The Dubai World Cup might be celebrating 25 years of top-quality horse-racing action but there is a sober atmosphere at Meydan Racecourse this time round.
The meeting was due to celebrate its silver jubilee in 2020 but had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, spectators are at a bare minimum and the nation is also mourning the passing of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, Minister of Finance and Deputy Ruler of Dubai, and a leading owner and breeder of race horses.
Dubai’s flagship race, and its prize fund of $12million, looks wide open, with American challengers Mystic Guide and Jesus’ Team heading the 14-strong line-up.
The more you hear, the more you fancy the chances of Mystic Guide. The USA-based colt is one of three runners for Godolphin. Saeed bin Suroor's Gifts Of Gold and Andre Fabre's Magny Cours are the other two.
The Michael Stidham-trained Mystic Guide is the international favourite ahead of the American raider Jesus’ Team, who arrives on the back of finishing runner up in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup on 23 January.
Salute The Soldier, winner of the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round-3 over the track and trip on Super Saturday is third favourite ahead of Great Scot and Military Law – who finished third and sixth, respectively, in the $20m Saudi Cup.
Bin Suroor, who has won the Dubai World Cup the highest number of times (9) is quietly fancying the chances of Gifts Of Gold. He has to overcome the widest draw in gate No 14, though.
“It is hard to win again and again but you have to send the best to win,” the Emirati trainer said.
“Gifts Of Gold is doing good and after he won over a mile-and-a-quarter by six lengths at Chelmsford it made me confident about bringing him to Dubai.
“The reason why he ran first time here in Dubai was to adjust him to dirt race in here before taking him to Saudi and when I took him there people were asking me why I ran him over that distance when he is a mile and a quarter horse.
“I think he was 50/1 but I felt he looked good. Now we will prepare him for the Dubai World Cup, which is back over a mile and a quarter. It is a tough race, but to me it is an open race, but the horse is doing good.”
Jesus’ Team’s handler Jose Francisco D’Angelo is upbeat of his Tapiture colt to run a big race.
“We can do this,” he said. “I’ve gone to the stable at 10pm, 11pm, 12am. Talking to him: ‘Hey ‘Jesus’ you all good?’ I check in on him, change the water. He makes a soup out of his feed, mixing it with water, so I have to clean it.
“Jesus is a little bit like a baby. He looks like a professional on track, but in the barn, he wants to play like a two-year-old. Jesus is a very delicate horse. You have to be able to deal with him.”
The race card consists of six Group 1 and three Group 2 prizes for a total prize fund of $26.5m. It also includes the Group 1 Dubai Kahayla Classic for the Purebred Arabians, the traditional opener of the meeting starting at 3.45pm.