There are many things I love about racing in Dubai, but the main one is how international it is. The opening night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival, at Meydan Racecourse on Friday, will have runners trained in eight countries, while horses from 17 nations have been nominated for the carnival as a whole.
This week’s card, which has seven races, feels like an old school carnival meeting in that European trainers will be heavily represented, especially in the four turf races.
New faces from the UK will include young trainer Alice Haynes, who is having her first runners in the Middle East, while Adam West is also targeting Dubai for the first time.
Another up-and-coming handler, Nina Lensvik, a trackwork rider when last in Dubai in 2019, has brought her team from Norway. She will take on five Godolphin horses in the Listed DRC Classic, the third race on the card, with Suspicious Mind, who returns to Dubai for a second time.
Racing on two surfaces, dirt and turf, opens the door for more racing nations to grab a slice of the $7.5million in prize money on offer over the next eight weeks. A team from Uruguay, trained by Brazilian Antonio Cintra, has already had success here this season and he runs Upper Class and an interesting three-year-old, Bet Law, on Friday.
Along with the newcomers there will also be plenty of returning stars.
Frankie Dettori’s long-term relationship with Godolphin is firmly back on and he partners five on the card, while both Godolphin trainers, Saeed Bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby, have strong teams, with 13 runners between them.
Locally based expat trainers Doug Watson and Bhupat Seemar, currently fighting out the UAE Trainers’ Championship, can also expect a good carnival.
Seemar has five horses in Friday’s official feature, Group 2 Maktoum Challenge Round 1. The event dates back to 1994 and, as such, is one of the oldest races on the calendar.
This week’s renewal is a cracker, with Group 1 winners Salute the Soldier and Capezzano facing Kimbear, the winner of this race in 2020, and Secret Ambition, winner of the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup day. Then there are exciting younger horses such as Kafoo, Imperial Empire and Hypothetical. In short, about 10 of the 14 runners are capable of winning, which is about as competitive as you can get.
Next week, trainer Doug O’Neill, twice a Kentucky Derby winner, will bring a team from California. O’Neill was successful in Dubai in 2020 when his wins included the Listed Curlin Handicap with Parsimony and the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas with Fore Left, and this time he brings eight. They include Grade 1 winner Hot Rod Charlie, a strong contender for the $12 million Dubai World Cup.
Four-year-old Hot Rod Charlie was recently voted the most popular horse in North America, and arrives in Dubai off a close second in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes last month. He is likely to race once more before the big day in March.
That is another thing I love about racing here in Dubai — on March 26, it will be the place to be. And the build-up is not bad, either.