On the Rails

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 January, 2010, 12:00am

While connections of Sacred Kingdom appeared to have publicly forsaken ideas of racing in Dubai on World Cup night in March, they will no doubt be keeping an ear out as the Dubai International Racing carnival begins next week.

With the new Meydan track scheduled to host its first race meeting next Thursday, many around the world will be looking to see how the Tapeta surface plays out.

Sacred Kingdom's people have taken the view that the Alquoz Sprint on the main turf track at Meydan is not an appropriate target as it is a Group Three contest.

That is not exactly Dubai's fault - newly introduced races cannot claim a Group One status in their first year, no matter how many millions they put up in stakemoney.

In all likelihood, the race will be at least a Group Two in 2011 and certainly a Group One the following year. If anything, Sacred Kingdom's presence in the race would only serve to hasten that advancement, although clearly that is not a driver for trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai and owner Sin Kang-yuk.

On the other hand, the established Group One Golden Shaheen wasn't attractive to Sacred Kingdom's handlers because it is not on turf but on the new Tapeta surface.

Created and developed by a former top-class English trainer, Michael Dickinson, Tapeta is a wax-coated mix of sand, rubber and fibre, that is described by its marketers as 'impervious to weather and never turns to mud, and is the only system on the market today that has been tested over time to hold up under varied and severe weather conditions'.

It has been designed to spread the impact underfoot vastly more than dirt and has been described as 'liking running on a living room rug', though we aren't sure whose rug was used to ascertain that.

More importantly, like some other synthetic surfaces, the track is considered to play more like turf than dirt, which the Tapeta has replaced in Dubai and which always saw North American dirt horses dominate.

And that change still could be relevant to Team Sacred Kingdom's views of where to go in two months' time.

Running most of the Breeders' Cup programme on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita instead of a dirt surface has appeared to bring turf-oriented European horses more into the game in the past two years, so the trend of play in Dubai is going to be interesting.

If the same kind of pattern were to be seen in the early days of the Dubai International carnival, the whole character of races like the Golden Shaheen and the World Cup itself could begin to move away from an American benefit to a more universally appealing contest.

Sure, it may well be that the Group One Takamatsunomiya Kinen in Nagoya remains the smarter option with Sacred Kingdom - it's closer, the climate will be more like that in Hong Kong, the prizemoney is at least the equal of the Golden Shaheen and it must carry a huge trophy just to get the race name onto it.

Nevertheless, how the new synthetic surface in Dubai plays out might carry some weight for Hong Kong's turf horses at this and future Dubai World Cups.