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Dubai Millennium by Rachel Pagones

Release date: 04th April, 2007
Publisher: Highdown Publishing

List Price: £18.99
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Dubai Millennium
By Rachel Pagones
Highdown Publishing

4sportsbooks.co.uk price: £8.99, saving 50% on rrp

I first visited Dubai in the mid-80s when it was a regular haunt for thirsty British expatriates like me working in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Even then, the contrast with Saudi Arabia was marked: Dubai was an obviously more liberal society, but also one conscious of the need to build an infrastructure based not on oil but on international commerce and trade.

A phalanx of cranes stretched upwards into the clear blue skies above Dubai as the emirates' embroyonic construction boom was already under way and a few miles outside the city centre, at Nad Al Sheba, ambitious plans were being laid for a desert racecourse.

That such a plan could succeed, for it has, is testimony to the drive and wealth of one man - Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. Today, the racecourse comprises a 2km dirt track and an eleven furlong turf track laid with imported Bermuda Hybrid grass which thrives in Dubai's hot and humid climate.

Racing at Nad Al Sheba began in 1992, when the first race staged there paid $2,700 to the winner. At the end of March 2007, Invasor netted $6 million for winning the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race. Some progress.

To accompany his incredibly lush, beautifully-maintained racecourse, Sheikh Mohammed sought a stable of horses capable of competing with the very best and Dubai Millennium is the compelling tale of how he endeavoured to achieve this. Rachel Pagones paints an accurate picture of the tiny emirate and provides the reader with a marvellous story of a successful racehorse who would go on to win the 2000 World Cup and only a few months later would be retired to stud.

Dubai Millennium began life as an unraced colt named Yaazer, yet following his name change, within a matter of months, he was considered the 5/1 Derby favourite. With hindsight, perhaps bookies had gotten a little ahead of themselves with that price because the colt eventually finished in ninth place. Nevertheless, as his jockey, Frankie Dettori said, "It was like riding a rhinoÖand if he decided we're gonna go, nobody could stop him."

In fact, that disappointing ninth place was the last time the horse lost and soon after, Sheikh Mohammed and his Godolphin race team realised they had a marvellously gifted horse on their hands, "the best we've ever had" according to his owner.

A bright future was mapped out for Dubai Millennium, yet following his outstanding victory at Nad al Sheba, he fractured his leg and was retired to stud. At the age of just five, he was dead, killed by a fatal disease known as grass sickness. End of story? Far from it. The second half of Pagones' tale is devoted to how Sheikh Mohammed and his advisers attempted to follow through with their plan to exert unprecedented control over thoroughbred racing, trying to trace and then acquire as many of Dubai Millennium's 56 foals as possible.

The eventual outcome does not detract from the plan's inherent audacity, although as Pagones writes, "The vagaries of breeding horses are the most democratic aspect of thoroughbred racing [yet] no-one has mastered the whimsical interplay of genetics and environment."

Sheikh Mohammed tried and one fancies he will continue to implement plans of breathtaking extravagance to ensure he eventually succeeds. It would be a sorry day for racing is he does.


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