Hair fashioned into famous skyscrapers. Rows of hats beneath the canopy of the famous Meydan grandstand. Three-piece suits and extravagant accessories. Dubai World Cup day is Dubai’s Royal Ascot, Melbourne Cup and Kentucky Derby rolled into one – a day that is as much about fashion as furlongs and fillies.
There is, though, the rather serious matter of the world’s richest horse race to consider. This year, the prize pot across all of the races stands at US$30 million, with a third of that reserved for the Dubai World Cup itself. And while the paddock, lawns and hospitality boxes might resemble the pages of Hello! magazine, there will be plenty of seasoned race goers, journalists and, of course, racehorse owners eagerly anticipating the nine high-class races taking place.
- The first Dubai World Cup was held in 1996. American thoroughbred Cigar won the US$4 million prize.
- In 2000, the race was won, appropriately enough, by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed’s favourite horse, Dubai Millennium.
- In total, Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin stable has six victories.
- The brand new facilities at Meydan hosted their first World Cup in 2010, which was won by Brazil’s Gloria De Campeao.
ShortList talked to three people for whom this is very much the most important day of the year.
The Jockey – Fernando Jara
One of the few jockeys to have won the race down the years can’t wait for another crack at Meydan
In total, 15 jockeys have celebrated victory in the 20 previous editions of the World Cup, with only two – American Jerry Bailey (1996, 1997, 2001 and 2002) and Italian Frankie Dettori (2000 and 2003) – boasting multiple wins. It is, then, a small and cosmopolitan club: in addition to USA and Italy, winning jockeys have come from the Dominican Republic (Joel Rosario), Costa Rica (John R Velazquez), Brazil (TJ Pereira) and, in the case of Fernando Jara, Panama.
Jara won in 2007 onboard American superstar Invasor, owned by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. It remains, naturally, a career high point. “It is one of the happiest days of my life,” says the jockey who was later crowned Champion Jockey in the 2008/09 UAE racing season.
“Invasor was such an easy horse to ride,” he continues. “He was what I call a ‘push button’ horse. Everything I asked of him, he was there for me, no matter what I did. I was just the passenger. I still remember all of the people screaming at the end. It was a very special night for me.”
The Trainer – Alan Sherman
Assistant trainer for California Chrome, the 2014 American Horse of the Year and last year’s World Cup runner-up
Alan Sherman is desperate to have another crack at the world’s richest horse race. You can hear it in every sentence. Having seen California Chrome come second last year, he has made it the season’s goal to go one better – and is under no illusion what victory would mean. “It’s absolutely one of the world’s biggest races, and obviously the huge prize money helps that,” Sherman told ShortList. “It’s a very prestigious race and it would look very good on California Chrome’s résumé when he goes out to stud at Taylor Made Farms.”
Not that the thoroughbred’s CV needs too much padding. In 2014, California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby, the most famous race in the US, and was later named Horse of the Year. It’s perhaps testament to the Dubai World Cup that this is still a crown they desperately want to wear. “We’ve come to Dubai earlier this year,” says Alan.
“We got here on January 21 to give him more time to acclimatise to the weather and the conditions. Our sole aim in 2016 is to win the Dubai World Cup. That itself should tell you just how special this race is viewed around the world.”
The Broadcaster – Laura King
The face and voice of the Dubai Racing Channel who will be helming her 11th Dubai World Cup this year
Laura King has few doubts as to what explains the global allure of the Dubai World Cup, a race which she has covered for the Dubai Racing Channel for the last ten years. It is, she says, the only international race meeting that attracts horses from America, Europe, Hong Kong and Japan to compete on dirt and turf. That on its own makes it unique. “The Breeders Cup comes close but I think Dubai is the only one that really boasts horses from all the major racing jurisdictions.
“Plus it all comes down to one night. There’s a real buzz across Dubai and you have the who’s who here because it’s the first major stop on the international circuit. It is a night like no other. Meydan is simply spellbinding.”
It’s a view that is beginning to be shared around the world, too. It might not have the heritage of a Kentucky Derby or 2,000 Guineas, but the Dubai World Cup does have a definite cachet in racing circles.
“Money talks whatever industry you’re in,” she says. “It is the richest race in the world by some way, but there’s also huge prize money right the way down to the first race of the night, the US$1 million Kahayla Classic, which is absolutely great for Arabian racing.
“The prestige might never quite reach the level of Royal Ascot, but the Dubai World Cup is only in its 21st year. It has made huge strides and it does what Royal Ascot doesn’t: get entrants from all four corners of the planet.”
The Dubai World Cup line-up for 2016
Dubai Kahayla Classic (GI)
Al Quoz Sprint (GI)
Godolphin Mile (GII)
Dubai Gold Cup (GIII)
UAE Derby (GII)
Dubai Golden Shaheen (GI)
Dubai Turf (GI)
Dubai Sheema Classic (GI)
Dubai World Cup (GI)
What: Access to part of the Meydan Grandstand and several food areas.
What: An enclosed lounge area in the Grandstand with additional access to Apron Views, Bubble Lounge and Barasti.
What: Near the finish line with access to Apron Views, Parade Ring Lawns and post-race concerts.