reports from Dubai
Much has been made this week of how much Sheikh Mohammed has spent promoting the Dubai World Cup, which today becomes the richest horse race run on the planet.
The natural consequence of this largesse to the open-mouthed seems to be that the Sheikh is throwing away his money. The Sheikh, however, cannot be judged in normal terms. This is a man who has invested $13m on a single (useless) horse by the name of Snaafi Dancer, a man who has purchased studs around the globe to house the best of his legions of horses. He also understands the power of publicity.
Down through the family lines the Maktoums have long placed emphasis on providing for succeeding generations. Today's race is another event to promote the value of the country to businessmen and holidaymakers around the globe, and if the objective is reached and the planeloads arrive, the amounts spent in fuelling today's visitors will seem piffling.
Certainly the Sheikh himself is not troubled by the thought of entertaining his guests in the Emirates. "The more of you that come here the better it is for us," he told the press corps on their arrival.
The Sheikh says he does not care who wins the Dubai World Cup, but he must have a view and it may not be that one of his own horses takes the largest chunk of the $4m prize. The best result for him, and the probable one too, in terms of advertisement would be a victory for the American champion, Cigar, who is owned by his sometime business ally Allen Paulson.
Paulson reports that Cigar did not lose a single pound in weight on his 14-hour trip from the United States, but that is as likely as passengers in first class not putting on a pound during the journey. Nevertheless, the horse looks as if he has stepped down from the canvas, his muscles hard and coat varnished.
The six-year-old completed a circuit of the Nad Al Sheba course under a threatening sky yesterday morning in the usual company of his trainer, Bill Mott, and his pony, Snowball. He appears unruffled by running under lights (which he has never tried competitively before) and has taken well to the deeper sand of Dubai's principal course. Paulson can envisage defeat only if there is a freakish intervention such as the arrival of space debris. "If everything goes as it should, he will win," he said. "But even if he doesn't, I will still think of him as the world champion."
The prospects of the home side keeping the trophy -a two-handled silver cup with images of the East, swirling sands and palm trees -lie largely with Halling and Tamayaz.
The growing suggestion in Dubai this week is that the latter holds the stronger chance. The four-year-old was below top class in Europe last summer, but like many animals transported to the Gulf he has shown relentless improvement over the winter. "Tamayaz has surprised us," Sheikh Mohammed says, "and he is still improving."
Just six months ago, it would have been inconceivable to consider any other horse apart from Halling as Godolphin's best. But then came his disastrous attempt on the Breeders' Cup Classic, in which he slid so badly around the turns at Belmont Park that it appeared as if his hooves had been buttered. He has plenty to prove.
The best each-way chance may be another animal who competed in the Classic, America's L'Carriere, who finished two and a half lengths behind Cigar that late October day. He is trained by Bond, James Bond (well Jim to his friends actually), whose horses work in saddle cloths bearing an 007 logo.
One certainty is that L'Carriere will lead for much of the race, consequently avoiding the kickback. This factor is against Geoff Wragg's Pentire, who has never run on dirt before and will now have to run through a curtain of sand when he makes his customary late surge.
Whatever gets to L'Carriere will have to show purposefulness as well as speed. "My horse will be grinding it out out there and grinding them all down," Bond said. "And whoever comes to him better be running because he won't give up."
There will be no surrendering either from Sheikh Mohammed as he continues to publicise his race and his nation. "The World Cup was a dream, a plan and now it is a reality," he said. "We will continue with this race and make Dubai the sports centre of the Middle East."
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