Racing: Richest race a triumph for Hills

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The Independent Online
HE WAS a mouthful for the crowd and more than a handful for his rivals at Nad Al Sheba last night. Almutawakel won the world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup, for Richard Hills, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum and his Godolphin trainers last night. He looks destined for a stunning campaign.

Almutawakel now appears to have 10-furlong races around the globe at his mercy. Contests such as the Eclipse and Newmarket's Champion Stakes were swift nominations last night. And now that he has humbled America's shining dirt talents, the Breeders' Cup Classic at Florida in November looks an enticing prospect.

But for those connected with the winner yesterday the immediate aftermath was about enjoying the present. "It's massively important for Godolphin to win here," Simon Crisford, the team's racing manager, said. "This is what Godolphin is all about. It's a massive occasion for us. It's as good as winning any race in the world."

Sheikh Hamdan's outpourings of joy are usually measured by comets coming round but here, for once, the owner of Nashwan, Salsabil and many other greats was deeply moved. "It's a dream come true," he said. "This is very special."

Oddly, though, Almutawakel looked anything but out of the ordinary in his three-year-old campaign last year. He showed enough in the Emirates to earn a voyage in the 2,000 Guineas, but did not figure. Better performances came in France where he won the Prix Jean Prat, but this was hardly form to set the church bells ringing. "We didn't want to squeeze him up in the second part of last season because he was so weak," Crisford said. "He's a lot stronger now. He's matured, he's strengthened and he's been working very well on the sand."

Indeed, the son of Machiavellian collected Godolphin's private World Cup trial three weeks ago, relegating Central Park and High-Rise. This alerted his keepers, though they wanted to see proof in the racecourse hothouse. Last night, in the cooling air of an Arabian evening, they got it.

A hazy day with wisps of irrelevant cloud had given way to clear night. Dubai's harmattan wind picked up the flags that line the long avenue down to Nad Al Sheba. In the distance, the twin monoliths of the Emirates Towers twinkled.

Swarms of white robes had squirted through a narrow entry to the course as soon as gates opened just after 3pm. The siren call was the entrance fee, which in local money was zero dirhams (sterling pounds 0).

By the time the horses for the big race entered the parade ring - its grass dyed an unnatural green - the stands had become a liquorice assortment of harlequin colours.

There was nothing counterfeit about the condition of the runners. Godolphin's horses are not bleached by the desert sun. It enriches and feeds them. They all looked superb. So too did the American runners and their standard bearer, Silver Charm, was afforded the best-turned-out prize.

However, the reigning champion and former Kentucky Derby victor appeared diffident. He looked as though he would rather be having a nap. His fellow Derby winner, High-Rise, was ready to go and needed two attendants to keep him in order. He soiled the parade ring and dirtied his reputation in the race. Almutawakel, too, made work for the shovellers, but everything else he produced was clean and clinical.

This was a contest billed as the conflict between two Derby winners, but scripts in racing are often treated with disdain. It soon became clear yet another story was to be ruined when High-Rise was being scrubbed along from half-way. "The [No1] draw killed him," Frankie Dettori reported.

Silver Charm, too, struggled from a long way out and appeared to grow very old last night. It was left to his compatriots Malek and Victory Gallop to try to cut down Almutawakel after Hills took his mount to the front three furlongs out. The American horses came to swamp him, but, as the poles passed, there was little sign of a deterioration in Almutawakel's stride. At the post the pursuers were still three-quarters of a length and more adrift.

It is to the winner's credit that he managed to repel animals who have been through the kiln of top competition in the United States. "I felt the others bearing down on me but I didn't know how close they were," Hills said. "He's a really tough horse. He kept digging deep."

The brothers Maktoum, led by Godolphin's creator, Sheikh Mohammed, were soon out of their seats and down to greet their winner. In its fourth year, the race the family instigated is theirs for the first time and now just America's top events remain to be swept up. If the Godolphin legions continue like this, Sheikh Mohammed will hope the space programmes gain pace because he is running out of earthly conquests.