Emirati victory caps evening of top-draw racing

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman of Emirates, with Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, as Royston Ffrench, riding Al Shemali of Britain, looks on, after winning the sixth race. (PATRICK CASTILLO)

Emirati jockey Ahmed Ajtebi got a big hug from Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, after his winning ride on Calming Influence in the 1,600 metre Godolphin Mile.

Ajtebi, who stunned the racing world last year by winning the Sheema Classic and Dubai Duty Free races, came from behind to upstage his more illustrious mate Frankie Dettori in the $1 million (Dh3.67m) turf race, sponsored by etisalat.

New Zealand's Joy and Fun, a six-year-old bay gelding, produced the second upset of the day, with a late run in the 1,200 metre Al Quoz Sprint turf race, sponsored by Emirates NBD, also with a $1m purse.

As at the famed Ascot, women at yesterday's Dubai World Cup sported striking headgear in primary colours.

In fact, nothing was too much when it came to standout attire – some of the entertainers came dressed head-to-toe in gold, with oversized hats topping the outfits.

A German guest wore a sweeping dress in the colours of the UAE flag – a toast to the country that shook off any remains of the credit crunch blues on this festive occasion.

Ajtebi's win added still more excitement to the proceedings, as the overwhelming favourite to win the race was Desert Party, the Godolphin stablemate of Ajtebi's Calming Influence. Joy and Fun, also an outsider, was fired at the right moment by jockey Brett Doyle and raced ahead of the favourite, California Flag from the United States. "That was great," Doyle said.

Qatar had its first victory in the Dubai World Cup, as Jaafar came from last to first in the $250,000 Dubai Kahayla Classic for Purebred Arabian horse, sponsored by Emaar. "To bring a horse from Qatar is just amazing," said trainer Julian Smart, who is from the United Kingdom and has been training in Qatar since August.

This was the second win for Smart in the 2,000 metre Group One race on the all-weather surface, in which favourite No Risk Al Maury finished five lengths behind the seven-year-old grey horse owned by Shaikh Khalifa bin Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Thani. "He went all the way there. He was [in a] different class. It was my first ride at Meydan and to win at the first night was just amazing," said Adrie de Vries, the winning jockey.

The venue, the spectacular $2 billion Meydan complex, is billed as the world's largest integrated racing facility, whose standout features include two tracks, a grandstand for 60,000, a luxury hotel and a marina.

Prize money for the Dubai World Cup is $10m, the biggest purse the sport has to offer. Seven other races on the card boost the total to more than $26m record figure for a one-day meeting.

The opening ceremony had a cast of 750 performers, vast pyrotechnics and possibly the largest moving projected image screen in the world at 6,725 square metres across 15 projection wings. The finale showcased a concert by Elton John and Carlos Santana.

Meydan CEO Saeed Humaid Al Tayer described the launch of Meydan as making a "monumental mark in history". (With inputs from Reuters)


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