No American knows more about the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) from personal experience than Jim Cornes.
The Dubai Racing Club official and former assistant to four-time Dubai champion trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has witnessed all but one of the previous 12 runnings of the world's richest race and will be there Saturday to see if Curlin can join the elite group of winners.
"We've come so far," mused Cornes, who lives near Saratoga Springs, New York, when he is not working in Dubai during the winter months. "It's grown so big in what really is an amazingly short time.
"The horses come to Dubai to prove who is best, and that was Sheikh Mohammed's original plan for the event," he added.
Although Cornes said he doesn't like to compare horses, noting that today's runners compete under different scenarios than did inaugural Dubai World Cup winner Cigar, for example, he believes Curlin can prove he is something special on Saturday.
"What's neat about Curlin is that you can really see his growth as he has been finding an even higher level of confidence," Cornes said. "It's just a delight to watch him."
Cornes has served as the official timer of Curlin's workouts in Dubai and has tried to be at the rail every time the American Horse of the Year steps on to the Nad Al Sheba racetrack or training track.
As to past World Cups, Cornes is particularly fond of those finishes in which two or three horses battled to the roar of Nad Al Sheba's very diverse crowd, which is made up of people from all the world's major racing jurisdictions as well as nearby Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries.
Pleasantly Perfect's 2004 duel with Medaglia d'Oro stands out in his mind, especially as he vividly remembers how exercise rider Crystal Brown could hardly hold the giant Pleasantly Perfect in his final pre-race workout.
"He tried her so hard that morning-he wanted to run off-that she was so close to losing it all, but she did her job; she held on," he said.
Cornes also clearly recalls Cigar's iconic win in 1996, which he said not only launched Dubai as a center of racing but also sparked international the growth of international racing in general. One of the vignettes from that day was a visit by gallant runner-up Soul of the Matter's owner and breeder, composer Burt Bacharach, to the stable area to watch his horse cool out after the race.
"We just started talking horses and he said, ‘He tried so hard.' He was disappointed, but so proud," Cornes said.
The wins by Street Cry in 2002 and Roses in May in 2005 also stand out in his mind.
"Street Cry was a neat horse to see perform. You could see on that night that he had this powerful stride," Cornes said. "There was a point in the stretch where (jockey Jerry) Bailey set him down and threw a cross and really let him run. The roar from the crowd that went up was just astounding; it was like somebody flipped a switch and it just went up. You love to see that.
"Roses in May is a top one for me, too. He was a very tough horse-a strong horse-to deal with and he had a tough attitude. Once he got here, he wanted to show everybody what he could do. He took up the running and said, ‘Catch me if you can.' It was a really powerful performance."
The only World Cup Cornes has missed was the dominating win by Dubai Millennium in 2000, and he was not there only because of a family emergency.
Despite all the remarkable horses he has already seen win at Nad Al Sheba, Cornes sees something that could be extraordinary in Curlin.
"He does have a presence about him," he said. "And the way he handles everything is so smooth. But those kinds of words don't even do him justice. He is so much more."