"No, no," admonished Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, not entirely ready to crown a new king. "It was a nice effort. And to get that trip at this time of year. But the great thing is he's done it, and now let's see what the next month brings." Whether the excitable colt has all the goods to complete the dream remains to be seen. The distance issue still looms, though--those 12,000 miles between Dubai and Churchill Downs. Until it happens, Sheikh Mohammed knows the detractors will be out in force. "Everybody is entitled to their own opinion," he conceded. "Maybe they're right, maybe I'm right. But if I am sure about something, I don't stop because somebody else is doubting me. But you have to have the right horse." And the right focus. Eight years ago, Dubai's Crown Prince first spoke of a magical night of racing, designed to bring the world's best to his budding commercial center on the Arabian Gulf. Within a year, it had been accomplished. In 2002, his concept still burns with inspiration. And his prediction for the future exudes utter confidence. "We're just starting now," he says without hesitation. "We are only 5% there."
Godolphin nearly pulled down another big one on World Cup night when Noverre came roaring down the lane in the $2-million Dubai Duty Free (UAE-IT). But the Rahy colt fell a few steps short of catching the French mare Terre a Terre, a daughter of Kaldounevees ridden by Christophe Soumillon. Many expected the Duty Free to be a coronation for Val Royal, but Terre a Terre fought him off, leaving the son of Royal Academy for good at the eighth pole. "He gave me that kick and I thought that I got 'em," said a dejected Jose Valdivia Jr. "He just quit running." Sheikh Mohammed's brother--and Godolphin partner--Sheikh Hamdan, watched his homebred Nayef stake a claim as the world's premier grass stayer in the $2-million Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-IT). Last seen in the Dubai Champion Stakes (Eng-I) in October, the 4-year-old Gulch colt won by an easy two lengths under Richard Hills, running his win streak to five.
Though a brief hail storm woke a few guests from their sleep early one morning--"That was the rainy season," reminded local trainer Nick Robb. "It's over now."--Dubai flaunted nothing but beach weather all week. No wonder Caller One likes it so much. "But you know, it's not just my horses," said first-time visitor Jim Chapman, who flew into town with the California speedster and his stablemate Western Pride. "You have to be blind not to see that they're doing well." Fittingly, the West Coast contingent, after thriving in the sun and sand, gave the locals another sprint to remember in the $2-million Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I). And for the second straight year, Caller One was the gelding responsible. It was not his blowout of a year ago, however. Instead, the upstart gelding Echo Eddie kept the champ against the ropes before Caller One edged clear by a head. "Could he run any better than that?" admired Scott Chaney, assistant to trainer Darrell Vienna, as he watched the replay on the infield screen. "And we put a nose in front, didn't we? Shoot." Caller One, in fact, had to shake off Xtra Heat before dealing with Echo Eddie, thereby amplifying his performance. And he definitely had the right guy in the saddle. "Four weeks ago, I was booked in every race and everything fell apart," sighed Gary Stevens, the cat who definitely stole a tasty canary. "I never rode one horse tonight that I was supposed to ride a month ago." Besides falling into the mounts on both Caller One and Total Impact, Stevens managed to strike the right chord with Grey Memo, the lowly late-runner who made the $1-million Godolphin Mile (UAE-II) look like pure fun. "I've been a big fan of the horse," said Stevens. "For three years I've been watching him. He's always in the wrong-run kind of races for his style. He's always in short fields with one speed horse or something, and nothing ever sets up for him when he makes the big run." The Godolphin Mile, however, featured a jam-packed 16-horse field, many of whom apparently mistook the race for the Golden Shaheen. Grey Memo simply looped them all, cavorting to the finish by an expanding 3 1/2 lengths. "Unbelievable," said California legend and Dubai first-timer Warren Stute, adverting to Grey Memo's kick and Nad Al Sheba in general. "It's way different than I thought. I was thinking it was out in the desert and it was a small track. God, this is first-class."
So was the action.