African Story heads Maktoum clean sweep

Sheikh Mohammed’s horse takes Dubai World Cup as his family clean up the minor places

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The Independent Online

After a series of cosmopolitan results in the supporting races, Sheikh Mohammed duly won the main event, the Dubai World Cup, at the hugely well-endowed meeting that he founded 18 years ago to foster elite international competition. He will, of course, have taken satisfaction from a winner apiece for South Africa, Britain, Ireland and two each for Hong Kong and Japan, but also from winning the world’s richest contest for the seventh time as 12-1 shot African Story led home Mukhadram and Cat O’Mountain for a Maktoum family clean sweep.

African Story, who runs in his owner’s blue Godolphin silks, gave his trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, a fifth success in the £6 million contest, and his rider, Silvestre de Sousa, his first. As for the horse – a seven-year-old gelding – it was by far the most important victory of a previously fairly undistinguished career; last year he finished only fifth in the race, and the best of his six wins had come in a lesser race at the meeting two years previously.

He had a valid excuse on his below-par warm-up, though – he had hurt himself as he banged into the starting stalls – and is very much the type the Godolphin team save for the big night, a specialist on Meydan’s artificial track and over the distance. He cut down the trailblazing Mukhadram with authority, sweeping clear in the final furlong to take the prize by two-and-a-half lengths. “He was unlucky last time,” said De Sousa, “and now he’s proved he’s the boy.”

Mukhadram, trained in Newmarket by William Haggas, adapted well on his first try on the surface, staying on to see off Cat O’Mountain, another of the Godolphin team, by four lengths. But last year’s Derby winner, Ruler Of The World, failed to act on it and beat only three home. If there was charisma at Meydan last night it belonged to the Japanese mare Gentildonna, who overcame two sets of traffic problems in the straight to take the Sheema Classic. Once in the clear, the five-year-old cruised away from the 2012 winner, Cirrus Des Aigles, to scoop the  12-furlong turf prize by a length and a half and take her Group One tally to six, including the past two Japan Cups. “It was a rough race,” said her rider, Ryan Moore, “but she has a lot of heart.”

The contest was marred by the death of Mars, who caused interference as he veered violently through the pack across the track in the early stages before collapsing, having suffered a heart attack. As he went down he flipped his rider, Richard Hughes, over the rail, but the British champion escaped with a shaking.

In the top-level races, the best results for British stables came with Mukhadram and third spots for Sir Michael Stoute’s Dank in the Duty Free – turned into a rout by the six-length victor, Just A Way, for Japan – and Roger Varian’s Ambivalent in the Sheema Classic.

But on the undercard, an audacious venture by Lambourn-based Jamie Osborne was justified when Toast Of New York – previously the winner of two minor races at Wolverhampton – ran away with the Group Two UAE Derby, setting up a possible tilt at the Kentucky equivalent. “What I knew beforehand was that he’s the best horse I’ve trained,” said Osborne, “but having said that, I’ve trained an awful lot of moderate horses.”

The Dubai racetrack that hosted last night’s meeting, with its purses of more than £16 million, also serves a purpose at humbler levels. Ocean Tempest, who had been honing his limbs and lungs in lesser contests at Meydan since January, flew back to land the first feature contest of the domestic turf season, the William Hill Lincoln at Doncaster. The 20-1 shot, trained in Newmarket by John Ryan, took the mile handicap by a length and three-quarters from the 7-1 joint-favourite Tullius, and though his £62,250 first prize could not really compare with African Story’s £3,614,457, it was the culmination of a well-worked plan.

Though the grey five-year-old had not finished closer than fourth in six starts at Meydan, Ryan was playing a longer game. “I wasn’t actually disappointed with him out there,” he said, “as I took him out there to train him for the Lincoln. He ran well enough to earn enough to pay his way there, and more to the point he had good weather and good track-work, and we came here today with a fit horse.”