The Dubai Carnival 2011

Dubai Carnival 2011 hosted at Meydan racecourse

Dubai Carnival 2011 hosted at Meydan racecourse

‘Carnival’ is certainly the most appropriate word to use to describe Dubai’s racing scene at the moment, writes Ross Birkett from Meydan.

As many of the best racehorses from around the globe gather to do battle at Meydan over ten weeks of world-class racing, the atmosphere here is one of excitement, and anticipation, and it gives you a real feeling that you are at the centre of it all with the eyes of the planet on you.

The Dubai Racing Carnival couldn’t have got off to a better start for us Brits last Thursday as the ultra-tough Steele Tango flew home with a wet sail to land the last race. The win was a huge credit to his trainer Roger Teale, who you are generally more likely to see at Lingfield than Longchamp.

One talented horse like Steele Tango is all a small trainer needs to make a name for himself and Teale has found that star. Last seen when gamely finishing second to Credit Swap in the Cambridgeshire, I’m expecting the six year old to step out of handicap company and maybe nick a Group race before the Carnival comes to an end.

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Despite a slightly disappointing season on British shores, Godolphin notched a quickfire double on ‘home’ territory. Ryan Moore gave Rock N Roll Ransom a peach of a ride to win the 1m3f handicap, and what made the success more interesting was the breeding of the gelding – he is the son of one of my favourite mares: Zee Zee Top. Some of you may remember her as a real hardy performer for Sir Michael Stoute and she put up her best display when winning the Prix De l’Opera in 2003.

With all the various nationalities bouncing around the place, there’s a real cosmopolitan feel to the track and the hotel where everyone stays. My personal highlight has been watching crack French jockey Christophe Soumillon ride out every morning for Mike De Kock, but also interesting are the lesser known faces that you encounter.

I was chatting to a Brazilian lad who has travelled over with Luca Cumani’s string and it was insightful to hear his views on Man Of Iron. The horse won the Breeders’ Cup Marathon in 2009 for Aiden O’Brien and was subsequently bought by a syndicate for a hefty sum. He’s failed to earn back even a fraction of that price tag and it must be disappointing for his connections and trainer Cumani.

The Brazilian said that the horse still shows huge ability on the gallops in the morning and every time he goes to the races they expect him to win. It’s amazing then to see him finishing out the back all the time. Another snippet of info that I gathered was that his stablemate, Drunken Sailor, has acclimatised very well since travelling over. Watch out for him in the coming weeks.

The news came through this week that Aiden O’Brien has put aside his problems with Godolphin to send horses over to race in Dubai for the first time in six years. Cape Blanco has been entered for the World Cup in March and will take a hell of a lot of beating if he turns up. I bumped into a lad who has been working at Ballydoyle and was in the Emirates for a holiday.

He said the horse to watch out for in 2011 was Apache. The three year old finished second on his only outing to date but those in the know say that this huge animal will be better with time and his entries, which include the Derby and Guineas, support these thoughts.

For all Dubai can throw money at the racing, they cannot boast the one thing that British racing can – history and tradition.
This was demonstrated nowhere better than at Kempton on Saturday when Kauto Star tried to rewrite the record books by becoming the first horse to win the King George for a fifth time. It was a sad sight to see him fail in the task but his replacement looks like he could be a bit special too – Long Run.

We’ve all read the hype that has followed this horse since he was bought from France last season but now he is finally living up to it. It remains to be seen whether he is tough and strong enough to win a Gold Cup but you wouldn’t bet against it judging by the performance he put up at the Sunbury venue.

The race also, for me, marked a change in the order of top-level steeple chasing. The heavyweight domination of Kauto and Denman will probably never be seen again and a new order has arisen, led by Long Run and Imperial Commander.

– Ross

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