It was Dubai's royal ascot with ladies displaying their best of hats and horses, champions in their own right competing for the coveted title in the world's richest race.
If sheer strength of character and force of will count for anything, Dubai Millennium's phenomenal six-length victory in $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 25th, was the most momentous and compelling sporting triumph in recent thoroughbred racing history.
Carrying the hopes and expectations of a nation of racing fans, the four-year-old colt annihilated a world class field of champions to prove that he was every inch the greatest horse that General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence, has ever had. In every way, from the very beginning of his career, Sheikh Mohammed has had utter conviction that this was the horse for the new millennium, when he changed his name from Yazeer to Dubai Millennium.
"I changed his name before he had run as a two-year-old because I knew he was a good horse," Sheikh Mohammed said after the race. "I was hoping he would go all the way to this day and he has not let me down.
"He is the best horse I have ever seen or had anything to do with, and he will now go for the best race in Europe and North America in the Emirates World Series Racing Championship." Dubai Millennium, who is out of Sheikh Mohammed's leading stallion Seeking The Gold, set the pace for the mile and a quarter race, and then shot home six lengths clear off the mighty American challenger Behrens to win like a true champion.
Despite not being seriously challenged, Dubai Millennium shaved one tenth of his own course record, with an impressive time of one minute 59.50 seconds. Piloted by the incomparable Frankie Dettori, Dubai Millennium raced with complete fluency at the head of a 14-horse field that included runners from America, Britain, Japan, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. His absolute class saw him quicken at the top of the three furlong home straight to coast home a clear winner.
"He's got a mind of his own and when in the early stages he wanted to go so I said okay let's go," said a delighted Dettori. "You can't afford to fight him. At the furlong pole I heard the crowd and at that point I almost had tears of disbelief.
"For the last few weeks it's been scary for us because he's been showing so much at home and we just hoped that he would be able to reproduce that on the track. He's got a fantastic turn of foot on grass and so much speed on dirt."
Simon Crisford, Racing Manager to Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin racing operation said: "When the name Dubai Millennium was chosen for this race it was a grand plan. But you have got to be quite bold to make a plan for two years in advance. But Sheikh Mohammed is an extraordinary judge of horses and he had it absolutely right with Dubai Millennium."
It was shortly after his record-breaking win, the third and final round of the Maktoum Challenge earlier this month, that he was confirmed as the 4/7 favourite to win the richest horse race in the world.
And Dubai Millennium more than confirmed his status as a champion in the making. Behrens, ridden by American champion Jorge Chavez hung on for second place, followed three other American contenders, Public Purse, Puerto Madero and Ecton Park. Japan's big hope World Cleek was sixth and the British raider Running Stag seventh. "I would love to have a rematch in the Breeders' Cup Classic, " said Behrens trainer Jim Bond after the race. "Sheikh Mohammed has got himself a great horse and I would love to meet him again at Churchill Downs. I am up for the challenge."
Richard Mandella, who saddled third placed Puerto Madero for his fifth successive placed finish in five World Cups said, "I am very happy with the way my horse ran. He looked good entering the straight and then he saw some lights and was startled and his mind was not on the job. But he still managed to finish in a strong position."
For Dubai World Cup 2001, make a beeline to our Events Search Feature.