Dubai: When the 12 runners line up to contest Saturday's Epsom Derby, it will not merely signify the renewal of Britain's most famous horse race, but also evoke memories of more than two centuries of sporting theatre.
The Derby is unlike any other in the world. It is the one race that every trainer, jockey and owner wants to win more than any other. First staged in 1790, it has evolved into one of the richest, most prestigious and most sought-after prizes on the planet.
What makes the race special is the Epsom track itself. At this track horses must be able to gallop both up and downhill and also maintain a straight course in the home straight, where the ground slopes dramatically towards the inside rail approaching the line.
In essence it is a severe, twisting, fast track full of surprises and obstacles that provide the ultimate test to both horse and jockey. All this makes for two minutes of thrills that are unequalled anywhere else in the world.
The Epsom Derby is also renowned for launching careers much in the manner that Cannes does in the film industry. It is the perfect event to get noticed as horses and riders bid to emulate the great winners of the race like Nijinsky, Lammtarra and Sea The Stars.
More than 200,000 racing fans are expected to descend on the historic Dowhhns today to watch top equine stars like 2,000 Guineas sensation Camelot, Derby trial winners Bonfire and Main Sequence, and long-shot Chester Vase hero Mickdaam compete for a mind-boggling purse of £1,325m (Dh7.456m). Camelot is the odds-on favourite.
In the absence of runners from Godolphin or Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, Mickdaam will fly the flag for the UAE when he becomes the first Epsom Derby runner for Shaikh Mohammad Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum.
A winner of the Chester Vase (G3), a recognised Derby trial, the son of Dubawi is all set to be Richard Fahey's first runner in the blue riband race.
In his bid to become the first runner from the Chester Vase to win the Derby since Quest For Fame in 1990, he will have the services of twice British champion jockey Paul Hanagan, who has never before ridden in the Epsom Classic.
“I'm made up. My first ride in the Derby, I can't wait,” said the jockey who is retained by Shaikh Hamdan.
Mickdaam raced in Dubai during the winter, when he won the Listed Al Bastakiya at Meydan before finishing fourth to Daddy Long Legs in the UAE Derby (G1) when trained by South African Mike de Kock.
Having rejoined Fahey at his Musley Bank stables, Mickdaam has been assiduously prepared for today's big race.
“Camelot deserves to be odds-on. He did well to win the Guineas and will be very hard to beat in the Derby,” said Fahey. “He (Mickdaam) stays well, which is a big thing, and he's very tough, which is another. Although it was very soft ground when he won at Chester last month, I've never thought of him as being a soft-ground horse. It'll be beautiful ground at Epsom and I'm sure he'll be fine on it.”
Seven-time UAE champion jockey Ted Durcan has a peach of a ride aboard the David Lanigan-trained Main Sequence, who will bid to stretch his unbeaten record to five wins at Epsom.
The son of Aldebaran will be Lanigan's first runner in the Derby and the handler said: “Everything's fine. He's come out of his race well and he's had a quiet couple of days. He had his last proper piece of work last Saturday over six-and-a-half furlongs.
“He doesn't do a whole lot at home. He'll join his lead horse, put his head in front and that's it. He's never been the most flamboyant worker. He's pretty straightforward.”
Cavaleiro, Minimise Risk, Rugged Cross and Thought Worthy complete the field.