The return of my weekly specials comes this Saturday, 29 June, at Caulfield.
An era of Asian dominance beckons. Hong Kong comprehensively dominated the sprint races at the Dubai World Cup meeting, while Japan had the world’s measure over middle distances.
Attracting horses from Australia, England, Ireland, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Germany, the United States and Qatar, the World Cup meeting lived up to its name with yet another spectacular showcase of international racing.
Australians who stayed up into the wee hours of Sunday morning were greeted with eight Group races, five of which were at Group 1 level.
The Group 1 quintet opened with the Al Quoz Sprint (1000m) which Australia’s Ortensia won two years ago.
The two big hopes in the dash were last year’s winner, Shea Shea, who was three from four at Meydan and the one to beat. Joining him at the top of the market was Hong Kong sprinting sensation Amber Sky who most recently lowered the colours of Lucky Nine back at home.
With both drawing on the nearside of the track, it was going to be a long way to the rail for Christophe Soumillon aboard Shea Shea. He took him out the back and stalked the leaders in transit, waiting for a gap to open.
But the alertness and poise of Joao Moreira came to the front when ‘The Magic Man’ cruised up to the lead before asking Amber Sky for an effort. Staying on the near side, Moreira had expertly done his research on Shea Shea and knew the South African struggles when he has a presence on his right.
By the 400m mark, a gap opened and Soumillon pulled the throttle. Shea Shea went boom.
The South African looked the winner as he stalked up to the leaders before a masterstroke by Moreria indiscriminately leaned Ahtoug, in second, towards Shea Shea’s right side.
This was enough for Amber Sky to kick clear and give Hong Kong the first Group 1 of the evening.
Had any other jockey been aboard Amber Sky, it would have been back-to-back Al Quoz Sprints for Shea Shea.
Next up was the Golden Shaheen (1200m) where the Cantonese contingent provided an ominous presence. Hong Kong duo Sterling City and Rich Tapestry led the way in the markets.
After Moreira’s impressive ride earlier, the punters flocked to his mount, Sterling City, who was expected to be a class above but questionable running on the Tapeta surface for the first time.
With plenty of pace in the race, Moreira elected to sit back on Sterling City which saw him fall as much as eight lengths off the leader in transit. As they swung into the straight, there was plenty of work to do for Moreira with Rich Tapestry kicking at the top of the straight for Olivier Doulouze.
By the 300m mark, Sterling City finally found clear running and Moreira hit the accelerator, gobbling up Rich Tapestry with every stride.
By the 100m mark, a Hong Kong quinella was locked in before Sterling City found another gear to cruise home to give Hong Kong and Moreira back-to-back Group 1s for the evening.
The dominance of Hong Kong in the two feature sprint races firmly planted the nation in the frame as the best sprint country in the world once more. Joao Moreira continued his ascension towards the title of world’s best jockey.
With the sprint races over, attention turned to the skies as Meydan once again produced a fireworks spectacle in the desolate Arabian darkness which set the standard for sporting events to come in 2014.
As the festivities came to an end, all eyes were back on the course in preparation for the $5million Dubai Duty Free over 1800m.
Headlining the field was Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s star filly, The Fugue. But much like Webber’s trademark character The Phantom, no one knew which version was going to turn up.
Although short in the market, the stubborn and evil version appeared which opened the door for undefeated South African Vercingetorix and Japan’s Just A Way to sweep to the front of the field.
By the 200m mark, it was a match race with the duo five lengths clear of the field and extending. Just as Vercingetorix looked like he was going to keep his undefeated streak alive, Yutaka Take pulled out the persuader and Just A Way exploded with a remarkable turn of foot.
Extending with every stride from an already quickening Vercingetorix, Just A Way romped home by six lengths in what was the most dominant performance of the night.
But questions have to be asked whether connections entered him in the wrong race? We’ll find out in a few months’ time.
Stamping his authority on the world stage, Just A Way is now firmly in the frame for Hong Kong, England and France’s Group 1 seasons.
Next up was the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic over 2400m which featured the well known likes of Dunaden, Mount Athos, Gentildonna, Cirrus Des Aigles, Magician and Dominant.
Out with a vengeance after running second in last year’s edition, Gentildonna was fancied in the markets and given a lovely sit in transit by Ryan Moore just off the pace.
As they came into the straight and the field compacted, Moore was still on the fence and looking to push out but cramped for running room. By the 300-metre mark, a gap opened on the inside and Moore shifted Gentildonna to her inside only for the gap to be close and the mare awkwardly baulked.
At that point, the race would have been over for most jockeys. But not Ryan Moore. Producing the ride of the night, Moore switched back to the outside forcing Gentildonna to stop, change direction and shift across the heels of two slowing horses.
Time was running out with the post approaching when Moore made the remarkable switch that got Gentildonna into clear running room.
The brilliant mare that she is, Gentildonna amazingly took just a few strides to regain her balance herself before producing her trademark acceleration and continue Japan’s success.
The feature event of the night was the $10million Dubai World Cup over 2000m.
Following the wins of Moreira earlier in the night, punters flocked towards his mount, Military Attack, who was in excellent form leading up to the race. Australians were pleased to see Red Cadeaux well supported in the market after he ran second in the race last year to go with his two Melbourne Cup seconds.
But the feature race of the night turned out to be the most disappointing with Godolphin’s African Story taking the spoils in a race where the first four horses home were $20 chances or higher.
Military Attack couldn’t get going on the Tapeta surface while Red Cadeaux was his honest self grinding home for fifth.
Earlier in the evening, Australia was once again disappointing in Dubai when Long John started as the favourite in the Group 2 UAE Derby.
A frantic pace at the front saw Long John settle near the back of the field and as Toast Of New York opened up the gap, it proved too much for Long John who finished midfield.
Punters around the world were left flabbergasted after the running of the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup (3200m).
Bounding out of the gates as the heavily backed $3 favourite, Cavalryman was a tragedy – beaten when he was checked at the 200m mark before flying home only to fall a nose shy of Ireland’s Certerach, the horse who checked Cavalryman.
Returning to the jockey room, Silvestre De Sousa quickly lodged a protest which many expected to be upheld in a matter of seconds. However, moments after the protest was lodged, Cavalryman’s owner withdrew the protest, preferring the race to be decided on the turf rather than the steward’s room.