‘Not Just Upset But Mad’: Last-Minute Dubai World Cup Cancellation Frustrates Horsemen

The news of the Dubai World Cup cancellation, announced less than a week before the $12 million race scheduled for March 28, was exceptionally frustrating for the horsemen who’d traveled thousands of miles to the UAE with their ready-to-run top-level horses. Even in the wake of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the last-minute decision left the 21 American-based Thoroughbreds and their handlers shocked and confused.

Elizabeth Dobles learned the news during afternoon feed time on Sunday, ending before it began the dream of saddling her first Dubai World Cup runner, War Story.

“Everybody was pretty upset, not just upset but mad,” Dobles said Monday. “We all went over there, got our horses out there and all of a sudden we’re not running. It’s such a waste.”

The up-and-coming young trainer sent the 8-year-old gelding out to a third-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup in January, and believed he was coming into the Dubai race with a good chance.

“I thought he was going to run really big,” Dobles said. “The worst thing for us is we missed the Challenger Stakes at Tampa to run in Dubai. There was another mile race at Gulfstream for him as well; we’ve missed three races all for this one race that was cancelled.”

War Story’s owners also made the journey to Dubai for the race, arriving Sunday morning. They checked into their hotel and took a nap, then woke up to find the race cancelled.

Dobles and the owners went ahead with a dinner reservation at the world’s tallest building, then travelled straight to the airport to fly back to the United States.

“They pretty much flew to Dubai to go eat,” said Dobles, maintaining her sense of humor.

American horsemen said they were given 48 hours after the announcement was made to fly out of Dubai, because the UAE government planned to shut down the airlines. The horses are tentatively scheduled to ship overseas on Wednesday, possibly to New Jersey, where they will undergo a mandatory return quarantine.

In the meantime, since no one is allowed to travel with them, the 21 American horses will be cared for by Dubai’s quarantine staff. Dobles said she was sure that the staff would take great care of War Story and the others, but added that it’s hard to leave such valuable horses in a situation with so many unknown factors.

“Especially now that they’re all so ready to run, sitting in the stall and just going out to walk for an hour a day, it’s not really enough for them,” Dobles said. “You have to worry about them kicking down the walls … I’m sure if there’s something wrong they’ll find a way to contact me, but it’s still nerve-wracking.

“Of course, this whole situation is unprecedented. I just wish they hadn’t waited until the last minute to make a decision.”

The trainer spoke from a quiet corner of an airport in New York City, on a multi-hour layover before flying home to Florida. Once she arrives there, Dobles will have to quarantine herself at home for 14 days without going to see her horses train at Palm Meadows or run at Gulfstream Park.

War Story will be allowed back into Palm Meadows after his quarantine period is over, possibly before Dobles is able to return herself.

“I got lucky in the sense that I didn’t send a groom, because I only have to quarantine myself,” she said. “But now I’m training horses from my sofa, and that’s not a way to train a horse.”

Though Dobles has cameras installed in the barn to keep an eye on the horses, she will have to rely on the word of her riders and assistants to know how her horses are progressing in their training. She does recognize the seriousness of the worldwide pandemic, and said she’ll obey the 14-day quarantine to protect her staff and her loved ones.

Still, Dobles feels like the trip to Dubai was a waste of her time.

“Even though they’re postponing the race until 2021, it’s impossible to keep the horse’s form for that long, so I doubt you’ll see the same horses there next year,” Dobles said. “My horse is 8 years old already, so I’m sure he’s not going to be a 9-year-old winning the Dubai World Cup.”

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