Feature Story



Nine races seemed to fly past as rapidly as Japan’s Equinox demolished the Meydan Racecourse track record while soaring home in the Dubai Sheema Classic, but after the swelling cheers had echoed into silence in the grandstand, what did it all mean? In a nutshell, the 27th running of the Dubai World Cup programme delivered a feast of top class international performances that isn’t matched anywhere on the globe.

Although he clearly, and understandably, harbours an overriding paternal pride as the creator of this event, Sheikh Mohammed may have summed it up best in a Tweet, which, when translated online from Arabic, stated: “An exceptional Ramadan night in the Dubai World Cup for horses, during which we crowned the horse Ushba Tesoro from Japan as the champion of the most beautiful and best cup in the world.

We have the best audience and the best team capable of achieving renewed dazzle every year.” Dubai has indeed reaped rewards justifying this assessment from the exhaustive energy and investment sown over the 27 years it has taken to get from the initial event in 1996, won by vaunted American champion Cigar, to the crowning of Saturday’s Dubai World Cup champion Ushba Tesoro.

Once again, no matter what other worldly matters may be involved, we have all seen that there is no international stage for racing like the one that has risen up from rocky desert sands to become Meydan Racecourse. And we gained even more lessons on the sporting evolution that continues apace through the kind of performances that, without casting aspersions on any other racing programme, have long been best served up in Dubai.

After seeing Equinox and Ushba Tesoro, who were joined in their trophy plundering by another powerful Japanese performer, UAE Derby victor Derma Sotogake, we now know beyond doubt that Japan is fully engaged as the global superpower in producing racehorses that can win at any distance, on any surface and in any country.

The first major landmark on this journey was reached 22 years ago when Japan’s tough 7yo campaigner Stay Gold, by Sunday Silence, nosed out Godolphin’s redoubtable international champion Fantastic Light in a Dubai Sheema Classic field that also included Group One luminaries Silvano, later a top sire in South Africa, ST Leger winner Mutafaweq and the Aga Khan’s Daliapour.

Fittingly, Stay Gold is the grandsire of Ushba Tesoro through his Japanese Triple Crown conquering son Orfevre, while Sunday Silence also is prominent in the bloodlines of Equinox, sired by Deep Impact’s full brother Black Tide, and Derma Sotogake, who is sired by American raced Mind Your Biscuits, twice victorious in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. Since the era of Stay Gold, Japanese breeders have poured well over $100 million into buying the best Thoroughbreds they can source around the world to upgrade their racing stock.

Unlike breeders elsewhere, they are not bound so much by the whims of commercialism, the rigours of conformation or stubborn steadfastness to either dirt or turf proficiency. Instead, they adhere to the old fashioned yet time tested theory that they should breed the best to the best. And no one can argue with their results.

Equinox ran like the proverbial monster, as we call them in America; horses so strong, fast and brilliant that they defy even the limits of our imagination. His future now seems unbounded, thanks to the Dubai Sheema Classic showcase in which he dazzled with his unchallenged front running win, geared down to the wire, under Christophe Lemaire.

Ushba Tesoro ran the opposite kind of race in the Dubai World Cup, rallying from a far back last early, but appeared every bit as powerful with a ground devouring stride under 2022 Japanese Champion Jockey Yuga Kawada. Derma Sotogake gave off the same kind of vibe in the UAE Derby and also defied snobby American breeders who turned up their noses at stud prospects for Mind Your Biscuits, whose pedigree is decidedly more blue collar than blueblood, and allowed him to be sold to Japan, where outcrosses to the dominant Sunday Silence blood are essential.

The Japanese know that speed, such as that exhibited by Mind Your Biscuits, is just as essential as stamina, demonstrated by the likes of Orfevre, a Group One winner at 3000m and twice runner-up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and Kitasan Black, a Group One winner at 3000m and also twice at 3200m.

Their approach is in stark contrast to Europe, where Derby winners are shunned at stud; America, where races over 2000m are rare; and Australia, where speed is king despite the most famous race being the 3200m Melbourne Cup. So, what else did we learn? The Japanese are unafraid to travel and campaign their horses, often trying new surfaces and distances, and their boldness was rewarded with over $30 million in prize money from their horses’ efforts in the Dubai World Cup and Saudi Cup programmes.

Owners and breeders elsewhere seem much more cautious while trying to protect whatever value their horses have accumulated. This aversion to risk taking precludes their horses from rising in stature as much as it may shield them from declining. Likewise, Coolmore frequently is undaunted by racing challenges and often tests their horses rigorously while also finding ways to capitalise on the model of Japanese success.

Not only did Coolmore regularly patronise the late Deep Impact with top mares and gain Group One runners with new blood in the process, the Irish organisation now has joined with Japan’s Masaaki Matsushima in campaigning veteran Broome. Making his 32nd start in his eighth country of competition, that 7yo swept aside Godolphin’s Siskany and 2022 race winner Subjectivist to capture a scintillating edition of the 3200m Dubai Gold Cup.

Looking at the other end of the spectrum, this year’s Dubai World Cup programme was an aberration as it featured no Godolphin winners and also lacked American victors, other than Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Sibelius, who notched the 14th triumph in the dirt sprint for the USA since 2000. Sadly, American-based 2022 Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer did not perform up to par in this year’s race, breaking poorly from post 14 in the field of 15, racing wide throughout and then failing to menace while finishing seventh under Frankie Dettori.

A post-race scope revealed Country Grammer had mucus in his lungs, so hopefully he can return to his best later in the year. Now on his farewell to racing tour and planning to retire at year’s end, Dettori was not to be shut out on the programme, however, partnering again with Lord North for a stylish win in the Dubai Turf.

It was a record third consecutive victory in the race for the horse, trained by John and Thady Gosden, and the record fourth overall for Dettori, who executed what may be his final flying dismount in a glorious career in the UAE. While Dettori’s time in winner’s enclosures may be coming to an end and Japan is revelling in what truly is a rising sun of accomplishment, what we learned from this year’s Dubai World Cup extends beyond those bounds.

More than ever, Dubai is where champions come to prove themselves. As Sheikh Mohammed has long said, the race for excellence has no finish line, and hopefully there will be no end to the parade of global champions who earn their laurels in Dubai.