At the races: Shine up, become a 'Chromie'
Bookies of the world are in convalescence after last week's Cheltenham Festival in England threw up popular winners galore.
A spokesman for Ladbrokes, the big international betting-shop chain, muttered through clenched teeth: "We can't get out of here fast enough. Bookies are being carried out on stretchers whilst punters are hiring cranes to help them take the cash away."
The next destination for these whimpering turf accountants might not be any better for their financial health. Dubai is the place where the major action is this weekend, with the 20th anniversary running of the World Cup - the richest stakes race on the planet.
Dubai World Cup Night cannot be ignored by any self-respecting punter or layer of odds.
South Africans have a particular fondness for this meeting as our horses, trainers and jockeys have done very well there over the years. From the early exploits of Ipi Tombe and Victory Moon to those of Jay Peg and Variety Club, the cream of Southern African bloodstock has shown it is on a par with the world's best.
Of course, the kingpin has been Mike de Kock, the trailblazer trainer who has led in 12 winners in World Cup Night, although he hasn't yet cracked the biggest prize of all, the $10-million Cup itself.
On Saturday he has Mubtaahij on the big race, a horse that, courtesy of De Kock's pioneering spirit, contested two legs of last year's Triple Crown in the US - quite respectably, too.
The bruised gents of the ring have priced up Mubtaahij at 16-1, which might seem like punch-drunkenness seeing as the colt romped home in the UAE Derby on this track 12 months ago and knows the course and atmosphere intimately.
But an American contingent has arrived in Dubai looking as ominous as Uncle Sam's tank battalions in Operation Desert Storm. The pencil men know that Yanks generally mean business when they roll into this particular Arabian town.
The names Cigar, Captain Steve, Roses in May, Curlin, Well Armed and a few others evoke memories of commanding victories, happy gamblers and empty satchels.
The favourite at 11-8 is California Chrome, who won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 2014, and narrowly missed out on a Triple Crown after hurting a hoof at the jump in the Belmont Stakes that year.
He was second to Prince Bishop in the World Cup last year after a less-than-ideal preparation and has returned to Meydan a "bigger, stronger, better" horse, according to trainer Art Sherman.
The "back story", as the Yanks call it, is compelling too, with California Chrome having been bred cheaply by a couple of pals who were small fry on the American racing scene. The colt made them into millionaires - and also gathered a massive public following from thousands of online and on-track fans, known as "Chromies".
As tempting as it is to come over all patriotic and side with Mubtaahij, hard logic tells us that the Chromies will be putting the boot into the bookies come 7pm SA time Saturday night.
Don't despair though, the old Technicolor Y-front flag might still flutter, with De Kock having lively chances in other races on the card. Forries Walz in the UAE Derby has shown good recent form and might be a shrewd bet at 10-1.
In the same race, Durban trainer Paul Lafferty saddles his wonderful Harry's Son, who may be coming to his peak after a few months in the desert and might surprise at 33-1.
Betting World's latest odds: 15-10 California Chrome; 2-1 Frosted; 9-1 Mshawish; 14-1 Mubtaahij, Special Fighter, Hoppertunity; 16-1 Keen Ice; 20-1 and better others.