On Saturday, the talking, the waiting, the worrying can stop. At 9.20 p. m. (local time; 12:20 p. m. EST) in the United Arab Emirates, the sun will have set at Nad Al Sheba racecourse, the floodlights will be on, and the stars will come out. A full $6 million worth of stars.
That is the prize money on offer for the ninth running of the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), sponsored by Emirates airlines. And it has proved quite a pull with four of the 12 runners coming from the United States.
There is a genuine sense of anticipation about the American challenge, headed as it is by two horses of the caliber of Medaglia d'Oro, the narrow favorite, and Pleasantly Perfect, his conqueror in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I). Along with the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I) winner Fleetstreet Dancer and the Strub Stakes (gr. II) winner Domestic Dispute, they are part of a 12-strong U. S. raiding party for six Thoroughbred races on the card worth $15 million total. So strong is the contingent that bookmakers William Hill is offering odds of only 11-8 for two American winners and 4-1 for three.
William Hill is also offering 4-1 for one American winner. If that is the end scenario, then Medaglia d'Oro would be many people's idea of the horse to claim the solitary scalp.
Although connections were a little disgruntled by being drawn out wide in pot position 11, history has offered them some comfort as three Dubai World Cup winners have previously come from that gate: Dubai Millennium (2000), Captain Steve (2001), and Moon Ballad (2003).
Medaglia d'Oro's owner Edmund Gann said: "It's been a long trip but he's looking smart and he recovers pretty well. I still think he'll get up there early -- he gets into position pretty well -- and Jerry Bailey (seeking a fifth win in the race) knows him well, so we should be alright. He's a tough horse and competitive. He is still running and a lot of the horses he has been competing with aren't around any more."
Pleasantly Perfect is one horse who is still around. After saddling six previous World Cup runners, all of which have been in the first four finishers -- three of them ran second -- his trainer Richard Mandella is looking more than anything for "a bit of luck."
Like Medaglia d'Oro, Pleasantly Perfect has impressed observers with his condition and the smoothness of his work in Dubai. "He is enjoying his work and he has certainly got me excited," Mandella said.
The big question is whether there will be any adverse affect from the short term temperature that forced Pleasantly Perfect to miss the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) on March 6. "It was only a half-day thing and it passed," Mandella added. "He seems absolutely fine now but we won't be sure until he's raced. Who knows, maybe I'm going to get paid for not racing here. He had his prep and then we didn't need
to run in the handicap. It was my preference, but with the little threat of a virus we couldn't do it. It turned out to be not much of anything and we have gotten our training in here and I feel good."
Although Pleasantly Perfect will no doubt benefit from the trainer's experience of five previous trips (he saddled two runners in 1997), Mandella said: "I tell you what: Soul Of The Matter ran the race of his life in the very first time. I don't think I'll ever do a better job than that -- whether I win it or not. That horse almost beat Cigar and that was beyond the call of duty."
As you might expect, Mandella is a fan of the World Cup, lured not just by the prize-money but the thrill of the challenge. "It's a combination of all of that," he said. "Six million dollars has a heavy feeling in your side. The idea of international competition intrigues everybody, I'm sure. You can sit at home and run and play in your back yard all you want but coming here to do this is a really special deal. I always have enjoyed the international challenge. Anybody who puts this much effort into promoting the good of racing has got to be admired. It's the enthusiasm that they have here. America is so suffering enthusiasm, probably because we race all year, every year. They never take it away. Like the forbidden fruit, you never know what you have till somebody takes it away."