Sheikh decrees World goes on

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Plagues of locusts permitting, the Dubai World Cup will be run on Thursday. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai, Minister of Defence of the United Arab Emirates and not a man to let a thing like a great flood faze him, made the decision after the briefest of confabulations trackside at Nad Al Sheba yesterday morning.

Saturday's entire six-race card, with the $4m (pounds 2.5m) World Cup its climax, will be re-staged on Thursday evening. And within two hours of the Sheikh leaving to attend the swearing-in of the new Emirates cabinet, a helicopter was circling the track, its downdraught aiding and abetting the natural drying-out processes of the sun and wind. Eat your heart out, Southwell.

The one absentee from the World Cup will be the European champion Helissio, whose trainer, Elie Lellouche, had been digging his toes in all along. But those involved with the remaining 12 competitors declared themselves more than keen to stay on to run for the richest prize racing has to offer. And where there's a will, there is - particularly if you have Sheikh Mohammed's singlemindedness and resources - a way.

Any more rain in addition to the inch-and-a-half that fell in three hours on Saturday (half Dubai's normal annual total) would finally wash away the second running of his brainchild. But the weather is set fair until at least Friday, and if the forecasts are correct no problems are envisaged in restoring the sand surface. "It's unrideable now", said the track maintenance manager, Steve Grigg, yesterday, "but once we have rolled it and re-graded it, the horses should be able to work on it on Tuesday morning.

"Our priority is to get an even depth. I don't think that anyone is too worried about whether it rides fast or slow, as long as it is safe."

The track was refurbished two years ago but clearly still has its problems. However, John Gosden, with his experience of dirt-racing in the States, said: "No track in the world would have taken the rain thrown at this one on Saturday.

"I am sure that it will be in perfect condition on Thursday night and we can then have a proper horse-race. The situation has not been ideal - it has been like getting a boxer ready for the big fight and then having to keep him ticking over for five days - but no one can control the weather. And we are very lucky to be in the position to have it re-scheduled. It would not have happened anywhere else."

His sentiments were echoed by the American trainer Richard Mandella, whose charges Siphon and Sandpit are the two favourites. He said: "Not many people could call off a big event like the World Cup. It takes a rare courage and I don't think many would have had the strength and conviction of Sheikh Mohammed to make such a decision. I was disappointed that the cancellation had to be made, but I was impressed with the way the situation was handled."

All the overseas challengers were out on one track or another yesterday in welcome sunshine. Gosden's Flemensfirth travelled to nearby Jebel Ali - higher and better-drained than Nad Al Sheba - to work on the dirt, the others breezed or galloped on Nad Al Sheba's grass track.

Saturday's storm was by no means an ill wind for all. The man least disturbed by the cancellation was Mark Johnston, whose Cup candidate, Bijou D'Inde, had missed work during last week's build-up. Yesterday the four-year-old delighted his trainer with an impressive gallop over a mile in company with stablemate Gothenberg, a runner in the supporting Dubai Duty Free race. Johnston said: "We're now in better shape for Thursday than we would have been for Saturday."

Channel 4, who had the TV rights to Saturday's programme, have - unusually - waived them in the interests of getting the World Cup on the box. The BBC will be broadcasting live from Aintree on Thursday afternoon, and there remains a possibility that the race may be brought forward - it is currently scheduled for 5.15 pm British time - if a slot can be found.

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