The 19th renewal of the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) March 29 comes with a noticeable absence: Despite a victory 12 months ago by Animal Kingdom
, there is no United States-based runner in the race previously won by American-trained horses nine times in 18 editions.
Instead, three lone pennant-bearers will contest undercard races, albeit races of significant value. And with two of them due to run on turf, the American challenge is about as unfamiliar as it gets.
All this unfolds on a stage where American-trained horses have won more races in 18 years than any other nation, including the host (six wins). The collective U.S. haul of victories exceeds those posted by Britain, Ireland and France combined (three).
The lack of an American runner this year has been a point of interest among international horsemen all week.
"A lot of people have been asking me about it," said Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, whose Twilight Eclipse
is set for the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) on turf. For a Racing Voices
column on Twilight Eclipse, click here
Finley said that several factors could be at play, but the American mindset over synthetics, on which the World Cup is run, may be the root cause. "Each year, the (American) outlook towards synthetics has regressed," he noted.
"The California tracks have taken them up, and the outcome to some races on synthetics can leave you with as many questions as you had before you ran."
Asked whether contrasting regulations and medication rules from one country to the next were putting off American horsemen, Finley replied: "I would hope not. There's no doubt that racing—as well as the vast majority of business—is going global, so I hope that's not the case."
Among owners and trainers, Finley and his entourage have been the sole American presence at Meydan Racecourse for much of the build-up. Seth Benzel, who trains Zayat Stables' $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) candidate Zee Bros
, conditioned that horse in Dubai for the World Cup Carnival, which got underway in January.
Zee Bros is now fully integrated into Dubai's equine community and does not take morning exercise with shippers for World Cup night, who remain in partial quarantine.
The only other American-trained runner is Stud Sampaio's Berlino Di Tiger
. The 6-year-old transferred last year from Brazil to the U.S., where he won a grade III turf sprint at Churchill Downs
among his five starts for Lexington-based Eduardo Caramori's stable. Berlino Di Tiger has been under the care of Caramori's son, Caue, in Dubai and will start in the $1 million Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-I) on turf
Whatever the reason for sparse American representation, Finley and Twilight Eclipse's owners have enjoyed an eye-opening experience in Dubai. The visiting contingent of partners, family, and friends numbers 24.
"Everybody is relaxed now that they are over the jetlag," Finley said. "The experience has been absolutely fascinating. They could have come to Dubai individually, but they wouldn't have had access to so many things, like the welcome party (on the evening of March 27)."
That party saw two old acquaintances reunited. Twilight Eclipse's trainer, Tom Albertrani, was the only guest greeted personally by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, for whom Albertrani worked as assistant trainer under Saeed bin Suroor for eight years from 1995.
Finley is optimistic Twilight Eclipse will run a big race on Saturday. "He is really there mentally," he said. "Tom's got a lot of time for him, a lot of confidence, and he's not a guy who touts his horses."
However Twilight Eclipse fares, Finley and his West Point partners already feel like winners. "We have never been afraid to try something different," he said.
"We've been to Hong Kong and Ireland and we've run horses in South Africa, but this has been on another level. We have had an insider's view of Dubai and that has helped to make this a once-in-a-lifetime trip."