African Story won the 2014 Dubai World Cup on Meydan’s all-weather track in March, but needs to prove he can handle the dirt on his seasonal debut after a 313-day lay-off. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The proverbial seven-year itch led to African Story’s shock win in the 2014 Dubai World Cup, one of the event’s few races to be contested by a maximum field of 16 runners.

It was seven years since Electrocutionist prevailed at Nad Al Sheba racecourse for Saeed Bin Surour — and the Emirati handler had yet to taste victory at the iconic Meydan Racecourse.

Perhaps it was a win that was meant to be and Bin Surour obliged the thousands of fans at Meydan and the millions watching around the world when he pulled off a coup with the seven-year-old Darley homebred who eclipsed a world-class field led by Irish-bred, Hong Kong-based superstar Military Attack.

It was only two years since Brazilian-born Silvestre de Souza joined the Godolphin team at the start of the Dubai World Cup Carnival but he wasted no time to show why he was the second best rider in Britain.

De Souza rode a perfectly judge race to wear down Mukhadram ridden by the man who beat him to the British Championship, Paul Hanagan, by a comfortable two-and three-quarter lengths.

For the fourth time in five runnings of the race, we had an unexpected winner. Unexpected for most, but not for Bin Surour who in the days building up to the 2,000m contest had been exuding a rare confidence that his galloper would run a big race.

Bin Surour is a sort of person who plays his cards close to chest and rarely does he reveal anything. But his body language and the comments leading up to the race led me to believe that African Story had been showing him something special during his track work that gave him extra confidence.

I remember pushing through the swarm of fans waiting to congratulate Saeed to talk to him and capture his earliest emotions.

He told me: “I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure because of not having a competitive horse for the race, but I knew African Story was the right horse two years ago.

“I always knew that he was special and he gave me a good feeling every time he ran and I even told His Highness Sheikh Mohammed (Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai) that he had the potential to win. And he agreed with me.”

By this time Saeed was more than a trainer who I would interview every time he won, he had become a close friend given the number of times that we spoke in person on the phone when he moved to the UK during the summer.

So I took my chance and jokingly popped the most absurd request.

“Saeed you now have so many whips (a gold plated trophy for the winning jockey) I think it’s time you gave me one.”

He smiled and then said something that touched my heart: “This is a huge win for me and I dedicate this win to my mother who has been so supportive of me all my life. This whip is for her.”

I still remember that beautiful tribute till this day …