My Dubai World Cup 2016 Experience

In 2016, I attended Dubai World Cup for the very first time. Dubai is a gleaming city, like a jewel from Arabian Nights amid the dunes. You can imagine the restless desert winds nudging the endlessly shifting dunes to reveal a wondrous city underneath. Well, that’s not how it looks but that’s how it feels.

Once inside Dubai proper, it was time to get amazed. Vast wealth from all over the world congregates in this one spot in the vast desert, and I found myself gazing at an amazing display of horses, power and horsepower. I had time to browse the city – from animals to buildings and cars, Dubai is brimming with raw zest, a joie de vivre that pulls you in.

Dubai World Cup has been held in Meydan racecourse annually on the last Saturday in March since 1996 with up to a $10mm prize purse, attracting globetrotting horse-racing fans to the UAE. Although not as prestigious as the Triple Crown races (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes), I felt a sense of anticipation and excitement, as if though we were all just players in this historic event that was unfolding around us.

The cup is organized under the auspices of the Emirates Racing Authority as eight thoroughbred races open to Northern Hemisphere 4-year-olds and Southern Hemisphere 3-year-olds and the ninth one reserved for purebred Arabian horses. Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup winners have competed in Dubai World Cup in the past against international champions, giving it a lot of prestige.

Cigar, a 10-for-10 winner of eight Grade 1 races and effortless champion of the 1 ¼-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic, competed in the inaugural Dubai World Cup under jockey Jerry Bailey and won the floodlight-bathed race with a bruised foot and a clumsy start. [1]

Two years later, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm will get a sterling victory under Gary Stevens on the same spot, netting the $2.4mm first prize. [2] It will take until 2008 that another US racehorse takes the first prize, this time Curlin under Robby Alvarado.[3]

Movers and shakers in Dubai aren’t horsing around and want renown in other sports to make Dubai a tourist Mecca, which explains the 2016 opening and closing ceremonies that featured fireworks and sports highlights. All the Dubai World Cup needed was attention; in 2016, the city absolutely got quite a bit of it.

The favorite to win the 2016 race was California Chrome, the previous year’s runner-up. Despite winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes the year prior, California Chrome got hurt and couldn’t win the Triple Crown, finishing third at the Breeders’ Cup Classic and second to Prince Bishop in 2015 Dubai World Cup.

California Chrome had a meteoric rise on the scene with stellar thoroughbred racing performance in 2014 as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, winning American Horse of the Year and scoring major wins in Santa Anita Derby.

Even at the time, California Chrome pulled eyeballs and raised eyebrows with sublime on-track performance that made it cherished and extolled as age-defining. All the best ingredients that make an exceptional story were there – rise to fame, injury and return to glory with breathtaking determination truly worthy of a classical novel.

Only once every dozen generations does a horse like California Chrome set hoof on track, blessing those lucky enough to have witnessed it in action with superb performance to be retold with breathless enthusiasm. From crusty, jaded veterans to starry-eyed newbies, California Chrome inspired them all.

With tenacity and grace in each trot, California Chrome is a remarkable icon of achievement for fans worldwide, showing us how to start out small and end up larger than life. Even the owners followed the exact same path in life, being underdogs who apparently lost their minds wasting $10,000 to breed an underdog that stood no chance against established bloodlines.

Millions cheered California Chrome all the way through the 2014 Triple Crown bid, having their lives touched by this exquisite spirit that embodied itself as a horse to show them how to beat the odds. Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer, said he had never seen a horse quite like that and estimated his worth at $30mm in 2014. The nation was seized by the charm of what was soon dubbed “the people’s horse”.

I had never expected to visit Dubai until I heard about American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown and the Breeders Cup Classic; Victor Espinoza was riding that one as well. So there I was, having gotten premium tickets that placed me smack-dab next to the finish line to see California Chrome in action.

Starting out with outside post and staying near Mshawish in the lead throughout the race, California Chrome under Victor Espinoza pushed full speed ahead through the final turn to win the race with a time of 2:01.83, narrowly missing the track record by 22 milliseconds.

Despite having only one race that year and nursing wounds for some 9 months, California Chrome pulled through and won, surpassing Curlin as the North American horse with the highest winnings in history. Owners refused to sell him regardless of the bids because they’re not in it for the money; it’s the dream that matters.

No matter what, California Chrome is a part of racing history. Fresno, California proclaimed October 11 the “California Chrome Day” to honor his outstanding achievements and the California State Legislature commemorated his performance with a unanimous resolution, the first of its kind ever. [4]

California Chrome’s offspring will be ready for the track in 2020 and we’ll get to see if lightning can strike twice.

To me, the entire visit to Dubai felt like a magical story where my wish came true and I was taken for a ride that sounds too incredible to be believed if it wasn’t for the photos and videos I took.

Feast your eyes on the visuals from the event that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

For the next year’s visit, I decided I’ll go back with my dearest Katerina in tow.

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