Gold in the Desert

March 30th marks the 18th running of the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest race with a purse that values $10 million. The world’s best horse’s will line up to compete for $10 million, and the victor could etch their name as one of the leading thoroughbred earners of all time. Many novice racing fans have never heard of this race; therefore have no idea of the importance. The history of the race is nearly as rich as the race itself.

The Emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is home to one of the most influential thoroughbred owners, the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. Sheikh Mohammed found a passion for racehorses. He quickly became involved in the thoroughbred industry on many different levels including racing and breeding. In 1981, the Sheikh began purchasing stallion farms all over the world including one in England, Ireland, and Lexington, Kentucky. The breeding farms were officially branded Darley Stud. Not only does the Sheikh have breeding farms, but he also is the owner of Godolphin Stable. Godolphin has become the stable for all of the racehorses owned by Sheikh Maktoum during their racing careers. His passion for racing credited him with introducing thoroughbreds to the Arabs.

Because Sheikh Maktoum had thoroughbred interests worldwide, he felt it was important to bring racing to the forefront on an international stage. He has played a major role in raising the standard of international racing. He introduced racing to the UAE in 1981, the first thoroughbred race was held on a dusty Camel track where they ran three thoroughbred races. Approximately 10 years later, The Dubai Racing Club was formed and in early 1992 the first thoroughbred racing facility was opened, Ned Al Sheba Race Course. That year the Racing Club held a night of racing where some of the world’s best jockeys – Lester Piggot & Willie Carson – were highlighted riders. Sheikh Maktoum had a vision of a racing event that featured the best horses from all over the world; however, due to movement limitations for horses coming in and out of the UAE, that plan was put on a hold. Therefore, in 1993, the Dubai Racing Club created the next best option, which was to showcase jockeys.

The Dubai International Jockeys Challenge was created and the inaugural running was hosted at Ned Al Sheba Racecourse in 1993. Five groups of two jockeys were invited to compete with senior riders coming from USA, Europe, Australia, Japan and the UAE. The Jockeys Challenge eventually paved the road for the Dubai World Cup. By 1996, movement regulations of race horses had been simplified and Sheikh Maktoum’s vision came to fruition.

The first World Cup was contested in 1996 for a purse of $6,000,000. The inaugural World Cup thrust Sheikh Maktoum, Ned Al Sheba, and the UAE onto the global scale when American “super horse”, Cigar captured the first running. After this inaugural running, globally industry members became captivated with the concept of winning the gold in the desert. After 14 years, attendance to the race became so great that Sheikh Maktoum funded a project to build a new racing epicenter in Dubai.

The 2010 World Cup introduced the iconic Meydan Grandstand and Racecourse to the world. This new home for the Dubai World Cup is considered an architectural masterpiece and is the world’s largest integrated racing facility with seating for over 60,000 and 285 adjoining elegant rooms of The Meydan Hotel. Fittingly, Meydan in Arabic means a place to congregate and compete, a meeting place of sorts. With the opening of Meydan, Sheikh Maktoum wanted to draw even more competitors; therefore, the purse for the World Cup was raised to $10 million.

Over the past 18 years, the world Cup has not only become a large purse in which to compete for, but it has also romanced members of the racing community. Industry members were falling in love with the concept of spending the last weekend of March in Dubai, being wined and dined by the Sheikh and observing the world’s best thoroughbreds. It took five years for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum to capture the World Cup for his stable. In 2000, the Sheikh’s favorite horse, aptly named, Dubai Millenium, won the World Cup for his owner. A moving moment in sports to say the least.

Sheikh Maktoum’s creation of the Dubai World Cup has blended the international racing community. This race has allowed trainers worldwide to meet at Meydan and compete on a level playing field allowing a showcase of the world’s most elite thoroughbreds. A victorious trainer receives tremendous clout within the industry for capturing the World’s richest race, and a victorious horse can quickly catapult themselves into the ranks of one of the leading thoroughbred earners of all time.


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