The embers from a windswept flame escape into the obsidian sky, lifted gently across the lonely sands by a steady breeze. The night is peaceful, grounding, the warm air seeming to breathe rich tradition into the atmosphere. Sheikh Mohammed--leader, sportsman, visionary--reclines near the diminishing blaze, bedecked in a black kandora and white gitra. He is at one with the land. The sheikh's roots reach deep into this Arabian desert locale, his Al Marmoom Endurance Stables isolated from the opulence of the city of Dubai. He speaks calmly, yet his words are deliberate. The optimism is palpable. "...and I thought if we make a race in Dubai, we can attract the Australians, the Japanese, the Americans, and the Europeans, and that would make it become the best horse race of the world," he said, recalling the impetus for the creation of the Dubai World Cup. "Otherwise they will not meet. Because if you win everything in America, you can't call yourself the best horse in the world. You're the best horse in America. And if you win everything in Europe, you can only call yourself the best horse in Europe. And the best horse in Australia, and the best horse in Japan. But here you can, because everybody comes here. To start with, I hoped to be successful." Those closest to Sheikh Mohammed will tell you of his fertile imagination, speaking highly of his personal commitment to his projects and his people. Naturally, the Dubai World Cup has followed suit. Ever since that sensational night in 1996, when Cigar permanently stamped Nad Al Sheba Racecourse on the map, the Dubai World Cup has burgeoned into a full-scale spring extravaganza, boasting the richest card of racing--$15.25 million--on the planet. "It is the Olympic Games of horse racing," World Cup chairman Les Benton said, mentioning that this year, over 50 foreign competitors made the trip to Dubai. "We're delighted. No other horse racing event is doing what we're doing, and that's attracting international runners at all
levels." There was no bigger presence at World Cup VII, however, than the home team, and by the time the desert dust had settled on March 23, the powerful Godolphin alliance stood high above the rest--albeit with a distinct California flair. The brightest star of the Dubai night was none other than Street Cry, who stole the show from Sakhee with a 4 1/4-length tour de force in the $6-million World Cup (UAE-I). For Street Cry devotees--a brotherhood heretofore depleted-- it was the ultimate emergence of a professional, battle-tested racehorse. It just took a while for his stock to rise. A member of the ground-breaking group of Godolphin juveniles sent to California two years ago, the son of Machiavellian was an instant hit that summer. A pair of nerve-racking defeats to Flame Thrower--first in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. II), then again in Santa Anita's Norfolk Stakes (gr. II)--established Street Cry as one of the country's leading young colts. A subsequent third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) that fall sent Street Cry back to Dubai as Godolphin's sharpest candidate for the 2001 Triple Crown. "He showed me right there what kind of potential he had and how tough he was. I never got to the bottom of him," recalled trainer Eoin Harty, the man tapped in 1999 to oversee the Godolphin stateside regiment. "Those two races against Flame Thrower were two of the fastest races by 2-year-olds that year." After that, however, the gleam began to fade. Another heartbreaker, this time to stablemate Express Tour in the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-III), followed by an untimely injury that precluded a shot at the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), left Street Cry labeled as the consummate underachiever. His flawless run in the 10-furlong World Cup blew that tag to bits. Though his stablemate Sakhee was justifiably the marquee name in the 11-horse cast, Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor reminded the press earlier in the week that Street Cry is "a different horse than what you saw before." He wasted no time in proving it. After jumping away from the gate, Street Cry stayed within striking distance the entire way under Jerry Bailey. While To the Victory and Western Pride towed the field around the track, Bailey gradually eased Street Cry down to the fence, a portentous move that gave the dark bay a quiet path. From there, Street Cry never strayed, allowing the enthusiastic crowd to focus instead on the outside attack of Sakhee and Frankie Dettori.
Sakhee galloped by Street Cry with a half-mile to run, and the front-runners put up no fight when the son of Bahri finally showed up turning into the long Nad Al Sheba stretch. It was Street Cry, however, who drew first blood. Bailey shot him up the rail, taking Sakhee--and the entire house--by surprise. Suddenly, Street Cry was in control of his own destiny. And this time he made it count. Leaving Sakhee for dead, he raced off into the Dubai night unchallenged, finally passing the line in a strong 2:01.18. Only the determined late run of Sei Mi kept Street Cry's commanding margin humane. Sakhee, meanwhile, was a disappointment, finishing another 4 1/4 lengths away in third. The rest of the bunch didn't fare much better. Japanese powerhouse Agnes Digital, riding a streak of four straight group-I victories, finished sixth, over 16 lengths behind Street Cry, while Western Pride caved in and wound up ninth. To the Victory, second in the last year's World Cup to Captain Steve, was last. The overseas experiment, yielding such standouts as Street Cry, Tempera, and E Dubai, so far seems to be taking Godolphin Racing down the right path. Of course, there are skeptics worldwide who still consider Sheikh Mohammed's unorthodox quest after the Kentucky Derby laughable. In fact, when he first floated the idea of wintering his stock in Dubai a few years ago, he was met with jabs like "What are you going to feed them, sand?" So far, he hasn't flinched. "He's a very forward-thinking man, always looking for a different angle to reach a goal," Harty said. "If something doesn't work, it's not necessarily a failure. It just didn't work. He learns from it, moves on, and tries something different. I think it's just a matter of time before he attains these goals."
While the Derby has previously proven elusive, a slight adjustment to the $2-million U.A.E. Derby (UAE-II) could be a significant move. Based on the simple premise that a Derby contender needs to negotiate 1 1/4 miles, an extra furlong was tacked on to this year's U.A.E. Derby. When Essence of Dubai rolls into Louisville in mid-April, he'll already have a step on the competition. But the son of Pulpit was always cut out to be a superstar. Bred in the purple--his mother, champion Epitome, won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I)--and sporting looks that could stop a clock, the 3-year-old colt got his early lessons from Harty in California. Spotted in last through the early stages, Essence of Dubai commenced a gritty late run under Dettori. Total Impact, a South American import now trained by Laura De Seroux, looked to be home free at the eighth pole, but Essence of Dubai moved in and nailed him by a half-length.Continued... (Chart, Emirates Racing)