and State Performer will run in new colours, those of Godolphin Racing, which will embrace all the Sheikh's horses that spend part of their lives in Dubai.

The Sheikh plans to establish a separate broodmare band up to 100 strong to supply his Godolphin string and will use stallions known for hardiness as much as quality to serve them. In this way, he expects to breed horses which he can either race himself or sell to other owners in Dubai to provide the bedrock of future racing. So while today's Challenge will be resolved in little over 90 minutes, the plans for Dubai's racing expansion have been drafted with a rather longer timespan in mind.

International Jockeys' Challenge

2.20: (1m 4f) Shebl Y Take (Jap); Waaree M Kinane (Eur); Young Offender Y Okabe (Jap); Turgenev G Clarke (Aus); Map Of Stars G Childs (Aus); Jumaira Shark Pat Eddery (Eur); Northern Bound C McCarron (US); Alycida J Murtagh (UAE); Tej Singh M Smith (US); Bohemiam Crown R Hills (UAE).

2.50: (1m 2f) Doreg C McCarron; Dancing Zena Pat Eddery; Salatin M Smith; Criquette J Murtagh; Hereafter R Hills; Advocat Y Okabe; Skookum Y Take; Efharisto M Kinane; Ribhi G Clarke; Kristianstad G Childs.

3.20: (7f) High Premium G Childs; Pencombe G Clarke; Yaqthan M Kinane; Rue Rembrandt Y Otake; Hadeer's Dance Y Okabe; Makin R Hills; Monopoly Money J Murtagh; Jaazim M Smith; Field Of Vision Pat Eddery; Arid C McCarron

3.50: (7f) Hazzaam R Hills; Lost Soldier M Smith; Teshami J Murtagh; Aghaadir C McCarron; Ajdayt Pat Eddery; Ihtiraz G Clarke; El Gahar G Childs; Darbonne Y Okabe; John Balliol M Kinane; Sand Table Y Take.

Races will be shown live on Channel 4.

(Photograph omitted)