Dubai Hosts World's Richest Horse Race

When most Americans think of horse racing, the Kentucky Derby immediately jumps to mind. But this weekend, the world's top horses could be found thousands of miles away, in the United Arab Emirates, competing in the world's richest horse race, the Dubai World Cup.

Invasor, America's "Horse of the Year" in 2006, took home the top prize and raked in $3.6 million of the impressive $21 million multiple-race purse, including about $6 million for his race alone.

Heading into the race the favorite was Discreet Cat, a horse who previously handed Invasor his only career loss.

But this year Discreet Cat struggled and finished last. Instead, it was Premium Tap who challenged Invasor and took second.

Like many of the sport's top horses, Invasor trains in the United States with an American trainer. But his owner is Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the UAE.

"The sheiks have loved racing for years," explained Richard Eng, the horse racing columnist for the Las Vegas Review Journal. "They've been coming to the U.S. to buy the best horses for sale for more than 20 years."

Dubai does not allow betting, but the parties, performances and payouts are seriously rich. Even though this is only the 12th running of the Dubai World Cup, the event has become a global affair.

"It's extremely important, because not only is the purse so large, but they attract the best horses from all over the world," Eng said.

He compared the "aura" building around the event to the World Cup in soccer -- popular around the world, but often overlooked in America.

Yet Americans have the Middle East to thank for their favorite thoroughbreds.

"If you go way way way back in the origin of the thoroughbred race horse, there are three horses that genetically created the breed as we know it today," Eng said.

Those three horses -- the Darley Arabian, the Byerly Turk and the Godolphin Arabian -- were imported to England from the Middle East.

The event is part of a UAE strategy to expand its economy beyond oil and into tourism. The effort includes launching the horse races, hosting a golf tournament that Tiger Woods regularly competes in, and holding a world-renowned tennis tournament.

For Americans, Kentucky is still the home of horse racing, but with Dubai's star on the rise the "sport of kings" might soon be better thought of as "the sport of sheiks."