There have been better winners of the Dubai World Cup than Well Armed but there has never been one that put his rivals to quite such a wide- bladed sword as he did last night. Not even the best of them all, Dubai Milennium, could take the world's most valuable prize, £2.5m, by 14 lengths. The record distance, though, said more about the quality of the contest than that of the winner.
Well Armed is a talented horse, and an honest one, but has been beaten in elite company more often than he has won, including in last year's World Cup where he was third, eight lengths in mighty Curlin's wake.
It had been judged beforehand a sub-standard edition of the ten- furlong dirt finale to the Dubai carnival season, and it was, but what the race lacked in superstars and charisma, Well Armed's solo tour de force under the Nad Al Sheba floodlights made up for as a spectacle. As he had 12 months ago, jockey Aaron Gryder bounced the son of Tiznow out of the stalls in front; the difference was that this time he was never challenged.
Allowed a soft lead, the 10-1 shot powered further and further away down the demanding straight with Gryder spending most of the last furlong patting his mount's neck. "He settled better in front this year," said the rider. "I dropped my hands and he wasted no energy, just put his ears up and enjoyed the ride round. As I did."
Well Armed, in the colours of Winstar Farms, is trained by California-based Eoin Harty and was the eighth US-based winner in 14 runnings. "He benefited from the way the track was riding," said the Irishman. "He's a front-runner and when there was no pressure on him I felt confident. And there was no Curlin this year."
French challenger Gloria De Campeao took second, in front of the Saudi Arabian pair Paris Perfect and Muller. Asiatic Boy, the 2-1 favourite, beat only two of the 14 runners home.
Jockey honours at Nad Al Sheba's last meeting – state-of-the-art Meydan takes over as the Emirates' premier track later this year – went toAhmed Ajtebi, who took the two Group One grass contests with markedly contrasting displays.
In the nine-furlong Dubai Duty Free he controlled from the front on Gladiatorius, setting up a long lead and saving enough to cope with Presvis and Ryan Moore. Then in the Sheema Classic he stormed from last to first on Eastern Anthem to thwart Spanish Moon and Presvis's Luca Cumani stablemate Purple Moon, with Jamie Spencer on board, in a three-way finish more of whiskers than noses.
Ajebti – who has ridden 16 winners in Britain, attached to Clive Brittain's yard for the past two summers – started racing in a very different arena. "I was riding camels when I was six," he said, "and switched to horses at 14. Not quite the same games, but both are about four legs and speed."
Ex-Italian Gladiatorius and former Godolphin inmate Eastern Anthem are trained by Mubarak Bin Shafya and carry the colours of sons of Sheikh Mohammed, Mansoor and Hamdan respectively. The Godolphin team ended a two-year barren spell on World Cup day when Frankie Dettori took the opening Mile on favoured Two Step Salsa, with stablemate Gayego second. Another one-two for the blues followed in the UAE Derby, but in reverse market order, when Dettori, on odds-on Desert Party – on trial for the Kentucky Derby – failed by half a length to peg back Regal Ransom.
The grey chill of the first day of the Flat turf campaign at Doncaster yesterday was in stark contrast to the heat of a desert night, but Expresso Star warmed punters' hearts as he landed a gamble in the Lincoln Handicap.
Backed from 10-1 to 100-30 favourite following a scintillating workout two weeks ago, the upwardly mobile four-year-old, trained by John Gosden for Sheikh Mohammed's wife Princess Haya, took the charge down the Town Moor Mile by a comfortable two and a half lengths from Zahid.
"He's a really nice horse," said rider Jimmy Fortune of the handsome, well-bred colt, "and I wouldn't like to say how far up the ranks he'd go or where he'd end up." Given his connections, Dubai a year from now might not be wide of the mark.