May 12, 2021

Dubai World Cup night memories: Reilly’s Top 10 moments on turf

Just a Way turned in an astonishing performance in the 2014 Dubai Duty Free (Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com)

To fill the gaping hole in our calendar from the cancellation of the Dubai World Cup (G1), we’re taking solace in memories from old Nad al Sheba and its successor, Meydan. Monday’s feature recounted my five favorite World Cup winners, so now it’s time to turn the spotlight to the turf.

I’ve expanded to a “Top 10” in light of the number of races to consider, principally the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) and Dubai Turf (G1) (or Duty Free for those of us who remember its origins). The Al Quoz Sprint (G1) and Dubai Gold Cup (G2) have been added in recent years, each deserving a mention on the list.

Historical context prompted me to include these rather than several others with worthy claims.

10. Sole Power – 2015 Al Quoz Sprint

I never thought Sole Power would get around to winning the Al Quoz. Not only was the Irish celebrity 0-for-Dubai, but Europeans had found this dash tough to crack since its transfer to the World Cup card. When Sole Power delivered his patented late charge to take the Al Quoz in his fifth attempt, edging Hong Kong’s Peniaphobia, he was the harbinger of a trend reversal. Now European speedsters have taken the last three runnings.

9. Jay Peg – 2008 Duty Free

South African champion Jay Peg looked beaten when the closers overtook him in the stretch, and a slipping saddle didn’t help. But the brave pacesetter rose to the occasion. Coming again to beat the Aga Khan’s champion filly Darjina, Jay Peg posted the fastest time for the nearly 9-furlong event at Nad al Sheba – 1:46.20.

8. Solow – 2015 Dubai Turf

There was no such suspense in the 2015 edition, made memorable by Solow’s turning the stretch run into a solo performance. A supremely confident Maxime Guyon was admiring the Meydan jumbotron earlier than ever as the French star racked up his fifth straight win (a streak that would extend to 10 by career’s end).

7. St Nicholas Abbey – 2013 Sheema Classic

A shade unlucky not to catch Cirrus des Aigles a year prior, St Nicholas Abbey parlayed a more forward trip to victory in the 2013 Sheema. His defeat of Japanese Horse of the Year Gentildonna, who would go one better here in 2014, was just part of the story line. To this day, St Nicholas Abbey remains Aidan O’Brien’s only turf winner on Dubai World Cup night; indeed, the other Ballydoyle wins have all come in the UAE Derby (G2).

6. Vazirabad – 2018 Dubai Gold Cup

The only Thoroughbred to turn a three-peat in the history of World Cup night, Vazirabad accomplished the feat with characteristic panache. The Aga Khan’s homebred quickened from far back in the about 2-mile Dubai Gold Cup to prevail in a Meydan record of 3:17.92.

5. Jim and Tonic – 2001 Duty Free

If a duel to the wire between two titans is thrilling, how about a three-way tussle among legends? That’s the treat served up in just the second running of the Duty Free in its World Cup night incarnation. Australasian queen Sunline boxed on along the rail, while Hong Kong standout Fairy King Prawn swooped on the outside, and French world traveler Jim and Tonic ultimately prevailed between them. The globalization of racing was embodied in the photo finish.

4. Stay Gold – 2001 Sheema Classic

Two races earlier on the same card, defending Sheema champion Fantastic Light appeared to have the repeat in the bag. Yet Japanese outsider Stay Gold kept up his determined pursuit to the wire, where he somehow managed to get his nostril down at the right nanosecond. You had to feel for Fantastic Light’s brutal beat. Although Stay Gold gave Japan a breakthrough first World Cup night win, it smacked of a lucky head-bob. The intervening years have put him in a different light, however. Stay Gold went on to sire a series of champions including Orfevre, and his stud record casts fresh glory on his Sheema upset.

3. Ipi Tombe – 2003 Duty Free

The pride of Zimbabwe who captivated South Africa, Ipi Tombe burst onto the international stage in Dubai. Her superb turn of foot enabled her not merely to erase a substantial deficit in the 2003 Duty Free, but win more comfortably than you’d forecast given her position in the stretch. Ipi Tombe blew away a multiple Group 1-winning globetrotter in Paolini, an image worth remembering when he later dead-heated for the 2004 Duty Free trophy (with Right Approach).

2. Heart’s Cry – 2006 Sheema Classic

As the only horse to thwart the mighty Deep Impact in his native Japan, Heart’s Cry entered the 2006 Sheema in career form. Even so, his front-running coup around Nad al Sheba was something to behold. British aristocrat Ouija Board, too far back to land a blow off those splits, had to settle for fourth behind the commanding winner. Heart’s Cry has added to his legacy at stud, siring reigning Japanese Horse of the Year Lys Gracieux and the number one on our list.

1. Just a Way – 2014 Duty Free

Both the clock and the form book testify that Just a Way delivered an astonishing performance in the 2014 Dubai Turf. Exploding from near the back of the pack, the Japanese standout struck the front, then kept up the fireworks for the entire length of the Meydan stretch. He drew further and further clear of Vercingetorix, until that formerly unbeaten South African was left 6 1/4 lengths adrift. In third came Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) champion Dank. They didn’t stand a chance once Just a Way put on a show in a course-record 1:45.52, an effort that catapulted him to the top of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings for the duration of 2014.