The most spectacular race meeting ever held ended with as close a finish as galloping thoroughbreds could provide when the French trained Gloria de Campeo held off the South African Lizard’s Desire by some small fraction of his straining nostrilsS. Barely a head back in third was Sheikh Mohammed’s own Allybar ridden by camel rider turned jockey Ahmed Ajtedi. With $6m dollar to the winner and a mere $2million to the second rarely can so much have been won by so little.
British interested evaporated once the Henry Cecil trained Twice Over weakened from a good position in the straight, Kieren Fallon’s ride Gitano Hernando never seriously threatened and Crowded Horse only made a bit of progress from trailing the field for most of the circuit.
No race has ever had to follow so overwhelming an overture. 40 minutes beforehand the desert night was hit by the most astonishing of firework displays, musical montages filled the giant screen and ghostly hordes of white robed Bedouin tribesman galloped phantom-like up the darkened track and the largest grandstand that has ever or will ever be built must have set cosmonauts pulling their curtains in wonder.
All it needed was Andrew Lloyd Webber and by the seventh race it got him. The great composer’s Dar Re Mi ran home the winner of the $5million Sheema Classic under the coolest of rides from 21 year old William Buick and everything about the young man’s composure in and out of the saddle screamed at us that a star is born.
It was Buick’s very first winner in his new job as first jockey for the mighty John Gosden stable and while Gosden was anxious to avoid putting any pressure on his young rider William never showed an ounce of anxiety. “I wasn’t surprised,” he said afterwards, “John had given me so much confidence about her and she was always moving easily in the race. There was a runaway leader but I was following Frankie Dettori so I was sure I was in the right position. Once in the straight she just got better and better.”
For a while it looked as the Ryan Moore ridden Spanish Moon came up to duel with Dar Re Mi it looked as if there would be a British first and second only for the Japanese filly Buena Vista to split them in the closing stages. It was a fine training performance by the Gosden stable to have the five year old at a career peak at the end of the coldest winter in years but his greatest coup yet could be the hiring of the cool and friendly young man who rode Dar Re Mi so sweetly across the grass. At $3million dollars to the winner, this is a partnership sealed golden on their opening night.
The day had not started well for British raiders. In the first four races in which they were involved the best we could manage was War Artis’s fourth place in the sprint. And when both Confront and the favourite Presvis failed in the Dubai Duty Free, we were left consoling ourselves that $3 million prize for the 40-1(with British bookmakers) locally trained outsider Al Shemali was by far the biggest prize yet won by former British champion apprentice Royston French and that the horse itself had originally been bred by Willie Carson.
Not everything worked, initially with what seemed a heedless own goal with utterly hopeless press accreditation leaving assorted hacks stranded until the last minute in what became 104 degrees of heat. At the racetrack other teething troubles included a temporary flood on one floor and an unhappy scenario when a 40 strong “acoustic” choir mouthed soundlessly on the big screen when the sound system failed.
But make no mistake this is the most awesome sports stadium, let alone racetrack yet placed on this planet. And to put up almost a mile of space age, super luxury grandstand including a built-in four block, eleven storey hotel within twelve months, (the “longest landscraper in the world” is quite a boast), and to establish two different racing surfaces, one turf one the artificial Tapeta, that won universal approval, is an achievement way beyond normal comprehension.
Quite what sense it makes and how it is paid for in present times is another question. But Sheikh Mohammed and Dubai have once again achieved the seemingly impossible and in racing terms this plant sets all sorts of new standards from horse protection, to viewing options and to the world’s longest TV board with five separate screens and whose replays include a highlighted, computerised recreation of exactly how the winner wove through his field.
As ever former England striker Mick Channon, here as trainer of the Sheeema Classic sixth Youmzain, had his own unique way of putting things into perspective. “In ten thousand years time,” said the only man to have performed at international level at both racing and football, “when global warning has finished all of us and someone from outer space arrives and digs up the sand and puts some of this together, they will say ‘how on earth did they do that?’”
The message from Meydan has to be : “Live it while you can”.
Madelaine Llloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber was not able to make the trip but his wife Madelaine was full of praise. “It was incredible of John Gosden to get her here in such condition” she said, “every time it froze, he would ring up and say Dubai is looking further away yet here she is winning this. He must be a very brilliant trainer. Andrew is in Salzburg but he is really thrilled with what has happened particularly after what happened in France.”(When Dar Re Mi was disqualified on a disputed technicality after winning the Prix Vermeille)