by Ross Birkett, on location in Dubai (lucky bugger!)
Only a few of us are lucky enough to swap the snow drifts, icy blasts and freezing fog of England for the white sands, clear skies and warm sun of Dubai and the same can be said for a handful of plucky British horses this winter.
Albeit, to earn a trip to warmer climes they have had to prove on home soil that they are the best of their division but the riches of Dubaiâ€™s Carnival race meeting, which begins early next month, have proven a carrot too enticing for many owners.
SomeÂ well-known faces will be making the seven-hour flight to the Middle East and none come more recognisable than grand old veteran performer Mac Love. The four-time Group winner has had a quiet 2010 season after an injury but it may have been a blessing in disguise as he should still have plenty of petrol left in the tank for an extended campaign and it could prove a profitable move for his trainer, Stef Higgins, for whom it will be a first venture across the Gulf of Arabia.
More familiar to the surroundings is Newmarket handler Robert Cowell. After a Carnival win in 2005 with Forever Pheonix, his horses have been regular visitors and this time around he sends a team of three. Prohibit will be the biggest hope of the trio and Cowell is hoping he can build on his placed efforts at last yearâ€™s meeting.
The trainer said: â€œ Prohibit has had a good year after winning the Shergar Cup Dash and a Listed race. He handles grass and the all-weather and is very versatile.â€
â€œAlso going with Prohibit will be Lui Rei and Vitznau,â€ Cowell added. â€œWeâ€™ve only just bought the pair but Lui Rei ran well in Dubai last year for Marco Botti and we will try and win with him in Listed races over six furlongs. Vitznau came from Richard Hannonâ€™s and heâ€™ll be running in handicaps.â€
Never afraid of an international challenge, Stan Moore will be heading to Dubai as well. Despite revealing that he will be sending a number of horses to race in southern France this winter, Moore also looks likely to have a handful to run at Meydan.
Kinky Afro, third in a Group 2 in Turkey last time, is a definite though, as is new recruit Big Creek who was bought in France and was last seen running a disappointing race in the Prix du Jockey Club. An unconfirmed traveller is Senoran Sands who may join the likes of Sgt Schultz in Cagnes Sur Mer.
Another undecided but very exciting runner at the Carnival is Lady of the Desert. The Brian Meehan-trained filly was a huge fancy for the 1000 Guineas but she disappointed there in a major way. Since switched to sprint distances though, she has proven a revelation and rounded off the season with a fine second in the Prix Lâ€™Abbaye at Longchamp.
Not all the runners at Dubaiâ€™s premier race meeting are tourists though. The home squad have put up a formidable defence, led by former UAE champion trainer Doug Watson who has acquired 2009 Royal Ascot winner Ouqba and Finjaan, a Glorious Goodwood winner for Marcus Tregoning last year.
Watson said: “They have been here about a month now and settled in well. They arrived in great condition and it is a great opportunity.â€
â€œIt is exciting and we are looking forward to the 2011 Carnival – hopefully we have our strongest team ever,â€ he added.
Other notable runners for home-based trainers include Mikhail Glinka, winner of the Queenâ€™s Vase at Royal Ascot for Ballydoyle, and Fencing Master, second to Beethoven in the 2009 Dewhurst. Both will be trained by South African handler Herman Brown.
Ross Birkett is a qualified journalist, son of training team Julia Feilden and John Birkett, and currently on a working holiday in the Emirates.