As someone who’s traveled all over the country writing about horse racing—I’ve covered every Triple Crown race since 1998—I occasionally consider stepping outside of my comfort zone and experiencing international racing. I’ve been told that, to experience racing at its finest, you need to venture to the Dubai World Cup Carnival at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), at least once.
US-based trainers have been raving about the quality of the competition, facilities and hospitality in Dubai since the great Cigar, trained by Bill Mott, won the inaugural running of the Dubai World Cup in 1996. “You have to go with a really good horse that’s doing really well, and it’d better have some speed,” says Bob Baffert, a three-time World Cup winner, nodding to the speed-favoring nature of Meydan’s sandy surface. The Carnival consists of 11 racing dates spread over 3 months. All that leads up to Super Saturday—March 7, 2020—which offers more than $35 million in purses and culminates with the $12 million World Cup.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, has invested heavily in the sport—and built a powerhouse global racing and breeding operation under his own Godolphin stables. In a statement provided by officials at Meydan, Sheikh Mohammed told saratoga living: “As Dubai’s home team, team Godolphin works hard to reflect the pioneering spirit of Dubai—constantly looking forward, relentlessly innovating—in everything we do.” That home-track advantage is profound: Godolphin dominated last year’s standings with 30 victories.
American trainer Ken McPeek, a fixture at Saratoga Race Course each summer, is a well-known risk-taker—so much so that he entered a longshot in the 2002 Belmont Stakes, pulling off the greatest upset in the race’s history. This past January, he rolled the dice on the Carnival, sending four horses to compete there. All went winless, and three were so ineffective that they were shipped home ahead of schedule. “There’s a learning curve that goes with taking these trips and making these adventures,” says McPeek. Talk about stepping out of your comfort zone.