AS the horses cantered to the start a lopsided desert moon hung directly overhead as though gazing down in wonder at the magnificent follies of men. In the palatial Meydan grandstand, conversely, they might well have wondered whether it had simply been suspended there as part of the opening ceremony. Such was the heady fantasy that saturated the air, already thickened by firework smoke and an afternoon of brutal heat, as thoroughbreds from all round the planet converged for the richest race in Turf history.
The Dubai World Cup meeting was neither conceived nor named with modest intentions, but its new venue and prize fund together suggest an agenda that might sooner be termed intergalactic. You probably could see Meydan from space, this giant furnace of light and glass and excitement; and you might have been able to hear Kevin Shea's howl of anguish, as well. Having been deceived that his mount, Lizard's Desire, had caught Gloria De Campeao in a desperate, three-way climax to the big race, the South African proved incapable of disguising his wrath when the result of the photo was announced.
With so much money at stake the veneer of sportsmanship blisters and peels away. And that, no doubt, will only nourish the schadenfreude shared by many observers of Dubai's sudden economic crisis. No less prejudiced, perhaps, was the Gulf News editorial suggesting that Meydan represents "sustainability, viability and above all credibility". As neither cynics nor hagiographers, most racing professionals would gladly treat Saturday as evidence that Sheikh Mohammed will surely meet challenges they do not especially comprehend, judging from the way he tackles those they do.
Once again, as in its ground-breaking success in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic, it was the British sport's good fortune to call to international witness a trainer, in John Gosden, with a breadth of perspective grievously missing in most of his peers. By their own lights the success of Dar Re Mi in the Dubai Sheema Classic represented a supreme professional accomplishment, bringing a filly here more-or-less out of hibernation, to beat colts in a $5m race – and, what's more, hoisted into the saddle a young man having only his fourth ride as stable jockey. Even in the first flush of victory, however, Gosden was dependably prepared to address the bigger picture. Simply to have built Meydan in time, three years after the architects' model was first unveiled, was symbolic of the dynamism that could stem Dubai's tide of debt. "They have done a phenomenal job," Gosden said. "I cannot believe how much they have done in two years. I saw this place 12 months ago and thought there was no way they could race a donkey here today. But this is a man who likes to play off the front foot. He takes a positive approach to things. Yes, if you always go fast there will be times when you might get caught speeding. People did get over-extended here, just as they have in real estate all round the world. But they've restructured their debts and now they're getting on with life."
The convenient economic analogy of the house built on sand could be handsomely refuted, likewise, in relation to Gosden's startling decision this winter to hire William Buick without having previously tried him out in even one race. Buick's predecessor, Jimmy Fortune, had missed out at consecutive Breeders' Cups because he had never gained international seasoning in his youth. In something of a chicken-and-egg situation, it was evidently felt that Buick, at 21, remained receptive enough to justify any short-term jolts in the learning curve. Not that there were any here. Buick rode Dar Re Mi impeccably. "I was impressed how he was only two wide into that first bend, from that wide draw," Gosden said. "That's 14 horses in one furlong. Yes, it is good to be vindicated straightaway. I like his style, I like his intelligence, I like his balance. He's a very level-headed young man, too, not one of these night-club lunatics. You don't have to tell him anything twice. I was told by two jockeys whose judgement I respect immensely that he was very good. I was surprised nobody else has taken him on. Remember Frankie had never ridden for me before he joined me, either, and he's come on quite well, that kid."
As the author of one of those references, Dettori was among the first to embrace his old boss after the race. There were warm congratulations also from Henry Cecil, Gosden's Newmarket neighbour, as he passed on his way to saddle Twice Over in the World Cup. Cecil has himself shown faith in a young stable jockey, Tom Queally, but this turned into an unflattering race for all those who permitted Tiago Pereira an easy lead on Gloria De Campeao. Twice Over was among those who raced too freely and as a result got hampered and then stuck wide before hanging uncomfortably in the straight; Kieren Fallon, meanwhile, was trapped on the inside from his low draw on Gitano Hernando and was left with too much ground to retrieve.
Instead the rider who joined Pereira and Shea in the photo was Ahmed Ajtebi, whose inelegant style once again proved no impediment to Allybar. Ajtebi had already won the Godolphin Mile on Calming Influence, the first runner saddled in an official capacity by Godolphin's newly appointed second trainer, Mahmoud al-Zarooni. Another Emirati, Ali Rashid al-Raihe, had saddled the shock winner of the Dubai Duty Free in Al Shemali, but it proved a long evening for the senior Godolphin partnership of Saeed bin Suroor and Dettori. Now approaching 40, "that kid" might well sense that the sands are beginning shift a little beneath him. With upstarts like Ajtebi and Buick on the scene, it comes as no surprise to hear that Dettori is contemplating an earnest crack at the jockeys' championship. With Fallon also back on Ryan Moore's case, that would guarantee a season to remember – even if turned out to be asking for the moon.
Turf Account: Chris McGrath
Nap Wrighty Almighty (4.40 Lingfield)
Veteran has retrieved his form in sellers here, making up lots of ground to win on his comeback before having no chance after being hampered last time.
Next best Una Pelota (3.20 Wolverhampton). Showed ability in three starts for another yard last spring and could prove well handicapped on his debut for up-and-coming trainer Tom Dascombe.
One to watch The unexposed Born Again (Jonjo O'Neill) caught the eye in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham, travelling well until all but falling two out and dropping out into midfield.
Where the money's going The Willie Mullins-trained Arbor Supreme is ranked at 16-1 from 20-1 with Ladbrokes for the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree a week on Saturday.
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