On the Rails
with Alan Aitken
It was a glorious moment, captured by the Dubai telecast of Saturday night's World Cup finish but not, from what we can Google up, by the world's racing photographers assembled at Meydan.
With Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum's own horse, Monterosso, issuing some sort of challenge between horses for the World Cup in the final stages of the race, the ruler of Dubai showed his passion for horse racing and his humanity in cheering home Victoire Pisa like a hundred-dollar punter with his last on the Japanese hero.
There was undisguised joy in Sheikh Mohammed's punch of the air and beaming grin as, for a moment or two, he slipped out from behind his more demure royal demeanour, knowing what the win meant to the Japanese.
He celebrated with the winning owners, who were understandably tearful in the emotional outpouring that followed a win that meant more to the Japanese, certainly those in horseracing, than just a race and huge prize money.
Mornings at the Meydan track sessions had two consistent characteristics last week: the intense fog and the bearing of Japanese 'Hope' signs in the aftermath of the country's recent disasters.
One of the grooms, away travelling with Victoire Pisa, told the media later he still had no knowledge of what remained of the home and life he had left behind in one of the regions worst affected, the Miyagi prefecture.
The earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear dramas were ever present as a sub-theme to what was to come on race night.
Victoire Pisa's win and a Japanese quinella in the world's richest race was the crowning event to a World Cup night that had everything in front of an 80,000-plus crowd - strangely for a meeting we've found a touch sterile in the past.
The flag-waving, soccer-chanting South Africans that surrounded the enclosure before, during and after the win of JJ The Jet Plane in the Alquoz Sprint gave every impression they had stopped over to warm their voices up on the way to the Hong Kong Sevens.
Charismatic Frankie Dettori managed two star jumps from Godolphin's three wins, the other being the UAE Derby winner ridden by the next baby-faced assassin headed for stardom alongside the likes of Maxime Guyon, Mikael Barzalona. Dettori will be 41 years old at the end of this year and some signals appeared present Barzalona may even be his heir to the Godolphin seat. Barzalona touched off the first runner in Dubai for six years from the Aidan O'Brien yard and even O'Brien's presence produced a notable moment. The publicly-known, but not publicly-acknowledged, enmity between Coolmore and the Maktoum family was forgotten, or perhaps remembered in its absence, as Sheikh Mohammed greeted O'Brien in the parade yard.
The international flavour was unmistakeable - winners from South Africa, Japan, England and Singapore as well as the hometown heroes, and runners from many more jurisdictions.
The switch to the amazing Meydan stage has lifted the Dubai meeting in many respects that do not have money value on them, notwithstanding the odd remaining logistical issue and the slightly hallucenogenic mid-meeting show, which included giant gold robots and flying jellyfish that seemed to have tenuous connection to the traditional roots of Dubai and thoroughbred horses.
The one group that seems to have missed out in the process is United States racing. We see little of the Americans in Hong Kong and their presence in Dubai is on the wane. At Nad Al Sheba, American horses dominated two of the races, the Golden Shaheen and World Cup itself, but switching to Tapeta seems to have dulled their appetite for the meeting. Just two US-based runners in the World Cup, just one in the Golden Shaheen after Kinsale King's late scratching with what may have been an allergic skin condition.
For the Hong Kong officials present, it was a reminder the job is never done. For whatever wonderful niche the Hong Kong International Race meeting has carved for itself, the Dubai World Cup this time was an overwhelming competitor for hearts and minds, not merely for the dollars and cents of racing.