Chris McGrath: Dubai has changed turf landscape

Inside Track

You would love to hear what Tom Jones makes of it all. Knowing the man who trained Tingle Creek – the steeplechaser whose effervescent approach to his own calling is honoured by the big race at Sandown today – the chances are that he would raise an eyebrow, open a bottle, and invite odds against him getting down the ballroom staircase on a silver tray. And quite right too.

Jones died two years ago this week, just four days before the race commemorating his best jumper, a horse who treated the notoriously tricky obstacles at Sandown as a matter for undiluted relish. One of the last and best of the old school, Jones embraced life with no less wit or conviction. And he was nobody's fool. He was one of the first men vested with the biggest investment ever made in British horseracing, and his prognosis would be welcomed now by those who suddenly fear they may become the last.

In his heyday, Jones trained 80 horses for Sheikh Hamdan, one of the Maktoum brothers whose empire has since become the bedrock of the global sport. So many now owe their livelihoods to Dubai that the convulsions of the stock markets barely registered next to the panic infecting trainers and breeders when, last week, fissures of debt ruptured gorily into public view.

Over the past three decades, the ruling family of Dubai has spent incalculable billions buying, racing and rearing horses. If anything, moreover, spending has soared anew during the past couple of years – with Sheikh Mohammed, in particular, responding to stagnation in his racing and breeding interests with an unprecedented spree of investment. Meanwhile, it is estimated that the Maktoums accounted for 17 per cent of revenue at the latest round of yearling sales, in the process heroically shoring up a market in luxury goods nakedly exposed to recession.

Nor is it just the professionals who have become complacent in the Maktoums' support. Anyone tuning into Channel 4's coverage of Sandown will be indebted to Sheikh Mohammed for a benign sponsorship deal that more or less rescued terrestrial horseracing from oblivion.

Little wonder if people are feeling jittery. But perhaps they should heed the blithe spirit of Jones, whose first observation would surely be that they can now find out for themselves whether it is true – as Sheikh Mohammed has long protested – that horseracing accounts for an infinitesimal fraction of his time, energy and wealth.

Parochial as they are, racing folk can never really bring themselves to accept that. They cannot believe that someone can be so important in their lives, without affording them a corresponding role in his own. But anyone who has seen the bigger picture in Dubai – and whether they like the bigger picture is neither here nor there – must surely acknowledge that racing is just one, fairly frivolous dimension in something on an utterly dazing scale. If the Maktoums were ever to tighten their racing belts, they would have reached the point where they would sooner save a few dirhams than save face. And that simply isn't going to happen, unless things go so spectacularly wrong that they all end up back in tents in the desert, while the spangling skyline of Dubai rusts.

Not totally impossible, I suppose, if you take the view that the place can only represent one extreme or another: man's final mastery of his environment, or his ultimate Icarus moment. And there is one place that might help a racing man pick between those two scenarios.

Like so many other enterprises in the emirate, the new $1.5 billion racecourse at Meydan will break new ground in its field. Here is one site where the cranes have not stopped working. And the atmosphere there on World Cup night next March will perhaps prove a defining moment, for better or worse, in the Maktoums' indignant protest that there is nothing to worry about.

Of course, the chances are that the present crisis will lead to neither apocalypse nor nirvana. Jones, you fancy, would find something rather distasteful in this sudden queasiness among Turf professionals. After all, it is not as if there is any guarantee that the Maktoum princes will prove anything like as dedicated to racing as their fathers.

Racing should not be asking whether it could manage without the Maktoums, but whether the Maktoums could manage without racing. Do we earn their passion, or take it for granted? If we really do earn it, we will have nothing to worry about. A horse won't run any faster because someone pays for it in dirhams.

There is, of course, one other heavenly insight that would be valued even more. And that is the name of the Tingle Creek winner. As it happens, this field itself represents a crossroads, between past and future. In the absence of Master Minded, Big Zeb is favourite to confirm himself the rising star over two miles, having already run the champion close at Punchestown last spring. But a costly blunder at the last fence that day was by no means the first of his career, and his backers may have to shut their eyes over the railway fences.

Twist Magic, a previous winner, has become too unpredictable and surely Well Chief is better value at the odds, which make ample allowance for notorious fragility. His best form sets a clear standard, but he is being rather taken for granted. And that would surely earn us all another reproof from Mr Jones.

Harchibald will be missed despite cowardice claims

Good riddance. Such, no doubt, was the response of many heartless punters this week on learning that Harchibald had been retired. But the rest of us will surely miss one of the most engaging hurdlers of recent years.

A personal view is that he was maligned by the allegations of cowardice that followed him everywhere after he cruised into contention in the 2005 Smurfit Champion Hurdle, without actually going on to win it. He ended up sandwiched in a finish of necks with two champions, Hardy Eustace and Brave Inca, who were always depicted as paragons of grit and endeavour in contrast. But the reality might be that Harchibald offered himself generously, without being asked, and that he simply had nothing left to give off the bridle.

His trainer, Noel Meade, hopes Aran Concerto proves himself an unequivocal star over fences against just four rivals in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown tomorrow. Meade's stable is in form, but it may pay to go back to the future with In Compliance, the 2006 winner who looked potentially better than ever on his first start for Dessie Hughes at Thurles last month.

Turf Account: Chris McGrath

*Nap

Sir Tantallus Hawk (1.40 Wetherby)

Ran up a hat-trick in novice hurdles last season and made a promising resumption over 3m at Ffos Las, going well for a long way; could prove fairly treated back over this trip.

*Next best

Bold Adventure (8.50 Wolverhampton)

Dual winner over course and distance last winter and should be coming back to the boil now, having had a couple of spins since returning from a long break – and offering clear encouragement off a quickening pace last time.

*One to watch

Fathsta (DM Simcock) will surely end his losing run soon, having hit top form for his new stable and unlucky at Kempton the other night.

*Where the money's going

Manyriverstocross is Totesport's 12-1 favourite for the Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival after relishing a step up in distance at Sandown yesterday.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone