A colorful cast of sixty is expected to invade Dubai for the 2013 Dubai World Cup meeting in support of Dullahan, owned by Donegal Racing, a partnership organized by Iowa attorney Jerry Crawford.
“Hopefully, Dubai is ready,” Crawford excitedly pondered in our conversation last week at the annual Symposium on Racing and Gaming conducted by the University of Arizona Racetrack Industry Program.
Crawford’s roots in the sport are basic. He owned a few horses over the years, some with small stakes success, mostly at his hometown track of Prairie Meadows. Rocktheboat, a filly of no particular esteem, won two of twenty lifetime starts for Crawford, and was retired for broodmare duty. The mare by Summer Squall has dropped six foals to race, all having found a way to the winner’s circle. Three were sired by E Dubai, the stakes winner for Godolphin, and one particular filly inspired Crawford.
“I named her Burj, after the Burj Al Arab” the iconic hotel known for its extreme luxury.
Burj won six of 18 lifetime races, earning just under $40,000, not even enough to secure the hotel’s royal suite for two days.
“I was planning ahead. I knew I’d go there one day with a horse for the Dubai World Cup.”
“So I sent the manager the win photo and a note telling him this was for the hotel, and that one day I’ll be in Dubai with a horse for the world’s richest race.”
Crawford isn’t certain if that manager still works at the hotel, or if it can help get any of his massive traveling party a better rate, but provided all goes well, Dullahan will bring Dubai and Donegal Racing together. Donegal was formed in 2008 as a partnership designed to get Crawford’s friends involved in the sport.
Each partnership, titled “Derby Dreams” and then iterated sequentially, buys a group of horses with all partners owning a share in each set of new purchases, all in the hopes of getting to the Kentucky Derby, with ancillary success certainly accepted along the way. The latest offering, with nine yearlings purchased, is the fifth iteration of the partnership. The first Donegal “Derby Dreams” partnership yielded a Kentucky Derby third in 2010 with Paddy O’Prado, who won five graded stakes in his career, including the Secretariat (G1) at Arlington. Dullahan, a member of “Derby Dreams III,” and a half-brother to longshot Derby winner Mine That Bird, repeated the feat with a third of his own in the 2012 edition of America’s famed race, matching his finishing position over the same Churchill Downs strip from the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Remarkably, Dullahan’s three lifetime victories have come in Grade 1 races: the Breeders’ Futurity as a juvenile, the Blue Grass Stakes against three-year-olds in April, then a tally in the Pacific Classic over 1 ¼ miles where he ran down Game On Dude at Del Mar, setting a course record and recording a final quarter mile in a snappy 23.69 seconds. All three races came over all-weather surfaces. Watch his successes from 2012 below.
Dullahan finished his 2012 campaign with a ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, enduring a wide trip throughout. Beaten seven lengths, the Trakus data reported Dullahan covered the equivalent of about 7.25 lengths more than stablemate Little Mike, who is expected to come to Meydan for the 2013 Dubai Sheema Classic, keying as a potent Dale Romans-trained double. Given his propensity for all-weather surfaces, Dullahan will be among the favorites for the world’s richest race, which has escaped American shores since the race was shifted to Meydan in 2010.
A prep run at Meydan during the Carnival is also a strong possibility for the colt who has garnered significant interest considering the quality of his performances over all-weather surfaces.
“We were offered $7 million for him and obviously had to have a discussion with all the partners,” Crawford recalled. “One of them, George Cataldo, chimed in: ‘well, the value of Dullahan – $7 million; but seeing your horse run in the Dubai World Cup – priceless.’”
No one ever suggested horse racing was an efficient marketplace. The winner’s share of the Dubai World Cup is $6 million, almost double that of the next-richest races in the world (Melbourne Cup, Japan Cup).
The offer was rejected, and Donegal is primed for that “priceless” experience. To Crawford, Dubai is an ideal destination in his continually developing racing enterprise. “It’s both mysterious and spectacular.” For a lawyer from Des Moines, the sleepy capital of Iowa, the lure of Dubai is clear for Crawford, who has cited previously his main goal is “to leave the sport better than [he] found it.”
Supporting a major racing endeavour, such as the Dubai World Cup, fits Crawford’s plans. “Sheikh Mohammed’s interest in racing is an economic driver for the worldwide industry.” Crawford is a member of the Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors, and his son Conor, who graduated from Yale last spring, joined the newest class of recruits in the heralded Darley Flying Start program, a two-year international management training regimen launched by Sheikh Mohammed in 2003.
Donegal Racing has a long way to go before it enjoys the reach of some of the biggest partnerships and syndicates in the sport. That isn’t stopping Crawford from building the brand, something a Dubai trip certainly accomplishes. It could be just the beginning too, as Crawford cites an interest in getting to Japan and Australia in the future.
The namesake of Donegal’s Dubai hope is far from captivating – a dullahan is a gruesome character from Irish mythology, and online descriptions (here and here) are nothing short of grotesque. Crawford is fond of Irish-related names to Donegal’s horses, admitting that potential names submitted from partners get some extra consideration if they are tinged with Irish elements. Given that the partnership’s moniker comes from Crawford’s ancestral homeland in far northwestern Ireland, there is little denying that the Donegal team will hope to channel as much luck as possible, either of the Irish or not, to claim racing’s biggest prize.
**Editor’s note – A truncated version of this story appears in this week’s edition of Al Adiyat.