Chris McGrath: Gio Ponti has designs on untold riches
Saturday 27 March 2010
The ruler of Dubai was familiar to the British racing fraternity long before the world's economists decided that his dynamism and charisma were a pretty fragile guarantee against the huge debts accumulating in his homeland.
As such, it was no surprise to hear Sheikh Mohammed respond to sudden panic in the stock markets last year with one of those rather portentous aphorisms to which he is so delightfully prone. "It is the fruit-bearing tree," he said, "that becomes the target of stone-throwers."
Certainly, it would be consistent with the history of his bloodstock empire for Dubai to persevere through its crisis not only with indifference to scepticism, in others, but also with redoubled ambition, on its own account. Those gathered here for the richest race meeting in history must leave to other fields of expertise the judgement whether they fiddle as Rome burns.
Most racing professionals, after all, still think that the Prime Minister is that bounder Lloyd George. They can hardly be expected to decide whether the breathtaking haste of Dubai's development – recently crowned by the tallest building on the planet – is a symbol of unprecedented endeavour or hubris in 21st century man.
However impertinent their testimony, it will remain unqualified in its enthusiasm. Good grief, if you must blow $2bn (£1.34bn) on something, by all means make it a racecourse. Meydan, the new stage for the Dubai World Cup, is surely the world's most sumptuous sporting facility. If you include the inevitable luxury hotel, its billowing grandstand extends fully a mile long. It could swallow the one at Ascot and still have room for the Albert Hall. And while there has never been a race worth more than $6m, the purse for the big one tonight has been inflated to $10m. One might almost imagine another axiom round here to be "immoderation in all things."
Anyhow, the big bucks have guaranteed corresponding competition from every point of the compass, not least two Newmarket raiders in Twice Over and Gitano Hernando and one from Manton in Crowded House.
The switch from dirt to a synthetic track may not stop the Americans, however, with Gio Ponti (5.45) looking good value now following a pardonable lapse in his prep race. Only Zenyatta could beat him in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and he had previously won four consecutive Grade Ones on an artificial surface, dirt and turf.
Youmzain, the triple Arc runner-up, is back for another crack at the Sheema Classic, while the Japanese bring a well-regarded filly in Buena Vista, but Anmar (4.35) looks tempting at 25-1 as only second string for Godolphin's new, second trainer. Presvis (3.55) can confirm himself one of the benchmark operators in the Dubai Duty Free, while Rocket Man (3.15) can thwart a strong local hope in Gayego in the other Group One. Perhaps Godolphin's key runner of the night, however, is Mendip (2.35) in the UAE Derby.
Back at home the resumption of Flat racing on turf gladdens the heart, as always, and the William Hill Lincoln features a white-knuckle ante-post gamble on Penitent. He is unexposed and certainly in the right hands, but the value has gone now and Tiger Reigns (3.10) could repay connections' patience with this lightly raced four-year-old.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Redford (2.35 Doncaster)
Made an eye-catching start for his new stable when finishing fast from the rear in a Listed race on the all-weather a fortnight ago, and has long looked the type to relish sprinting.
Mount Hadley (2.00 Doncaster)
Nearly landed a gamble first time out last spring, confirming that he goes well fresh over a straight mile, and still feasibly treated on the best form of his youth.
*One To Watch
Khachaturian (D McCain Jnr) set too strong a pace when fifth to stablemate Ballabriggs at Cheltenham. His good jumping should win plenty of chases.
*Where The Money's Going
The Package is 14-1 from 16-1 with Paddy Power for the John Smith's Grand National.
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