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African Story - Meydan - 31.03.2012

African Story wins the fifth Dubai World Cup run on Tapeta

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

Tapeta track gives Meydan plenty to ponder

THE Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race, was run on Tapeta for the fifth time on Saturday and once again the track specialists came to the fore.

African Story had raced almost exclusively on Meydan's synthetic surface since 2012 and he put that experience to good use to land the biggest prize in racing, his first at Group 1 level.

Another course-specialist Cat O'Mountain finished third, while  Mukhadram, making his debut on the surface, made much of the running under a well-timed ride from Paul Hanagan to take second.

The improved performance of surface specialists (or more accurately the below-par performance of those unaccustomed to the surface) is a situation we have become used to at Meydan and last week the critics were out in force.

Mukhadram's owner Hamdan Al Maktoum was first to put the heat on the Tapeta surface, calling it "inconsistent" and saying he would prefer the World Cup to be run on turf. Other dissenters said they would prefer the race to return to conventional dirt.

The common perception of the current track is that it favours a very select group of synthetics specialists to the detriment of horses from the two most popular surfaces in the world: turf and dirt.

Data from the first four years at Meydan showed 75 per cen t of the horses who finished in the top three in the Golden Shaheen, UAE Derby, Godolphin Mile and Dubai World Cup had already won on synthetics.

That trend was maintained on Saturday with the specialists again taking 75 per cent (nine) of the 12 available top-three spots. This is an important stat because the group of horse that fall into the category of synthetic winners make up just a small fraction of the global racehorse population.

There is clearly a conflict running the richest race in the world on a surface that does not attract the world's best horses, let alone allow them to perform at their best. And there are two possible ways to solve the problem: change the surface or change the culture.

To change the surface is not as straightforward a decision as it might seem. Firstly, what do they change to? Dirt is almost as exclusive as Tapeta, in that it favours mainly US horses, while the meeting already has two valuable turf prizes at similar distances in the Duty Free and Sheema Classic.

Another way to combat the conflict would be to try to change the global culture. This would mean accepting that synthetics form is a requisite for success on the Tapeta and going out and beating the drum for all-weather tracks around the world, perhaps by supporting valuable synthetics races in other countries.

The problem with this method, other than the fact that changing a global culture would be a monumental task, is that you are gambling on an eventual worldwide adoption of synthetics that may never materialise.

In the US they are positively moving away from synthetics with a renewed focus on dirt. Continuing with Tapeta, therefore, could mean continuing down a path to cultural isolation.

There is no obvious way forward for the Dubai World Cup on any surface: synthetics, dirt or turf. If the original plan was for Meydan to put up huge prize-money to incentivise a global mood-change in favour of synthetics it hasn't worked.

Santa Anita reverted to dirt, Hollywood Park was turned into a housing development and Del Mar is set to return to dirt next year. The US synthetics project is over.

But should those American defections signal the end of synthetics worldwide? Statistics show that in terms of fatalities synthetics are a much safer surface than dirt, so why not persevere? Put up with the quiet years in the hope of building a safer racing culture for the future.

Americans don't look set to come back to synthetics any time soon, but is it worth Meydan reverting to a harsher dirt surface just to please one nation? The best US horses in recent years have been multi-surface performers anyway; horses such as Animal Kingdom, Zenyatta and Wise Dan - all synthetics winners. So would a return to dirt really be the answer?

Essentially the question for Meydan is what do they want from the richest race in the world? Should it be seen as an idealistic blueprint for a safer racing future (synthetics) or should it try to attract the best horses of the time (today: turf, tomorrow: who knows)?

The track's decision will have repercussions which go much further than simply relaying a strip of ground in Dubai. Meydan is an iconic racing venue trying something new; something safe and fair; something for the future. If it changes back to dirt the decision will ripple through history.

For anyone outside Meydan's management the answer is to play the cards as they are dealt. If they decide to stick with Tapeta, then horsemen need to do as the Godolphin trainers do by taking the World Cup challenge seriously by running and training their horses on Tapeta all winter.

For punters, if they stick with Tapeta, it's worth remembering the 75 per cent stat, which shows you really are guessing if you're backing a turf horse unproven on the surface - and it's probably best to avoid dirt horses altogether.

The surface question is one for Meydan's management to answer. There is no obvious solution, but everyone in racing is eager for a decision. It's important to all of us, since, in a way, we are all stakeholders in the world's richest race.

Back to the racing and, just as he did when winning the Godolphin Mile two years ago, African Story enjoyed a dream run on Saturday.

He sat on the rail behind the leader Mukhadram and once they got into the straight nothing else got involved.

A two-and-a-half length win earned him an RPR of 123, which will probably put him in the top 30-50 racehorses in the world in 2014. He also picked up US$6 million, which will probably put him number one in the prize-money list.

One horse who may be able to rival him in terms of prize-money by the end of the year could be Just A Way, who cruised into the world number one spot on ratings with an RPR of 130 in the Dubai Duty Free.

One of two Japanese trained winners on the night, Just A Way was six-and-a-quarter lengths too good for the previously unbeaten Vercingetorix.

It wasn't the cleanest race in behind the wide-margin winner, with the likes of Dank and Mshawish meeting trouble in the straight but it was still a huge effort from the progressive five-year-old, who clocked a sharp time of 1min 45.52sec.

An RPR of 130 should see him finish the season in the top five in the world and that may not be his limit.

The second Japanese winner on the night was Gentildonna, who posted an RPR of 116+ for her hard-fought success in the Sheema Classic.

The bare form was weak for the grade, highlighted by the proximity of Ambivalent and Empoli, but Gentildonna looked better than the bare result, suffering trouble in running before eventually staying on well for a convincing win over Cirrus Des Aigles.

An RPR of 116 still leaves her well below her Orfevre-beating best, however, and if she were to face Just A Way (who beat her by four lengths in the Tenno Sho Autumn in October) in Japan later in the year the rematch is only going one way.

Hong Kong trainees dominated the sprint races on the night, with Sterling City (121) beating Rich Tapestry (119) for the Golden Shaheen and Amber Sky (119) taking the Al Quoz Sprint.

Toast Of New York (115) led home a 1-2-3 for previous synthetic winners in the UAE Derby, course-and-distance winner Variety Club (117) took the Godolphin Mile and Certerach (113) the Dubai Gold Cup.

TOP OF THE CLASS: Just A Way, 130 Naosuke Sugai (Jpn) (Dubai Duty Free, Meydan, 1m1f, March 29)


Name (country trained) Race Rating
1 Just A Way (Jpn) Dubai Duty Free 130T
2 Game On Dude (US)  Santa Anita Handicap
Lankan Rupee (Aus) Newmarket Handicap
  Will Take Charge (US) Santa Anita Handicap
5 African Story (UAE) Dubai World Cup 123A
Gold Ship (Jap) Hanshin Daishoten 123T
  Military Attack (HK) Hong Kong Gold Cup 123T
  Mucho Macho Man (US) Sunshine Millions Classic
9 Palace Malice (US) New Orleans Handicap
California Chrome (US)
San Felipe Stakes
  Sterling City (HK)
Golden Shaheen


Name (country trained) Race Rating
1 JUst A Way (Jpn) Dubai Duty Free 130
2 Lankan Rupee (Aus)
Newmarket Handicap
3 Gold Ship (Jpn) Hanshin Daishoten
  Military Attack (HK) Hong Kong Gold Cup 123
 5 Akeed Mofeed (HK) Centenary Vase
  Amber Sky (HK) Centenary Sprint 120
  Copano Richard (Jpn) Hankyu Hai
  Logotype (Jpn) Nakayama Kinen 120
  Gold-Fun (HK)
Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup
10 Blazing Speed (HK) Stewards' Cup 119
  Dan Excel (HK) Stewards' Cup 119
  Mshawish (Fr) Zabeel Mile 119
  Packing Whizz (HK) Premier Plate 119


Name (country trained) Race Rating
1 Game On Dude (US)  Santa Anita Handicap
 2 Will Take Charge (US) Santa Anita Handicap
 3 Mucho Macho Man (US) Sunshine Millions Classic
4 Palace Malice (US) New Orleans Handicap 122
California Chrome (US)
San Felipe Stakes
6 Constitution (US) Florida Derby 120

Lea (US) Donn Handicap
8 Copano Rickey (Jpn) February Stakes 119
Nihonpiro Ours (Jpn) Hai Tokai Stakes 119
Secret Cricle (US) Palos Verdes 119
Tapiture (US) Rebel Stakes 119
Untapable (US) Fair Ground Oaks 119
Wildcat Red (US) Florida Derby 119


Name (country trained) Race Rating
1 African Story (UAE)
Dubai World Cup
2 Sterling City (HK)
Golden Shaheen
Rich Tapestry (HK)
Golden Shaheen
  Variety Club (SAF)
Firebreak Stakes
Mukhadram (GB)
Dubai World Cup 118
  Prince Bishop (UAE)
Al Maktoum Challenge R2
 7 Grandeur (GB) Winter Derby Trial
  Long John (UAE)
UAE 2,000 Guineas

Shuruq (UAE)
Burj Nahaar
  Soft Falling Rain (SAF)
Godolphin Mile
  Toast Of New York (GB)
UAE Derby
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