Racing: Worldly top class in Dubai exams

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The Independent Online
THE BIRCH has stopped flying and now we must wait for the sand. The Cheltenham Festival roar has died and the racing caravan moves on to the Middle East and the Dubai World Cup on Sunday.

Like Prestbury Park, Nad Al Sheba will offer equine excellence, but that is where the comparison ends. Most stark is the reward between Flat and National Hunt. The World Cup will take just over two minutes to run under floodlights, but the prize fund sloshing around will be more than the 20 races of the Festival put together.

The Godolphin team which winters in the Emirates saddles four runners in Sunday's race. This unit is all about harvesting big pots and prestige prizes and is a strategy which will be detrimental to British racing this spring.

Godolphin have won a 2,000 Guineas and it seems the Classic no longer holds great allure for them. Their best horses will not be pointed at Newmarket this May, rather the equally prestigious and more financially rewarding forum of Louisville and the Kentucky Derby.

The great series of trials for this year's Classic generation began in the desert yesterday. Those that are considerations for Europe will not be asked to repay their pampered keep until early next month, but we now know that Worldly Manner and, most importantly, Aljabr, will not be among them.

Worldly Manner's concentration on Louisville is no surprise. He is an American horse purchased for a reputed $4m (pounds 2.4m) last year. Aljabr, though, we thought was ours. He won three times in Europe last season, culminating in a victory in the Prix de la Salamandre which made him ante- post favourite for the Guineas (the disqualified runner-up in the Longchamp race, Stravinsky, is, incidentally, in line to make his seasonal debut at the Curragh on Sunday).

Now, though, Aljabr has emigrated in the competitive sense. He is one of a batch of horses which will send the royal blue colours swerving around North American tracks this next few months. The unbeaten colt returns to the land of his breeding now aware of what it is like to have a competitor finish in front of him.

There were 10 runners in his trial over nine furlongs at Nad Al Sheba yesterday. And one of them was too good for him. "Worldly Manner beat Aljabr by a length in 1.46.59, which is a very fast and solid time," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, reported. "They established their authority over the rest and drew clear, but Worldly Manner had the superior finish over the last two furlongs today. He was very impressive. They both were. They're both right on target for the Kentucky Derby. They're going."

It ought to be stressed that this was no gentle runaround to get yawns out of the system. The jockey arrangements on the first two might tell you that. Worldly Manner was partnered by Jerry Bailey, the American who has already won two Dubai World Cups. The steering on Aljabr was conducted by John Velazquez, the Puerto Rico-born jockey who rode Philip Mitchell's Running Stag (who has arrived in Dubai for Sunday's race) in the Breeders' Cup Classic last November.

"This was a race in everything but name," Crisford said. "None of the riders involved will tell you that was not a proper contest. That was our first major checkpoint with our young horses and Aljabr was the reference point because we know what his quality and class is."

Soon it will be time for Crisford to get his suitcase out of the attic. "We've been preaching an international theme over the last few years," he said. "At the moment we're preparing to come back to Europe for the Classics, preparing to go to Hong Kong and a campaign in Japan, and we're also preparing a team of horses to go to North America for the Triple Crown series, kicking off with the Kentucky Derby. That's a first for us. It adds a new dimension to what we're trying to achieve at this stage of the year. The goalposts have certainly moved."

Among the sports fields with which Godolphin will still be associated is the Rowley Mile at Newmarket. They have 22 of the 89 entries in the 2,000 Guineas, nine of them unbeaten. Team Emirates also trains 13 of the 83 considerations in the 1,000 Guineas.

Further ahead, Godolphin is responsible for 19 of the 143 entries in the Derby, many of them Countdown conundrum names such as Mukhalif, Mutafaweq and Rhagaas.

However, there are only four out of 142 inmates at Dubai's Al Quoz stable - surely the most valuable racing shed on earth - which matter immediately. High-Rise, the transferred Derby winner, Daylami, Almutawakel (128 points at Scrabble) and Central Park will stride out under the lights on Sunday, 3,500 miles away from Greenwich, and attempt to keep the dirhams in the treasure chest.

Last year's winner, Silver Charm, and Victory Gallop are monstrous American challengers in the way. "We've got a very solid chance," Crisford said. "Last year we came very close with Swain, but this time our team is stronger all round.

"High-Rise is doing very well and we're not concerned about the distance or the surface with him. He's got to do it on the night and there is always that doubt, but all the indications are that he is in cracking form. He's giving us the right signals.

"Daylami's a horse that has to be respected at the trip, Almutawakel could run a very nice race indeed, and, like him, Central Park has really jumped up on this surface." At least, Godolphin have had the grace to leave the Grand National to the shivering impoverished of the jumping community.