This weekend’s Dubai World Cup will be compelling viewing with renowned tearaway Panthalassa leading an eight-strong Japanese challenge at Meydan. But which previous runnings of the prestigious 2000-metre feature live longest in the memory of global horse racing fans?
Jerry Bailey celebrates Cigar's Dubai World Cup triumph in 1996. (Photo by Phil Cole)
A big week at Meydan will reach its climax shortly after 8:35pm local time on Saturday when a field of 15 will break from the gates in the G1 Dubai World Cup, each horse chasing the US$6.96 million winner’s purse and their place in the record books.
It is 27 years since Sheik Mohammed – Dubai’s crown prince at the time – put on the world’s richest race for the first time, at the old Nad Al Sheba racecourse: an international event staged for the advancement of Dubai’s global profile.
The race has lost some of its status in recent years with the rise of other big money, high-profile contests, but it still carries prestige and that has much to do with the legacy left by the great performances of champion horses past; more so than the big prize money, the stunning Meydan venue, and the fancy lights and aeronautics of its dazzling half-time show. The Dubai World Cup has given us some great races and here we pick our five most memorable.
The 2007 Dubai World Cup was billed as a head-to-head between the Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned Invasor and Godolphin’s Discreet Cat, and Nad Al Sheba was buzzing as the two ‘local’ heroes went to post at short odds on the British tote. The pair had met in the UAE Derby 12 months prior when Discreet Cat smashed the field to win by seven lengths and the Argentine-bred Uruguayan champion Invasor, short of race sharpness, was fourth.
But that was the only time Invasor would be beaten. The son of Candy Stripes had proven himself to be something extraordinary in South America with a hat-trick of G1 majors in Uruguay before Sheikh Hamdan bought him, and he rolled into the US in 2006 to pick off G1 wins in the Pimlico Special, Suburban Handicap, Whitney Handicap and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Fernando Jara sends Invasor home a winner of the 2006 Breeders' Cup Classic. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Meanwhile, Discreet Cat was not seen again until August when he posted a wide margin minor score at Saratoga, then reeled off wins in the G2 Jerome Breeders’ Cup Handicap, G1 Cigar Mile, and G1 Donn Handicap. The scene was set, but Discreet Cat fluffed his lines.
Instead, Invasor and the American outsider Premium Tap went eyeball to eyeball down the Nad Al Sheba straight until the world’s top-rated horse asserted his superiority in the final 150 metres. Invasor won by a length and three quarters in a fast time of 1m 59.7s under his 19-year-old rider Fernando Jara. It was a win for the Shadwell blue and US trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, but it was also a huge triumph for South American horse racing.
Die-hard fans of Arrogate would say something like the grey’s 2017 Dubai World Cup victory was the greatest performance Meydan has ever seen. We’re not here to argue, so let’s just agree it was a sensational performance worthy of the top five list.
The Bob Baffert-trained son of Unbridled Song arrived at Meydan as a four-year-old, less than a year after his career debut third at Los Alamitos. Thereafter, the Juddmonte-owned colt went on a rampaging sequence of seven wins that featured the G1 Travers Stakes, G1 Breeders Cup Classic and G1 Pegasus leading into his epic Dubai victory.
Arrogate, a one-act affair in the $12 million Pegasus. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Arrogate was tardy out of the barrier in the Dubai World Cup and was soon a dozen lengths behind the tearaway leader Long River. Racing wide and still with six lengths to make up approaching the home turn, the colt began to lengthen as up ahead Gun Runner grabbed the lead.
Third and within striking range at the top of the straight, Smith unleashed that ground-devouring stride. Arrogate galloped past Gun Runner inside the final furlong and drew away to win by two and a quarter lengths. Gun Runner went unbeaten through five further G1 races; Arrogate was never the same again and was beaten in three subsequent starts, including by Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But that night at Meydan, the grey was immense.
When Sheikh Mohammed laid on the first Dubai World Cup in 1996 it was a groundbreaking move. A brand new ‘world championship’ race, offering a record for the time of US$2.4 million, staged off the beaten track in the Middle-East, and bringing together the best from North America and Europe. It lived up to its billing.
Cigar was the poster boy, the American dirt track superstar with an unbroken sequence of 13 straight wins. And, in those more adventurous times, when the best European runners were prepared to chance the dirt surface, the field also featured two genuinely top-line turf runners from Britain, Halling and Pentire. Adding to the celebrity feel to the event was the US runner Soul Of The Matter, owned by the songwriter and composer Burt Bacharach.
Jerry Bailey positioned Cigar in fourth and enjoyed a smooth passage to roll him up outside the lead on the final turn. The Allen Paulson-owned six-year-old cruised and when Bailey pushed, he quickened. But the race was not over, Soul Of The Matter rattled down the outside through a closing run and looked the champ in the eye; Cigar rallied and fought back in a thrilling duel. The reward was a half-length success, a 14th straight win, and the distinction of being remembered as the first Dubai World Cup winner.
2. Victoire Pisa
Timing is everything, they say, and Victoire Pisa certainly timed his Dubai World Cup win just right. The Japanese contingent at Meydan was left reeling by the events back in their homeland on March 11, 2011 when the devastating Tōhoku earthquake (9.0 magnitude) and tsunami occurred, which ultimately took the lives of more than 18,000 people.
That catastrophic loss of human life and all-round devastation put into context starkly horse racing’s place in the big picture. But the human spirit is lifted by such relative trifles and when the Dubai World Cup came around so soon after – staged on the Tapeta surface that year – the Japanese star Victoire Pisa and his rider Mirco Demuro were about to provide a needed emotional fillip.
Mirco Demuro points to the black ribbon on his arm in mourning for Japan's earthquake victims. (Photo by Marwan Naamani/Getty Images)
The previous year’s Arima Kinen winner whipped around the field from last to press the pedestrian-paced leader entering the backstretch. That placed the astute Demuro and his Katsuhiko Sumii-trained mount in the prime position when it mattered and the Italian drove Victoire Pisa in a tenacious stretch run to win by half a length from another Japanese runner Transcend. Japan’s first Dubai World Cup success was one of deep and memorable emotion.
1. Dubai Millennium
There is just no looking past Dubai Millennium’s sensational performance in the 2000 Dubai World Cup. The Godolphin champion was immense through every beat of that 2000 metres around Nad Al Sheba, striding out at breathtaking speed from the break under Frankie Dettori to fulfil his destiny in a record time of 1m 59.50s.
The handsome son of Mr Prospector had been named Yaazer as a young horse but when his exciting athletic prowess began to show through, Sheikh Mohammed renamed him Dubai Millennium, and, legend has it, he did so with a view to winning the new millennium edition of the Dubai World Cup. Talk about a plan coming together.
Sheikh Mohamed Al Maktoum celebrates Dubai Millennium's Jacques le Marois success with jockey Frankie Dettori. (Photo by Mychele Daniau/Getty Images)
Jim McGrath’s race call captured the ‘wow’ of what spectators were seeing as the bay went through swift early fractions: “Frankie Dettori is really taking a chance here…he’s blazing a big trail” and “Dubai Millennium is going like the wind in front.” It seemed that the bay could not maintain the pace, but he did, and such was his superior brilliance, the crowd began cheering and clapping the win at the top of the straight, long before he reached the winning post six lengths clear.
Dubai Millennium was as impressive back on turf at his next start when he won the G1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot by eight lengths, eased down. The bay suffered a career ending injury after Ascot and then, just 13 months after his Dubai triumph, he succumbed to grass sickness at Dalham Hall Stud. But the spine-tingling memory of him whistling around Nad Al Sheba lives on.