03/27/2010 3:40PM

Dubai World Crapshoot


The richest horse race in history was staged in Dubai earlier today, and it was a $10 million advertisement for how synthetic surfaces can make a complete mess of so-called world-class championship racing. For all that it proved about the quality of the contestants either individually or as a group, the results of the Dubai World Cup might as well have been drawn out of a hat.


The winner, front-running Gloria de Campeao, is an admirably durable Brazilian 7-year-old who was beaten 16 1/2 lengths by Curlin in the 2008 World Cup and 14 lengths by Well Armed in the race last year. Those two editions, like the 12 before them, were run on dirt but this year's version at the new Meydan Racecourse was run on Tapeta, a synthetic surface which until this year had never been used for anything more prestigious than a Grade III race at Golden Gate Fields. 

The runner-up, Lizard's Desire, came into the $10 million race with a field-low bankroll of $207,442, having finished 10th and 11th in his two prior starts in Group 1 company in his native South Africa. Allybar, who was third, was 0 for 6 in graded or group races of any kind. America's supposed synthetic specialists -- BC Classic runner-up Gio Ponti (who finished 4th), Goodwood winner Gitano Hernando and Pacific Classic winner Richard's Kid -- had no impact on the finish.

Tapeta may well be a lovely training surface, and it has gotten high marks among synthetic tracks, but no one can really explain why anyone needs a third type of horse racing to go along with the dirt and turf racing that has defined the sport and its great horses for centuries. The Maktoums' decision to replace dirt with Tapeta at their gaudy new racing palace was a premature guess that these new surfaces might somehow magically combine dirt and turf racing into one globally-accepted footing. That hasn't happened and isn't going to anytime soon, or probably ever. 

Instead, it remains entirely unclear what this World Cup proved other than Bob Baffert's adage that synthetic tracks make good horses look ordinary and ordinary horses look good. (And put down your torches -- this has nothing to with Zenyatta, a transcendently great horse who handles everything and is probably as good or better on dirt than on synthetics.) Sure, plenty of major dirt races end with befuddling finishes (cf. Kentucky Derby, 2005 and 2009) and there were even bigger upsets on grass today than on Tapeta. But in the past, the World Cup was a true showcase for champions, such as Cigar, Silver Charm, Dubai Milennium, Invasor and Curlin. Now? Step right up and spin the wheel. 

Dennis More than 1 year ago
Here are a couple of unrelated thoughts that needed airing.Why has the classic CCA Oaks been reduced to a mile and an eighth? Biggest mistake the NYRA has made since reducing the JCGC from two miles. That race was never competetive, it was merely a showcase for the best horse in the country and, as such, was ultra unique. You can't buy or promote that kind of mystique. Or maybe naming a turf stakes after Kelso was an even larger blunder. I agree that synthetic surfaces have reduced interest in racing at Keenland and Santa Anita. Exactly what is the Blue Grass Stakes a prep for these days? Am I the only one who misses 3 furlong two year old races? How great it was when Dirby Line (1962), Mr. Barry (1963?) and Dontstopnow, the pride of New Orleans 1962),were considered the best two year olds in the land (if only for a few weeks) after their January or February wins. It gave us a jump start on the new crop. Then the second tier arrived. Why was watching the Phipps' Bold Ruler juveniles debut in the spring or the Claiborne's come out at Saratoga so much more interesting than seeing the Todd Pletcher or Bob Bafert horses win a maiden in January of their three year old year, become one of the favorites for the Derby and then conclude their careers before the Travers. Lady Bird tried to ban billboards from highways in 1965. Why do racetrack powers clutter the infields with such eyesores in 2010? Why are the Donns being replaced by the Stonarchs? The gods must have had a bad day at Hialeah in the 70's to place the ownership in its present hands. This guy won't let go of that gem until it becomes a multipexed mall. Finally, horse racing lost even more of its aesthetic appeal when it went from George Widener-type racing silks to Wal Mart-type aerodynomic off-the-rack gear. One last thought. When are they going to namee a sportsmanship award after Harry Aleo?
charles More than 1 year ago
TOO MUCH WINNING ABOUT THE SYNTHETIC! Look up how many favorites won at Churchill Downs Breeders in 2006!?? GET A CLUE PEOPLE, synthetic trained horses are just coming out MUCH BETTER than DIRT HORSES. THAT IS FACT! sorry
RobertP More than 1 year ago
Though I may not be in total agreement with Steve's suggestion that the results of the DWC were inscrutable, I do, however, appreciate his continued attempts to bring to light the true underlying reasons behind synthetic conversions and what the long-term implications are in regard to North American Racing. There needs to be a more transparent,honest, civil and less emotional discussion on the topic, on the part of all players in the industry (including fans and players), than what has occurred to date. I think it's obvious at this point that much of the impetus behind decisions to convert can be related to the desire to achieve a "universal racing surface", one on which performers representing different surface backgrounds can compete on fair footing. I would have to think that by now, however, there must be some disappointment on the part of industry officials as the results of the two most recent Breeders' Cups offer more than compelling proof that dirt performers, while competing against turf/synthetic performers of comparable G1 ability, are at an extreme disadvantage when asked to transfer their G1 dirt form to an AWS. By now it should be universally accepted that this argument of a "level playing field" is, at its very core, dishonest. The issue of horse/rider safety is extremely important, this much is self-evident. However, as others have suggested, there still remains a dearth of evidence that can conclusively declare AWSs as being an inherently safer surface type than a well maintained traditional dirt surface. My fears are that in the long run decisions about surface types will have more to do with geoeconomical (if that's a word) forces rather than the reasons that have been thrown out by the industry till now for public consumption. The U.S. is increasingly becoming a debtor nation. What will the value of the U.S. dollar be in ten to twently years? How will this effect breeding, sales, purses of G1 events around the world, and the composition of the demand side of the breeding market. What surface types/races will these buyers be purchasing their prospects for? Depressing thoughts for those of us interested in seeing the integrity of American Racing preserved. American Racing loses more than people currently realize when and if we sever all ties to our racing past. However, in the long run, I strongly suspect decisions about surface conversions will not be based on safety and maintenance considerations nearly as much as they'll be guided by that "invisible hand" Adam Smith wrote about in his 1776 work "The Wealth of Nations".
Tire Hater More than 1 year ago
I guess its a just a coincidence that so many of the synthetic defending rants on here just happened to show up verbatim on other sites and in response to other articles huh? Gee, if I didn't know any better I'd think that they were written by shills dispatched by the synthetic surface makers.
FunnyCide More than 1 year ago
Binky said: More "world class" horses run on synthetic or turf than on dirt. We can participate in the change or get left in the dust (dirt) by the rest of the world. The best horses are not necessarily American dirt runners. It is conceit that we think that way. -------------- Nonsense. Where's your proof in either competition or past performances to make such a claim? Europe has a small list of "greats" in its history, with the majority of them having fewer than double-digit starts. We have a long list of "greats" whose records put the European greats to shame. I won't even attempt to try to compare our greats to any other nation's greats as the divide is even bigger. How many horses have Europeans or the rest of the world have beaten our best on dirt? We very much are winning that competition. Europe produces great turf horses. We produce great dirt horses. It's folly to think Europe or anywhere in the world produces BETTER horses than the U.S. does and has for the past decades.
binky mcfadden More than 1 year ago
More "world class" horses run on synthetic or turf than on dirt. We can participate in the change or get left in the dust (dirt) by the rest of the world. The best horses are not necessarily American dirt runners. It is conceit that we think that way.
Brigitte More than 1 year ago
The big selling point for synthetic was safety and that has been called into question because old dirt tracks were compared to new synthetic tracks and because there were more vet scratches on synthetic. Also, there are different types of injuries. We still don't know if synthetic is safer, even just considering fatalities. (There was a fatality at Maidan in one of the Cup races, but it wasn't a champion horse and didn't get attention.) Synthetic tracks were developed as all weather tracks for turf horses in Europe and they are a big success. No surprise turf horses run well on them compared to dirt where there is blowback. Other than at Santa Anita they are good all weather surfaces here, too, which is a plus. Santa Anita may have a unique drainage problem. It seems clear that dirt horses don't run as well on synthetic, so it is a third surface that favors turf horses. (I can't wait to see if Zenyatta runs better on dirt in the Apple Blossom, her history suggests she might.) Do we need/want a third surface? It depends on the goal. I don't know if fairness is the right word for favoring foreign shippers. It's a good word to use for synthetics if you think more international participation in the BC is going to help racing here. Will it? I wish I'd read other views, such as the effect of creating more rich races for older horses...
charles More than 1 year ago
WHAT we have learned is if you want a chance at a great horse than can run anywhere...buy one from STREET CRY or wait for Zenyatta's first foal. That way your odds of having a great horse that can run on any surface is pretty good.
Alex S. More than 1 year ago
Woodbine opens on April 2nd and runs for about 8 months. The surface is synthetic and I am not faced with numerous scratches on rainy days. When turf races are taken off because of soggy tracks,most of the horses will run on the synth track. [You don't see the race reduced to 3 or 4 races. In an interview last month in CA, Frank Stronach told Roger Stein that he doesn't race more horse in California is "because he does not like and never did like synthetic tracks". However, his stable has been a very successful outfit at WO over the past few years. Last fall, Adena shipped in several stallions to stand in Ontario all with a strong tendency to produce offspring on synthetic tracks. Alphabet Soup, Sligo Bay, Milwaukee Brew, etc. Something is amiss in the whole surface hoopla.i
meafara More than 1 year ago
Forty years ago today, at 12:10 a.m., on a farm in Virginia, the immortal Secretariat was born. RIP Big Red.