Racing: The heat is turned up in Dubai

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The Independent Online
Wallet fingers will have been itching in every part of the globe yesterday after 24 names were short-listed for the second running of the Dubai World Cup. The world's richest race, with a total purse of $4m (pounds 2.5m) and a blank cheque for $2.4m (pounds 1.5m) awaiting the name of one lucky owner, will be run at Nad Al-Sheba racecourse in the United Arab Emirates on 29 March, and no fewer than one in three of the prospective runners are trained in Britain.

This does not, it should be said, imply that 33 per cent of the world's best horses are resident in this country, but rather reflects such variables as proximity and the changing season in northern and southern hemispheres.

None the less, with an anticipated cast list which should include Helissio, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, our very own Singspiel, who took the Japan Cup in November, and top-grade performers from America, Australia and Japan, the Dubai World Cup could be fairly argued to be as close to a world championship as racing may ever get. The only disappointment, is that the 10-furlong contest will take place on dirt rather than turf.

It is a considerable incentive to owners in more distant parts of the world that the organisers - in effect, Sheikh Mohammed - will pay all travelling expenses, so those involved will have very little to lose. The Sheikh must also fancy his chances of winning back a decent chunk of the prize-money, since Singspiel, who will run in the maroon and white silks which are now almost a cause for nostalgia, will be backed up by two entries from the Godolphin organisation, Annus Mirabilis and Tamayez.

Less familiar names which may be worth remembering are Juggler, one of Australia's best middle-distance performers, and Hokato Vega, a Japanese mare who has won her last 10 outings on dirt, while Formal Gold, fifth in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and Mecke, the Arlington Million winner, are among the invitees from the US.

"The Dubai World Cup Committee has been delighted by both the number and quality of entries," Michael Osborne, its chairman, said yesterday. "The line-ups will be confirmed by the end of the month." Only 14 can go to post for the World Cup itself, with the remainder qualified for the Dubai Duty Free Reserve race on the same card.

Mark Johnston, one of our most enterprising and thoughtful trainers, has stabled his two challengers, Bijou D'Inde and Gothenberg, in Dubai since late January, and the latter will have his first race on the desert dirt this evening, when he contests the Sheikh Maktoum Challenge Cup. Frankie Dettori will partner Hammerstein in the same event, the feature on the first card of the Dubai racing season.

While the wind and rain of a British winter continue, however, the big race in Dubai will struggle to shift the Cheltenham Festival from the minds of most punters. The latest weekend of Gold Cup trials will start early this afternoon, when Dorans Pride, among the favourites for the Gold Cup, leaves novice company for the first time in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles. Merry Gale, fourth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown, and Royal Mountbrowne are the old-hands who will provide an interesting test for Michael Hourigan's chaser.

On Saturday, meanwhile, Imperial Call will run in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park, and there was a slightly confusing bulletin on the Gold Cup winner's well-being from Fergie Sutherland, his trainer, yesterday. "He is fine and you can take it that he will run," Sutherland said. "He has had a little infection in his hind leg from when he struck into himself in the Hennessy, and I am waiting for the results of a test. As we're so short of time, I couldn't give him a shot of penicillin, but the infection wouldn't go away. But I want to run him and I am sure he will be all right."

The apparent implication is that Imperial Call has had an infection which he may have shaken off by the time he lines up on Saturday. Or then again, he may not. Hold all bets.