If seven-year-old East Asia comes first in the $1m Dubai Gold Cup on Saturday, it will be one of the biggest upsets of the 2022 Dubai World Cup. Indeed, of any Dubai World Cup.
As his British trainer Ian Williams puts it, it would be like a Championship team winning the UEFA Champions League.
“It’s quite an interesting story because East Asia was trained in Dubai, and he was transferred to us by his Dubai-based owner Sayed Hashish. He was a six-year-old maiden rated 70. A 70-rated maiden is a horse that has never won a race and is not particularly highly regarded.”
Williams had a major task on his hands to improve East Asia, but made progress, after a difficult start.
“He came over to the UK in March last year and settled in very slowly,” said Williams. “We had to use the paddocks and get him some grass because he didn’t travel the best.”
“But he kicked off with a win first time at Newbury, which was great,” he said. “He then went on and won a couple of times at Goodwood. His handicap was slowly rising, and after a couple of also-rans, he got back on track at Nottingham in October, and he was put up to the threshold of 90, which qualified him for the Carnival. Which had always been the dream, if you like, with him coming over to the UK. So at that stage he was invited to run in the Carnival and travelled back to Dubai.”
On his return to the UAE at the end of December, however, East Asia suffered very badly with travel sickness.
“He missed his first engagement because he’s been terribly ill,” said Williams. “Megg [Burton], one of our team members, did a great job of getting him back. He finished second in the Meydan Group 3. And that got him ultimately an invite to run on World Cup night. So he’s now rated 102, which is some 32 pounds of improvement in the last 12 months for a horse that’s seven years old.”
Despite that tough end to the year, recent preparations in Dubai have gone more smoothly.
“He’s in good shape at the moment,” said Williams. “And we’re comfortable going into a race that is like a championship football team playing in a UEFA cup final, really. So he’s trying to do some more giant-killing.”
Williams is clearly doing something right, as he is the only British trainer to have trained a winner at every racecourse in the UK – flat and jumps.
A combination of Williams’ training methods and a stint at Dominion Racing Stables has unlocked East Asia’s potential. Even by the high standards of Britain’s world class training facilities, Williams’ West Midlands base is something to behold, with more than 100 stables completed to the very highest specifications, private grass and all-weather gallops and an international sized indoor arena.
“Ian’s record speaks for itself,” said Minty Farquhar, who is in the UAE for the Dubai World Cup as General Manager of Great British Racing International, the organisation dedicated to helping international parties navigate the UK’s racing industry.
“His handling of East Asia has been exemplary, and the horse has clearly relished his new surroundings,” she said. “There is a reason why one in three turf horses rated above 120 in the world in 2021 were trained in Britain – the landscape and training facilities are second to none for the development of thoroughbreds and there is real strength in depth in terms of trainer talent. We are thrilled that his owner, Sayed Hashish, has discovered this through entrusting East Asia to Ian, and we wish the team the best of luck on Saturday.”
Williams has fond memories of a winner at Meydan.
“We’ve been very lucky to have a winner in the Carnival at the Al-Quoz Sprint, five or six years ago,” he said. “And that was a fantastic evening. It’s the one night when Meydan comes alive and it’s full of full of passion, it’s full of fun. It’s more resemblant of a meeting in Europe, then it can ever be on any other evening.”
On Saturday, Williams is hoping that East Asia, once again, punches above his weight at the Dubai Gold Cup sponsored by Al-Tayer Motors.
“We’re really looking forward to taking our chance,” Williams said. “Our expectations probably aren’t high but this little horse keeps achieving certainly more than I expect him to. And his run last time was exceptional. If he can run to that sort of level again, I’m sure he’ll be in the first half as opposed to the second half.”