The Dubai World Cup – a race of prestige and lure

The standard at which it is conducted and staged, and the quality of horses it attracts have helped the Dubai World Cup to tick all the right boxes and earn its place alongside the most famous races in the world.

By Leslie Wilson

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Published: Sun 20 Mar 2022, 9:09 PM

Last updated: Sun 20 Mar 2022, 9:14 PM

There was a tremendous sense of anticipation as a crowd of over 50,000 racegoers gathered at Dubai’s Nad Al Sheba Racecourse on a flawless evening in 1996 to witness history in the making.

The occasion was the inaugural running of the $4million Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest flat race and a first of its kind thoroughbred contest that had attracted the best equine athletes from all corners of the earth.

Dubai had already earned world attention for putting on some spectacular sporting events like the Dubai Masters (Dubai Classic), a major snooker tournament, Dubai Rugby Sevens, the Dubai Desert Classic, the European Tour’s first golf tournament in the Middle East, and the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Tennis Championships.

With these top-notch events already well entrenched on the global calendar, it was inevitable that a horse race of serious proportions would be added to the glittering catalogue of marquee sports events in the country.

More than anything these major sporting events were matched by the highest of standards — not just in terms of player participation, but also at the organisational level.

Given this background, the Dubai World Cup was expected to be a memorable experience that would last a lifetime.

And it did not disappoint.

The inaugural running was an epic race as two American champions, Cigar and Soul of the Matter, delivered performances befitting the sporting theatre that Nad Al Sheba would stand for.

Records show that Cigar, one of the greatest horses ever to race in America, won the 2,000-metre contest by half a length.

As Cigar was led into the winner’s circle, his jockey Jerry Bailey raised his fist triumphantly before being greeted by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

The home contenders and there were four of them, Tamayuz, Torrential, Larroche, and Halling, may not have won, but it was as much a triumph for Sheikh Mohammed as it was for the connections of the Cigar, Madeleine and Allan Paulson.

Racing pundits were already comparing it to some of the greatest races ever run in the Epsom Derby, Prix de la Arc de Triomphe, Kentucky Derby, Melbourne Cup and the Japan Cup.

One could argue that the staggering prizemoney, (the race is now worth $12 million), paired with its international appeal, typical Middle Eastern hospitality, and prestige, has fascinated horsemen the world over resulting in the race attracting the sport’s leading jockeys, trainers, owners and celebrities to Dubai each year.

However, it is important to reflect on how it all began thanks to the vision of Sheikh Mohammed who formed a crack team of organisers that featured the late great Michael Osborne, chief organiser Nancy Petch, the first Dubai Racing Club Chairman Ali Khamis Al Jafleh, revered journalist Brough Scott, Nick Clark, Lord John Fitzgerald, and Yasir Mabrouk, to formulate plans for the inaugural running of the Dubai World Cup.

And like all successful events, the planning, professionalism, and communication that the Dubai World Cup team brought to the table led to the staging of the historic race.

Sheikh Mohammed was closely involved in the planning and urged his team to aim for the skies and ensure that the inaugural race would have a massive impact on the sport by featuring the best horses and jockeys.

Several things, on several levels, have combined to make the Dubai World Cup what it is.

The standard at which it is conducted and staged, and the quality of horses it attracts have helped the Dubai World Cup to tick all the right boxes and earn its place alongside the most famous races in the world.

The next step was obvious, to grow the race and ensure that it became the definitive thoroughbred contest in the world – a race that would crown a horse each March in Dubai worthy of being called a true world champion

History reveals a legendary roll of hour featuring some of the best horses that have ever graced the sports — from Cigar and Silver Charm to Dubai Millennium and Arrogate.

More importantly, there have been winners from all corners of the globe. The winners have come from America, France, Ireland, Germany, Japan, South America, Asia, and Australia. All have claimed a significant piece of racing history in Dubai.

To put that in perspective, one only has to look at the interest that the 2022 Dubai World Cup and its eight supporting races have generated with more than 750 horses from over 20 countries nominated to the event.

An extraordinary number by any stretch of the imagination.

And the Dubai World Cup Connections have gone on record to state that the prestige of winning a horse race in the middle of the desert, in one of the world’s most progressive countries, adds to the aura and has doubled the appeal of victory.

If the Melbourne Cup is said to ‘stop the nation’ then the Dubai World Cup captures global attention each March.

This was the vision that Sheikh Mohammed had when he created the race in the early nineties, and this is its legacy.

The Dubai World Cup has arguably surpassed most of the sport’s great races in prize money and what it represents. But it is the Olympic motto of ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (Faster, Higher, Stronger) that resonates each year at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse, and it will, once again, on March 26.

The author has reported and attended every Dubai World Cup since the race’s inception in 1996.

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