Since its inaugural running in 1996, the Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates has been the world's richest horse race. The first edition, which was won by none other than Racing Hall of Fame inductee Cigar, was worth a cool $6 million, which still today would be the biggest purse in the world. Since then, total prize money for the Dubai World Cup, which will be run March 31 this year, has grown to $10 million.

The 2012 Dubai World Cup will be part of a nine-race program of Stakes races with purses totaling a staggering $27.25 million.

The Dubai World Cup was created by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, as a major event to help draw tourists to the area as well as to upgrade the region's racing program. It proved an instant success as horses from all over the world and more than 50,000 spectators converged on the desert city for the first edition.

Then, once Cigar proved U.S.-based horses could win the 1 1/4-mile race despite shipping halfway around the world, the Dubai World Cup and its rich supporting Stakes became an important early season goal for top U.S.-based horses.

In 2010, the Dubai World Cup was moved from its original home at Nad al Sheba Race Course to the palatial Meydan Race Course, which according to most accounts is unlike any other track in the world given its opulence and mammoth size.

The change in venue also included a change in racing surface for the Dubai World Cup. Meydan features a synthetic main track rather than traditional dirt.

To participate in the Dubai World Cup program, horses are first nominated and then those deemed worthy are granted invitations. Those selected are rewarded with an all-expense paid trip to the event.

No fewer than 271 horses from around the globe were nominated to the 2012 Dubai World Cup. Among those are three Eclipse Award winners—Animal Kindgom, last year's Kentucky Derby winner and champion 3-year-old; Acclamation, last year's champion older male; and 3-year-old filly champion Royal Delta.

Including Cigar, U.S.-based runners have won eight of the 16 prior runnings of the Dubai World Cup. That group consists of such luminaries as Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm (1998); Breeders' Cup Classic winners Pleasantly Perfect (2004) and Invasor (2007); and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin

There also figures to be strong U.S. representation in the Dubai World Cup undercard. Virtually all divisions are accounted for, from six-furlong sprints on the main track to 2-mile turf races. The main supporting races are the $5 million Dubai Duty Free contested at 1 ½ miles on turf and the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic at 1 1/8-miles on grass.

U.S. runners have had particular success over the years in the $2 Million Dubai Golden Shaheen, a six-furlong sprint race on the main track.

Wagering on the Dubai World Cup program is available to U.S. residents through most online wagering platforms, including

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