The Dubai World Cup: a spectacular day of world-class racing, brought to you by the Dubai Racing Club at the otherworldly, state-of-the-art Meydan Racecourse. Only the best horses, from every corner of the globe, dare to step onto the Tapeta at Meydan on this most auspicious day. Fourteen of those horses who dared were not Thoroughbreds—they were Arabians…
You know Arabians—the Original Racehorse. The breed that's at least 5,000 years old—and looks virtually the same as it did at the beginning. (Their image was painted onto jars in Egypt in the Iron Age—and, if you didn't know better, you'd think they were painted this morning.) These 14 Arabians brought five millennia of history with them onto the track when they entered the gate on March 31st, for the EMAAR Dubai Kahayla Classic. This race has been on the card every year of the Dubai World Cup—but for many fans of Thoroughbred racing (and too-many Americans) it was the first time witnessing history in the flesh.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum—the Ruler of Dubai; a neighbor here in Saratoga and a horseman beyond reproach—is the heart and soul of the Dubai World Cup. He knows horses, and he loves to see the best go up against the best. To find his inspiration, one need only to look at his homeland, and its origins.
The deep, sweeping deserts, the crystalline blue sea—and the horses who first raced down those beaches and dunes. With their riders, the horses built great civilizations and kingdoms. They also gave birth to the mighty Thoroughbred. Sheikh Mohammed and his team at the Dubai Racing Club, when planning the Dubai World Cup—the richest day of racing on Earth—had to include Arabian racing on the card. It was not an obligation, but the acknowledgement of the historic connection between the two breeds, and the fact that Arabian racing is a great sport, well-worth viewing and wagering.
It's symbolic, actually, that the first race on the card is the EMAAR Dubai Kahayla Classic, a race of extraordinary Arabians. Just as Arab horses are the foundation of every Thoroughbred, so is the EMAAR Dubai Kahayla Classic the anchor race on the last Saturday in March every year. Sheikh Mohammed knows Arabians. Everyone in the Middle East, Europe—virtually everywhere around the world—knows Arabian racing—for no one who loves Thoroughbreds can get away with knowing nothing about Arabians.
The EMAAR Dubai Kahayla Classic 2012 was of particular interest to me, because I have an emotional tie to the winner, TM Fred Texas (Burning Sand - Queen Kong by Kong). This horse rocks: Horse of the Year and Champion Four-Year-Old Colt for 2011, he took those trophies at the the HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival Darley Awards in March, in Houston. He had a spectacular 2011, including winning the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Arabian Cup Open Stakes (G2) at Del Park in July.
(This race is part of the wonderful HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival, a gift to race fans all over the world. The Festival brings world-class Arabian racing to many racecourses on the planet, including the United States.) I was blessed to see TM Fred Texas win that race at Del Park—it was the first time I'd seen Arabian racing, and I was deeply and truly moved. (Ask my friend, Rocky, who hugged me when I burst into tears. I was in such awe—that I was watching a 5,000-year-old tradition unfolding before my humbled eyes.) I'm still aware that, for my first-ever Arabian race, I saw a horse of that caliber—who would go on to win the EMAAR Dubai Kahayla Classic, at Meydan. What a first experience! (Like seeing U2 from backstage—you'll never settle for nosebleed-section seats after that.)
The EMAAR Dubai Kahayla Classic is a 2000m (approx. 10F) race, Group 1, $250,000 purse. Like the other races on Dubai World Cup Day, it's run on the Tapeta—a surface with which many horses in the remaining races on the card had problems. Apparently it's sticky and slow, not very much like dirt. But it appeared that the Arab horses didn't have a problem--no doubt because this is the breed that can run through deep, hot, thick sand. Cousins of purebred Arabian racehorses are endurance horses—meaning that they race up to 100 miles in one day. (Not a typo.) It appeared that the challenges of a funky surface like Tapeta was no challenge at all to the horses in that first race.
Dutch jockey Adrie de Vries powered TM Fred Texas to joyous victory in Dubai. TM Fred Texas (May I call him "Fred" henceforth?)—was trained by Ron Martino; bred in Texas, U.S. by Todd Moak and originally owned by Sam Vasquez. The gorgeous gray colt was purchased in late 2011 by HH Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, son of the Emir of Qatar.
I knew that he was going to win—I felt it in my bones. I don't think it was mere optimism, I believe that it was my mojo. Even though he started the race from the discouraging 13-hole, he won in resounding manner after proving his dominance over the other (very worthy) contestants.
The fact that an American-bred Arabian won the EMAAR Dubai Kahayla Classic in Dubai speaks very well for the future of Arabian racing in the United States. The monstrous media machine that covered the Dubai World Cup assured that TM Fred Texas was seen. His widely-broadcast victory brought the world's attention to the fact that American breeders of Arabians know what they're doing—they can put together a world Champion horse. And they can race him to Horse of the Year status. A wonderful Qatari Sheikh owns him now—and will make wise decisions about his next moves—but his foundation was laid and made in the U.S.A.
I hope that you horse racing fans
who love, watch and bet the ponies will become familiar with Arabian racing, and on the possibilities. You can bet Arab races from any simulcasting facility; OTB; telephone—or however you do your wagering. You can learn to handicap this breed—Arabs don't run like Thoroughbreds, it's a different style. If you're a member here at Horse Racing Nation
, you will have the opportunity to learn about Arabian horses and racing by watching this column, The Dish on Arabians
. I'll do my best to keep you posted; to help you learn the sport and get jazzed about watching Arabs race live. Whether you're in the U.S., the Middle East, Europe or Asia—there's at least one Arabian race at a track near you in the near future.
If you have questions—and I hope you have lots of them!—please email me directly at the email address I've established just for this column: ThorAbianHorse2@yahoo.com.
And please check out the websites I've listed below—they'll help get you up to speed and raise your excitement level.
Welcome, Horse Racing Nation race fans, to the world of Arabian horse racing—the possibilities are endless! I predict that, with a little encouragement, you can become quite adept at handicapping Arabians—I don't need a crystal ball to predict that you'll fall in love with the breed, as have I.
So, then! A toast to TM Fred Texas, for your resounding victory in Dubai, and thereby contributing mightily to the popularity of the sport. Run fast, Fred, turn left—and take our collective breath away, one hoofbeat at a time.
Photo credit: Shukran--thank you!--to Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images