30 March 2024

Magnificent Horses and Spectacular Atmosphere

We witnessed an unforgettable horse racing festival in Dubai, with the Dubai World Cup, one of the most important dirt races in the world, and the thoroughbreds participating in the other 8 races, along with the spectators filling the stands and the events held throughout the day.

Magnificent Horses and Spectacular Atmosphere

With at least one champion or champion contender in each race this year, we followed the races with bated breath and excitement. The activities between races and especially the drone and fireworks show held after the races ended were breathtaking. I will try to share with you the events before and during the 2024 Dubai World Cup Day with its magnificent horses and grand atmosphere.

Morning Training Sessions

As I’ve mentioned many times before, one of the most beautiful aspects of festivals in the Gulf countries is the morning training sessions. Unlike in Europe, where horses participating in festivals train at their own centers and then come to the races, it’s almost impossible to see the participating horses during the morning training. If you’re lucky, during Arc week at the Chantilly Training Center, you might come across a horse that will participate in the festival among the hundreds of horses in the morning training. In the Gulf countries, however, since all the horses gather in the quarantine area, you can watch some of the world’s best horses up close during the morning training sessions. I believe this is an invaluable opportunity for the media and always a magnificent experience for me.

SABAH İDMANLARI
SABAH İDMANLARI

At the Meydan Racecourse, the morning training session begins at 5 a.m. and consists of one-hour segments. At 5 a.m., guest horses arrive, followed by local horses in Dubai at 6 a.m., horses returning for the festival at 7 a.m., and local horses using the training track again at 8 a.m. After that, due to the temperature, there are no horses going out for training. Horses that will run on turf also have the chance to train on turf during the same time slots. Additionally, there is a Tapeta track within the Meydan Racecourse complex. The training hours on this track are the opposite of the main track.

For those of us who want to follow all the horses, our journey starting at 4:30 a.m. continues briskly in various directions until 9 a.m. As the sun rises, you enjoy the training sessions with your coffee in hand. It’s really difficult to describe the priceless joy and peace of being in that atmosphere. No matter how tired I am, I can say that I look forward eagerly to being there at 5 a.m.

Gate Draw and Gala Dinner

Due to the pandemic and subsequent years, the Dubai World Cup Day coincided with the month of Ramadan, so the events held before it weren’t as magnificent as before. For instance, the Breakfast with the Stars event, which was held every Thursday morning, wasn’t held at all after the pandemic. Instead, on Thursday evening, a cocktail reception was organized at the hotel where we, the media participants, were staying. Here, we had the opportunity to chat with friends about topics other than horse racing, but the conversation always circled back to horses.

On Wednesday evening, we attended the gate draw and gala dinner. Honestly, the start draw wasn’t very impressive. It proceeded quickly and as a standard process. The gala dinner, as in recent years, took place at the Armani Hotel. Here, you could have the chance to take photos with many horse owners, trainers, and jockeys, if they didn’t get bored and leave, of course… Nevertheless, it was a special event in a very elegant place in the heart of Dubai, with wonderful food.

Dubai World Cup Günü Yarışların Kupaları
Dubai World Cup Günü Yarışların Kupaları

In previous years, the events were held a bit further out of the city, in a spacious area with shows. Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum would always attend and interact with guests each time. Due to the pandemic and Ramadan, we haven’t been able to see much of him on race day in recent years. I suppose in two years, when it doesn’t coincide with Ramadan in its 30th year, we will witness a very different Dubai World Cup organization.

Dubai World Cup Day

The only time you can truly rest in this event is Saturday morning. There’s no morning training session on race day. Since the first race starts in the afternoon, you have the opportunity to rest. Starting a long and tiring day feeling refreshed positively impacts your day. As you know, there’s a program with 9 races on that day, including some of the best horses in the world. It’s not just about the races; you want to see every detail from saddling, paddock, post-race, award ceremony, to everything related to the races at that moment. And if, like me, you also want to see what’s happening in the other stands, you really need to charge yourself up well in the morning. Otherwise, your energy might drain out before the last race…

The first race of the day featured 13 horses competing for the Dubai Kahayla Classic, a 2000-meter race on the dirt track for Arabians, with a total prize of 1 million USD. There was much anticipation surrounding Asfan Al Khalediah (Laith Al Khalediah/Mistahilat Al Khalediah/Dormane), who had won all 17 races in his career. Many were so sure he would win that the real question was whether it would be an easy win or a challenge. However, the race didn’t go as expected. Despite starting with a fast pace, Asfan Al Khalediah delivered a mediocre performance in the middle group and could only secure third place, as he didn’t lose his pace like the other horses towards the end.

Tilal Al Khalediah
Tilal Al Khalediah

The winner of the race was Tilal Al Khalediah (Laith Al Khalediah-Aaseyat Al Khalediah/ Khalid El Biwaibiya), reaching his 10th victory in his 11th race. Barakka (Af Al Buraq-Laqataat/Bengali D’Albert), who finished runner-up in this race last year, came in second again, while RB RichLyke Me (Majd Al Arab-Rizh Frynd/TH Rcihie) finished fourth. Khalediah Stables can be considered Saudi Arabia’s largest Arabian horse breeding factory. Every year, we see at least a few horses named Khalediah in races worldwide, but these two horses this time are really top-notch. Let’s see if we can watch Khalediah horses in this year’s international races.

The 1600-meter dirt G2 Godolphin Mile was the first race of the day, dedicated to Thoroughbreds. The undeniable favorite for this race was Saudi Crown (Always Dreaming-New Narration/Tapit), who lost the G1 Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race, only in the last 50 meters last month. We were expecting him to win this race comfortably based on his performance in that race, but he could only finish 12th out of 13 horses. The race was won by Two Rivers Over (Tamarkuz-AmericanCowgirl/Cowboy Cal) from America, a listed race winner brought specifically for this race.

Tower Of London - G2 Dubai Gold Cup
Tower Of London – G2 Dubai Gold Cup

In the 3200-meter turf G2 Gold Cup, Tower Of London (Galileo-Dialafara/Anabaa), trained by Aidan O Brien and ridden by jockey Ryan Moore, secured first place, just like in the long-distance race on Saudi Cup day. The next race, the G1 Al Quoz Sprint over 1200 meters on the turf, was won by the favorite California Spangle (Starspangledbanner-Pearlitas Passion/High Chparral), breaking the track record (1.07:50) in the process. Star Of Mystery (Kodiac-Mistrusting/Shamardal), ridden by Dettori, finished second with a half-length gap.

The fifth race of the day was undoubtedly one of the races whose results were eagerly awaited, the G2 UAE Derby on the 1900-meter dirt track. Because the favorite Forever Young (Real Steel-Forever Darling/Congrats) came into this race with a perfect 4-for-4 record. The fact that his last race was the Saudi Derby increased the interest, and the fact that the winner of this race would gain direct entry to the Kentucky Derby further fueled the interest of the horse’s owners. Trained by the successful Yoshito Yahagi, who has become somewhat of a promotional face of Japanese horse racing, the colt won the race by 2 lengths without much difficulty with jockey Ryusei Sakai. I’m eagerly awaiting this colt’s performance in the Kentucky Derby.

The Best of the World on Stage

The sixth and seventh races of the day brought surprises. You can enjoy reading the details of those races from the pen of Reşat Köstem. So, without boring you, I’ll move on to the last two races, which are also the most significant races of the day. The 8th race is the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic, considered one of the best turf races in the world. The race, run over 2410 meters on the turf, was won comfortably last year by Equinox (Kitasan Black-Chateau BlancheKing Halo), breaking the track record (2:25.65).

While there wasn’t a horse this year that could win as easily, there was anticipation surrounding the performance of Liberty Island (Duramente-Yankee Rose/All American), who achieved the Triple Tiara (fillies’ Triple Crown) in Japan last year. After all, this filly was the closest competitor to Equinox last year, finishing second, just 4 lengths behind, in the Japanese Cup.

The closest rival was Auguste Rodin (Deep Impact-Rhododendron/Galileo), who won the double Derby in England and Ireland last year. To say Auguste Rodin didn’t even run would be accurate. From the start, the horse trailed in the back, and failing to pick up the pace on the straight, finished last among the 12 horses in the race.

William Buick - G1 Dubai Sheema Classic
William Buick – G1 Dubai Sheema Classic

Rebel’s Romance, benefiting from the race’s pace, maintained the lead from the back with effective attacks on the straight, securing the win with jockey William Buick. The victory of the horse, trained by Charlie Appleby and owned by the host Godolphin, brought great joy to the stands. Shahryar, who won this race in 2022 (Deep Impact-Dubai Majesty/ Essence Of Dubai), finished second with another excellent performance, while Liberty Island, the center of attention, finished third as the best horse capable of sprinting at the end. If the 4-year-old filly continues her season in Europe, she will once again make headlines at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a dream for the Japanese.

The last race of the day was the Dubai World Cup, the namesake of the meeting. Before the race where the world’s best active dirt horses gathered, the focus was on Senor Buscador (Mineshaft-Rose’s Desert/Desert Gold) and Ushba Tesoro (Orfevre-Millefeui Attach/ King Kamehameha), who finished in the top two in the Saudi Cup. In fact, under normal circumstances, the race would have been between these two horses, and they could have finished in the same order again, but an unexpected horse, Laurel River (Into Mischief-Calm Water/Empire Maker), set the pace and won the race very comfortably by 8 and a half lengths.

Tadhg O'Shea- G1 Dubai World Cup
Tadhg O’Shea- G1 Dubai World Cup

Until 2022, the horse trained by Bob Baffert in America had never run further than 1600 meters. Later, he came to Dubai and was prepared by Bhupat Seemar. Approximately 17 months later, he participated in his first race, finishing 7th, and then won the next race, leading up to this race. Laurel River, who had proven his quality in America, also proved his speed and added endurance in Dubai, winning the race with jockey Tadhg O’Shea.

While I don’t usually prefer to narrate races, these last two races were so special that they couldn’t go without being described, especially. I believe we will hear more about the names of the turf horses in the Sheema Classic this year. The Dubai World Cup marked the beginning of a second spring for Laurel River. The question of whether he will go to the Breeders Cup is already on everyone’s mind. Along with the horse, the question arises whether his trainer will also go, or will he return to Bob Baffert? This is a topic of further discussion. Nevertheless, since 2017, we witnessed yet another impressive and unforgettable race under the Juddmonte Farms colors. Ushba Tesoro and Senor Buscador are expected to prepare for the Breeders Cup. We are ready for an intense rematch…

Dubai World Cup Gösterileri
Dubai World Cup Gösterileri

A Magnificent Finale

There are so many details to discuss about the races; the writing could go on forever. When you watch them, you can see and feel those details, but there were other events on that day that you wouldn’t be able to appreciate unless you witnessed them. For example, the drone and fireworks show. This visual spectacle, which gives the impression of lasting for hours, leaves as magnificent an impact as the races themselves. If you decided to leave the racecourse after the last race to avoid traffic, you might have come here for nothing! Not entirely, but you would have missed out on a lot… These shows, which have become a phenomenon, attract as much attention as the races themselves. The pictures drawn in the sky, the visuals depicting the process, were like scenes from a movie. Starting with the morning workouts, continuing with the start ceremony and gala dinner, and culminating in the fantastic races on the final day, this organization’s closing deserved this magnificent display. Next year, people might come here just for this show alone…

Meydan Hipodromu Tribünleri
Meydan Hipodromu Tribünleri
Mehmet Marangoz

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