Regular crew on board for Dubai launch

De Kock scores while Dettori marvels at grandeur of Meydan on opening night
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The Independent Online

Meydan may be an edifice without precedent on the sporting planet, whether judged in terms of scale or symbolism, but its first race yesterday produced a very familiar winner in Mike De Kock – long established as much the most successful overseas trainer at the Dubai International Carnival. The big South African promptly won the next one as well, suggesting that it will be business as usual at this most dramatically different of venues.

In fairness, this was also a new beginning for De Kock, in that Raihana and Lizard's Desire were the first two salvoes in his partnership with Christophe Soumillon – himself making a fresh start in 2010, having lost his post as the Aga Khan's retained rider in France last autumn.

The Belgian jockey has since joined forces with Jean-Claude Rouget for the new season. But no jockey in Europe has a more momentous year ahead than Kieren Fallon, who became next to get his name on the scoresheet when Drunken Sailor won a handicap for Luca Cumani, whose Newmarket stable will be the mainstay of Fallon's challenge for a seventh championship.

But this was a night when the stage itself overshadowed even the most illustrious actors. At a cost thought to approach $2bn (£1.2bn), Meydan is a racecourse beyond the resources of any other racing nation. Frankie Dettori, whose career in the service of Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, has long accustomed him to the dauntless scale of the Dubai project, arrived to compare the "jaw-dropping" facility to "a spaceship from Star Wars". In these troubled times, one way or another, it is the most expressive of gestures.

It turns out that the grandstand, 1,600 metres long, will not accommodate anything approaching its 60,000 capacity until the Dubai World Cup, this time engorged to an eye-watering $10m, crowns the richest day in Turf history on 27 March. Many finishing touches are still to be applied, notably the turf track, not yet in use yesterday.

The new Tapeta surface quickly confirmed itself as congenial to European turf horses – Sir Gerry was another on the mark, for John Best – but there could have been no more fitting winner of the biggest prize on the opening card, Round One of the Maktoum Challenge, than Gloria De Campeao. Brazilian-bred and ridden, he is trained in France by Pascal Bary but has been campaigned all round the globe and finished second in the World Cup last year on the old dirt surface at Nad al Sheba. He will again be aimed at the big one this time round.

Closer to home, a rather different discipline will preoccupy most hearts and minds in the meantime. But the trials card at Cheltenham tomorrow will feature no Denman, whose owners have persuaded Paul Nicholls, his trainer, to wait for the Aon Chase a fortnight later.

Nicholls brings Tataniano, one of the leading contenders for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy, to Newbury today where he faces just two rivals on his first start since that brilliant exhibition at Cheltenham in November.

Turf account: Chris McGrath

Nap

Far More Serious (3.50 Newbury) Has shot up the handicap since his return from a two-year lay-off, but could well remain ahead of his rating judged by the way he pulled a subsequent winner miles clear of a competitive field here last time.

Next best

Pantalaimon (2.30 Doncaster) Born for chasing and made a promising start in this sphere at Huntingdon last month, jumping well and finishing powerfully for a close third in a race that has worked out well.

One to watch

Pliny (Venetia Williams) has endured a vexing start to his career over timber, brought down on his debut and again badly hampered at Leicester on Tuesday – even so managing to lead two out before fading into third.

Where the money's going

Elegant Concorde, a winner at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting, is 7-1 from 9-1 with Paddy Power for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

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