Curlin adds shimmer to sheikh's desert classic

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The Independent Online

There seems to be a dirham for every grain of sand in Dubai, and it is perhaps not surprising if perspectives on the ruling family's racing empire tend to focus more on means than ends. Only yesterday it was reported that Sheikh Mohammed had spent £200m on Woodlands Stud, the biggest bloodstock enterprise in Australia.

In the circumstances, many allow resentment or jealousy to coarsen their judgement; others, equally, are dazzled into sycophancy. Needless to say, a proper evaluation would never be black and white. But it would be churlish for anyone to deny that the maturing quality of racing in the emirate reflects positively on the Maktoums' breathless, breathtaking ambitions for their homeland.

The fifth International Carnival has been more competitive, more cosmopolitan, than ever; and the 13th Dubai World Cup, this Saturday, crowns the richest day's sport anywhere on the Turf. In contrast with its most obvious benchmark, the Breeders' Cup, it has drawn horses from every point of the racing compass – with the obvious, by now customary exception of Co Tipperary.

As it happens, the continued enthusiasm of the Coolmore partners for the Breeders' Cup nowadays provides a crucial buttress against charges of American parochialism. Conversely, the Americans have again sent their best available dirt runner to the desert.

Conditions at Nad al Sheba on Saturday will be rather different from those experienced by Curlin when he splashed through a revolting slop to win the Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park last October. His connections say they have sent Curlin here in search of the sort of global "legacy" he could hardly establish by beating up the same horses, time after time, back in the United States. They did not mention the $6m (£3m) prize fund, though presumably it might also have contributed to their decision.

They decided to do the job properly, at any rate, shipping the horse out early to ensure that he acclimatised. Indeed, they gave him a race at the Carnival last month, and he coasted home in a handicap over the World Cup course and distance in very nearly two minutes flat.

The brawny red colt has since continued to impress every witness with his condition and outlook, the manager of the quarantine complex being typical in remarking that "he looks at you like he's smarter than you are".

Having completed his preparations with a barrelling gallop the previous morning, Curlin was yesterday confined to a half hour's stroll around his barn. Scott Blasi, supervising Curlin pending the arrival of his trainer, Steve Asmussen, confirmed that he had absorbed his workout with his usual buoyancy.

"Horses between three and four are more mature, stronger, and I see that in him," Blasi said. "Physically there is more to him that there was last year. We like how he's coming into this race. We just have to keep our heads about how confident he is, and how good a horse he is."

But if Curlin tops the bill, the variety in the supporting act is quite bewildering. The horses going in and out of the quarantine zone tell countless stories of their own. In the Dubai Duty Free Stakes, for instance, Finsceal Beo and Darjina resume careers that identified them as the two outstanding fillies of their generation in Europe last season. They will meet Literato, winner of the Champion Stakes at Newmarket, and his new stablemate chez Godolphin, Creachadoir.

Youmzain, last seen running Dylan Thomas to a photo in that unforgettable race for the Arc, resurfaces in the Sheema Classic, in which he finished strongly for third last year. His opponents include Dansant, a wild-card entry who gives Gerard Butler the chance to announce his arrival in Newmarket with a fanfare. When a late vacancy arose in the race, Butler diverted Dansant from a Listed race at Kempton last Saturday.

"When you have the chance to run for $5m, as against £14,000, there's only one way you can go," he observed succinctly.

"Ignore him at your peril. Everything was against him at Lingfield last time, yet he still won. The trip was short of his best, and they crawled, but he clocked an impressive split for the last furlong, and Jamie Spencer was really enthusiastic. Obviously, we're now taking on Group One opponents, but Dansant has youth on his side and is still improving."

That last commendation might equally be applied to Jered, who yesterday rounded off the Easter Festival at Fairyhouse with a stylish success in the Dunboyne Castle Hotel Novices' Hurdle. "I've always thought a lot of him," Noel Meade, his trainer, said. "He needs good ground and because of that he had an easy winter." Jered, who had made a striking debut in a bumper at this meeting last year, will now proceed to Punchestown next month as one of the leading novices in Ireland.