Dubai: Where there is a will, there is a way, as horse racing helped lift the gloom of the coronavirus pandemic and provide some memorable moments through the year.
The sport of horse racing could not have suffered a greater blow than it did in March this year when the Dubai World Cup, which was set to celebrate its landmark 25th Anniversary, was cancelled due to the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Less than a month earlier, Saudi Arabia had pulled off a coup of sorts when it successfully hosted the inaugural running of the $20 million Saudi Cup amid growing fears of the impending chaos.
There were no untoward incidents as the racing world descended on the capital of Riyadh to witness history in the making as Maximum Security won the 2,000m contest, only to be later denied rights for the winner’s purse as the Saudi Jockey Club began investigation whether the American superstar raced under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs. The enquiry is still on.
For the next couple of months following the cancellation of the Dubai World Cup and the rest of the racing season in the UAE, there was a lot of uncertainty in most part of the world as the virus threat grew day by day forcing the annulment of most sports on the planet.
However, with the pandemic yet to overwhelm Australia until later in the year, racing continued through autumn where horses such as Godolphin’s Colette would shine winning the Group 1 Australian Oaks in Sydney just days after triumphing in Adrian Knox Stakes.
On the other side of the globe in the UK, Ireland and Europe, the racing fraternity was anxiously awaiting the green signals from their respective governments to resume racing activities.
France was the first to come out of the lockdown imposed on March 17 to resume racing on May 9.
While Australia and France kept the show on the road, British racing was steadily limping back and would resume on June 1 at Newcastle’s all-weather track.
A horse by the name of Zodiakos made history as the first post-lockdown winner.
Within weeks the momentum was back and the eyes of the world were on Britain as it staged most of its major races including the Classics and iconic Epsom Derby which was won in shocking fashion by Serpentine who stole Britain’s most prestigious race from right under his rival’s noses.
Horse racing continued to be a beacon of hope for sport in a world reeling under the snowballing Coronavirus.
The grandstands may have been empty but that did not stop fans from rejoicing in the outstanding performances of horses like Kameko who won the first ever 2000 Guineas to be staged in June, while Love gave Irish powerhouse Aidan O’Brien his sixth 1000 Guineas.
But most of all it was an epic year for Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, who would plunder the big prizes at Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, Newmarket, York and just about at every racecourse in the country with horses such as Nazeef and Battaash.
Godolphin, the stable created and owned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, were major players as well through superstars such as Ghaiyyath winner of the Coral-Eclipse
Meanwhile, Frankie Dettori continued his long love affair with Royal Ascot where he totally dominated his peers and also recorded a tremendous Group 1 hat-trick thanks to Stradivarius, Alpine Star and Palace Pier.
While Sheikh Hamdan’s Nazeef recorded four Pattern race wins, it was Battaash who proved himself to be the fans’ favourite as he defended his crown in the Nunthorpe Stakes following exciting victories in the G1 King George V and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and the G2 King George Stakes at Goodwood.
There were many highlights before racegoers return at Doncaster as rising star Tom Marquand won his first Classic win aboard Galileo Chrome in the St Leger.
However in October, the racing world suffered a setback when one of its heroes and two-time champion jockey, Oisin Murphy failed a drug test before Enable’s bid at history fell apart as Scottsass won the 2020 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at an empty Longhchamp racecourse.
If Marquand was making waves as the emerging talent, it was his girlfriend Hollie Doyle who grabbed most of the headlines when she rode a big-race double on British Champions Day at Ascot in October.
Meanwhile former champion jockey turned racehorse trainer Joseph O’Brien won a second Melbourne Cup at Flemington with Twilight Payment
In America, Bob Baffert’s Authentic won both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Overall it was a seminal year on the flat despite the disruptions caused by coronavirus, and for that it will be always remembered.