Cigar had won 13 consecutive races when his owner, Allen Paulson, agreed to send him 6,000 miles from home to compete in Dubai. When he held off Soul of the Matter by half a length, Cigar did more than win the largest cash prize in horse racing — he helped establish the World Cup as a legitimate concept.
Video by Vintage North American Horse Racing
When the World Cup’s 20th anniversary was celebrated in 2015, its organizers paid tribute to the fact that Cigar had established the tradition of excellence for which the race has become known.
Credit Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press
Nad Al Sheba to Meydan
The second running of the World Cup became legendary for reasons beyond the horses it attracted — torrential rains fell in the desert and racing was abandoned. Sheikh Mohammed had U.A.E. Air Force helicopters hover over the track to dry it out, and the World Cup was held five days later. It was won by the sheikh’s own champion runner, Singspiel.
Video by Khaleej Times
The following year, having proven it could draw quality fields, the World Cup was awarded Group I status, the highest level of racing. The race was won by Silver Charm, the first of now three Kentucky Derby winners to take the prize.
Firmly established on the global racing calendar, the World Cup continued at Nad Al Sheba through 2009. Well Armed romped to a record 14-length victory that March, and then the following day demolition began at the track.
Meydan Racecourse, complete with an on-site luxury hotel, replaced Nad Al Sheba in 2010.
To coincide with its opening, the World Cup’s purse, which had already risen to $6 million, was pushed to $10 million. Brazil’s Gloria de Campeao, who had finished second to Well Armed the previous year, won the race.
When Meydan opened, it had a 1,750 meter synthetic track and a 2,400 meter turf course. However, racing on synthetics proved controversial, leading to a change back to tradition. The 2015 World Cup was the first to be run on dirt at Meydan.
The World Cup lost its title as the world’s richest race last year, surpassed by the newly formed Pegasus World Cup Invitational in the United States.
However, the Pegasus, which now has a $16 million purse, is untraditionally structured and requires participants to put up $1 million to have a spot in the starting gate. Horses invited to compete on World Cup night have their expenses covered.
Arrogate, who won the inaugural Pegasus last year when it was worth $12 million, went on to win the World Cup in his next start. He retired with a record $17,422,600 in career earnings. The horse who finished second to him in Dubai, Gun Runner, won this year’s Pegasus and has also been retired.
Credit Karim Sahib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The World Cup card remains the richest day of racing in the world, though, featuring a total of $30 million in purses and nine group races. The other richest events are two Group I grass races, the Dubai Turf and the Dubai Sheema Classic. Each is worth $6 million.
This year’s World Cup has drawn 10 likely competitors, half of them based in the United States. Leading the charge are two champions — the colt West Coast and the mare Forever Unbridled.
Adding intrigue is Talismanic, who is trained in France. He has a large international following thanks to both his success around the world — most notably winning last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf and finishing second in the Hong Kong Vase — and his flashy appearance. An established top-class runner on the grass, he is slated to transition to dirt and compete in the World Cup.
Talismanic races as a homebred for Sheikh Mohammed in the name of his powerhouse global racing operation, Godolphin. Should he win, he will give the founder of the World Cup his eighth victory in the race.
In the Dubai Turf, the Japanese mare Vivlos is looking to defend her title, and her competition is likely to include fellow Japanese raider Real Steel, who won the race in 2016.
The Dubai Sheema Classic, has also attracted runners from five countries, including Cloth of Stars, who finished second behind last year’s European Horse of the Year Enable in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and Rey de Oro, winner of the 2017 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby).
Betting is not allowed in Dubai, but a prediction “Pick 6” competition will be held at the track. Additionally, the night has become known for its pomp and circumstance. Following the races, a massive fireworks display takes place and then historically a concert. Headliners have included Sia, Janet Jackson, Kylie Minogue, Jennifer Lopez, Seal and Toni Braxton.
This year the after-race musical entertainment will not be held at Meydan. Instead, ticketed race goers will receive free admission to Soho Garden and White Dubai, which will feature performances by DJ Kaz James and Flo Rida.