An event that could change the sport of thoroughbred racing worldwide will be staged in March in Dubai when the Emirates Racing Association, controlled by the ruling Maktoum family, puts on the richest race in history - the $4 million Dubai World Cup.
And if that isn’t incentive enough to attract the top horses in the world, expenses for travel to the United Arab Emirates and a month of training will be paid.
The race, an invitational for horses age 4 and older, will be run on the sand track at the Nad al Sheba Racecourse in Dubai, at a distance of 1-1/4 miles.
The winner will receive a record $2.4 million, surpassing the $1.7 million winner’s purse for the Japan Cup. The top-paying race in the United States is the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, which has a first prize of $1.56 million.
Creation of the Dubai World Cup, which was announced July 6, will magnify the already intense competition among racetracks for the best horses worldwide.
Already, officials at two of America’s leading tracks, Santa Anita and Oaklawn, have expressed concern about losing top horses to the World Cup. The $1 million Santa Anita Handicap is scheduled for March 11 and the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap is in April.
The World Cup could lessen the significance of other U.S. races, including the Breeders’ Cup, which has been considered the world series of racing. Breeders’ Cup officials are considering raising purses for their $10 million, seven-race day.
And the rich Dubai race could alter training patterns of top horsemen. Horses that participate in the Breeders’ Cup in November usually are rested for several months. This could cause trainers to keep their horses in training through the winter, or shorten their winter layoff. Similar problems face trainers in Europe and Japan.
“I think that cross-marketing is going to occur,” said D.G. Van Clief Jr., executive director of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. Already, he said, international communication was under way among people in the industry. “I think from that communication is naturally going to come some cooperative marketing efforts.”
Typically, when told of plans for the Dubai race, Allen Paulson, owner of leading horse-of-the-year candidate Cigar, told the Daily Racing Form: “Dubai, here I come.”
Tristram Ricketts, chief executive of the British Horse Racing Board, hailed the race as a major boost to international racing.
“The opportunity to see some of the best older horses from all parts of the world competing for huge prize money is mouthwatering,” Ricketts said.
Dubai, on the coast of the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran (a 14-hour flight from the United States), seems a strange place to have the world’s premier thoroughbred race, particularly since wagering isn’t allowed in the United Arab Emirates.
But Sheikh Maktoum and his brother, Sheikh Mohammed, have been promoting Dubai as a glamorous tourist haven with world-class sporting facilities and competitions. The World Cup should attract world attention, and although there will be no parimutuel betting in the UAR, worldwide simulcasting seems a certainty.
Also, the Maktoums, who have nearly 1,200 horses in training in seven countries, have drawn criticism for dominating the sport. Some see the creation of this race as an attempt to improve relationships among international horsemen.
An international panel of racing secretaries and handicappers will select the top 14 horses to run in Dubai. Entries will be solicited from Dubai, North and South America, Europe, Asia, New Zealand and Australia.
Nominations, due Oct.9, carry a $5,000 fee. Late nominations, at $10,000, close Jan. 2. The starting fee, due the week of the race, is $30,000.
The race will be run on a Wednesday at 10 a.m. Eastern time (7 p.m. in Dubai) and probably will be televised worldwide.
Brian McGrath, commissioner of the Thoroughbred Racing Association, said there had been no discussions about simulcasting or broadcasting the race in this country.
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