Saratoga Springs, Apr. 5, 2007--For Arabian interests, there’s only one world and one race left to conquer. Unfortunately for them, everybody wants to win the Kentucky Derby. That’s the tough one. But the other goal, hosting the Breeders’ Cup Thoroughbred World Championships, could be easier to realize, possibly as soon as the fall of 2010.
Hours preceding last weekend’s enormously successful and aesthetically pleasing Dubai World Cup program, a reception was held to announce that the purse for the 2010 World Cup would rise to $10 million, a drop in the old oil bucket compared to the $1 billion needed to construct a state-of-the-art racing complex at Meydan, near the site of the present Nad Al Sheba Race Course.
The idea of big international racing days began nearly three decades ago when deep-pocketed foreign interests began bidding wars at the yearling sales for America’s best bloodstock. Since then, Arabian royalty went on to win and, for a time, dominate the classic races of Europe. Eventually they began setting their sights on the United States.
Today, when not breeding a classic winner such as Bernardini, they pay handsomely for ready-made racehorses. When Uruguayan Triple Crown winner Invasor later embarked on a successful American Horse of the Year campaign, he did so in the colors of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum. The oil rich had struck equine gold.
In the Far East, meanwhile, Japanese horsemen had begun stockpiling American stallions so that now, a few decades later, they are winning important fixtures with regularity on the international stage. The immensely talented Deep Impact was last year’s favorite for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, arguably the world’s most prestigious event. Japanese-bred Admire Moon, the son of gifted American sprinter/miler End Sweep, won the Dubai Duty Free last weekend with country-mate Daiwa Major finishing third.
The 12th World Cup’s international flavor didn’t stop there. Vengeance of Rain, New Zealand-bred but representing Hong Kong, confirmed his good form in the Hong Kong Gold Cup winning the Sheema Classic. Legendary South African horseman Michael De Kock sent out Argentinean-bred Asiatic Boy to dominate the UAE Derby. The colt, purchased by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum following his second place finish in the prestigious Gran Criterium at San Isidro in Argentina, was the under-card’s most impressive winner.
Asiatic Boy, like Invasor, is a South American 4-year-old but current plans are calling for a turf campaign in Europe. Given his dramatic turn of foot on dirt, an American schedule would be the more intriguing gambit. And finally, of course, America was well represented by the victories of Spring At Last in the Godolphin Mile and Kelley’s Landing in the Golden Shaheen. Foreigners are used to leaving the sprint game to the Americans, anyway.
But it was the great Invasor, a Sheikh Hamdan purchase following the Uruguayan Triple Crown sweep, who carried the day. The victory was another demonstration of excellent horsemanship by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who was later forced to defend regular rider Fernando Jara after Jara was criticized by Invasor’s owner in the post-race press.
Indeed, no horseplayer likes the lamentable habit of some jockeys who look back for the competition upon entering the stretch, seemingly having the leaders measured. But Invasor’s partner received no credit from the owner for breaking the horse sharply away from the barrier and forcibly attending the slow pace of a quality rival. Jara is a race rider wise beyond his 19 years, wise enough to apply pressure on Premium Tap. If he needed speaking to, it should have been done in private.
On balance, last weekend’s Dubai World Cup program was the best renewal ever and what makes Dubai such a strong possibility to host a future Breeders’ Cup event. That, and the organization’s need for funding which, among other things, can help grow the international racing model.
Expansion on several level has been in the works for some time. There was an announcement on Jan. 25 that there would be a Request For Proposals for any track in the world with an interest in hosting a future Breeders’ Cup. This, too, creates a synergy with the “Breeders’ Cup Challenge,” in effect a playoff system that features a ‘win-and-you’re-in’ format for designated races deemed worthy by the Breeders’ Cup committee.
Significantly, the first race in the Challenge series will be the Hong Kong Jockey Club Champions Mile at Sha Tin Race Course later this month. Additionally, the recent marketing partnership between the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Breeders’ Cup Limited includes a $1-million bonus provision for the horse that sweeps the NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile and Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile in December, also at Sha Tin.
For the first time this year, horseplayers in Hong Kong will be able to wager into Breeders’ Cup betting pools. The speculation is that the recent hiring of New York Racing Association Senior Vice-President and COO Bill Nader by the Hong Kong Jockey Club as its Executive Director, Racing, will pay immediate dividends, not only helping facilitate Hong Kong’s simulcast wagering on Breeders’ Cup but also for his racing expertise and contacts among America’s top horsemen. The HKJC clearly has ambitious plans, but also has serious competition.
The demonstration to visiting dignitaries at Nad Al Sheba before the World Cup left many observers bug-eyed. A 50-foot scale model of the new Heydan complex was hydraulically lifted out of the ground, allowing visitors to walk around inside it. According to one observer, not a single detail was overlooked and that the projected costs possibly reaching $1 billion was not hyperbole.
Heydan, translated from the Arabic to mean “where people congregate, compete and aspire to win” is the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates. But not even a sheikh can have everything he wants. Witness the performance of his Discreet Cat. It turns out the Sport of Kings can humble them, too.