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Monday, March 11, 2013

Dubai World Cup .. and horses for the price of donkeys


Do you know what connects - Cigar,   Monterosso, Victoire Pisa, Glória de Campeão, Well Armed, Curlin, Invasor, Roses in May, pleasantly Perfect, Moon Ballad………………….  Sure, you would have crossed Guindy many a times and wondered why it attracts so many people vastly different from each other ! – have you ever ventured inside to see what happens inside ??

For some Dubai is the ultimate destination of luxury… despite Dubai’s fast cars and 12-lane highways, the Arabic passion for all things horse related is alive and in tune with that passion is the Dubai World Cup – the world’s most expensive race.

Dubai World Cup, a race for thoroughbred horses is being held annually since 1996 and contested at the Meydan Racecourse, which in Arabic suggests a place where people congregate and compete, a sort of meeting point.  The race is operated through the Emirates Horse Racing Authority (EHRA) whose Chairman is Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Presidential Affairs of the United Arab Emirates. The race was created in 1996 by the Ruler of Dubai who owns Darley Stud &Godolphin Racing, one of the world's leading thoroughbred breeding and racing operations.  With the prize money of US $ 10 M, it is considered the World’s richest race.  

In 2006 the Dubai World Cup was broadcast live on TVG Network and HRTV and taped later for showing on ABC. It was the first time that the race was shown on national TV in the United States. In 2010, the Dubai World Cup was first held at the new Meydan Racecourse on March 27. The race would take place on 30th March and the winner in 10 furlongs (2,000m)  would have their fortunes changed totally. The race now held on all weather turf known as tapeta.   BBC reports that with more than 270 applications this year, the racing club is currently narrowing down the field to the final 16; those in the know are watching Royal Delta and Monterosso as key contenders.

While betting is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, several of the city’s more established bars, such as the Irish Village, set up pop-up versions in the stadium, and a variety of VIP/Champagne lounges spring up overnight for those lucky enough to be offered corporate hospitality. Although the post-race entertainment is still a secret, past performers have included Elton John and Sting.  General admission, which offers views of the races, access to the pubs, restaurants and style competitions, is 350 dirhams, while a package including a four-course meal and unlimited house drinks costs 450 dirhams. The event is a sell-out every year with people crazy to book tickets for the event.  

So you want to own a race horse? Grass is not always greener…… Pune is known for Races and more for the breeders and auctions.  TOI reports that you could have got one almost for peanuts at the end of the annual auction sales in Pune last month. The report states that with supply exceeding demand a sizable number of horses remained unsold and the few who came under the hammer went for paltry sums of Rs 15,000-25,000.

A small breeder who was offered Rs 3 lakh for a horse by Bangalore-based Aditya Thackersey refused to sell hoping to get a better price in the auction sales the next day. The breeder was shocked when the horse sold for a paltry Rs 15000. The story doesn't end here. Aditya who had missed out on buying his chosen horse simply because he arrived late to the sales bought the horse paying an additional Rs 5,000 from the first buyer. The Bangalore owner was delighted and so too the first buyer who was confident that the Rs 5,000 he made from the sale would fetch him another horse! For dismayed breeders, the scenario is similar to having to sell a horse for the price of a donkey.

The reason for this state of affairs is not difficult to fathom. There is room for only about 1,400 horses in all the racing centres across the country. However, more than 1,800 horses were up for sale and that's simply because the top breeders chose to produce more not realizing that the move would backfire and more importantly kill many small breeders and small owners in the industry. While the small breeders lost out big, it was a boon for small owners who picked up quite a few horses at bargain basement prices.

Stunned by the turn of events, a couple of breeders returned home leaving their stock back at Pune, a liability they could ill afford. The transportation charges are high and feeding costs for unsolds can kill a breeder. The Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC), it is learnt, did feed and provide shelter to the abandoned horses fearing that Maneka Gandhi and her group of animal lovers might crack the whip. The onus was back on the hard-hit breeders to find good homes for the animals and many were sold for paltry sums with polo clubs picking up few while riding clubs and schools got them free.
cigar - the winner

It sure is a sad story from the breeders point of view.  Competition could kill the cat is what they have learnt albeit at a high cost.   Now getting back to Dubai, the names that you read at the start o the post are some of the winners of the Dubai World Cup horse race over the years. The race's first winner was the future United States Hall of Fame thoroughbred Cigar, owned by Allen E. Paulson. A plaque honoring that hangs outside the barn of Bill Mott at Belmont Park.  Cigar (foaled April 18, 1990), became the first American racehorse to win 16 consecutive races since Triple Crown winner Citation did so in 1948 and 1950. Cigar retired as the leading money earner in Thoroughbred racing history and was later inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

Courtesy : BBC for the Dubai World race and Times of India for the info on Pune auction.

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