From stakes races at Hawthorne to Derby preps at Fair Grounds and Gulfstream Park, Saturday is a big racing day on both a local scale and a national scale. Before racing gets underway stateside, however, the richest day of horse racing in the world takes place: Dubai World Cup day. Though the World Cup Carnival has been running since January 8, the horses who have spent all winter at Meydan will face shippers from all corners of the earth.
Picks and Ponderings takes a look at three of the races on the Dubai World Cup card. We preview the two richest races on the card, the Dubai World Cup on dirt and the Sheema Classic on turf. In addition, to continue our focus on Road to the Kentucky Derby races, we look at the United Arab Emirates Derby, one of three 100-point Derby preps this weekend.
The first post on Dubai World Cup day is at 4:00pm local time -- meaning 7:00am Central Daylight Time. All racing at Meydan is streamed free online through AmWest Entertainment as well as on the Horse Races Now smartphone app. Horse Racing Radio Network will also broadcast Dubai racing audio from 10:00am-12:30pm CDT on Sirius 93, XM 208, and the HRRN website. Fox Sports 1 will also broadcast Dubai racing from 11:30am-12:30pm CDT. Fox Sports 1 will show the Dubai World Cup live, as well as broadcast highlights from racing earlier in the day.
Meydan does not offer on-track wagering, but North American pari-mutuel wagering on Meydan racing is available on track, at OTB facilities, and through major United States ADW sites. Morning lines were issues with these North American pools in mind. In addition to Meydan-only wagers, Gulfstream Park is also offering a Daily Double covering the Dubai World Cup and the Florida Derby.
Race 4: United Arab Emirates Derby sponsored by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (GII - UAE), three-year-olds, 1900 metres (about one and three sixteenths miles) on the dirt, post time 8:55am CDT
The UAE Derby is the only Road to the Kentucky Derby race outside of North America. Like both the Florida Derby and the Louisiana Derby, the race offers 100, 40, 20, and 10 Kentucky Derby points to the top four finishers in the race, in addition to shares of a $2,000,000 purse. Run since 2000, the race has never produced a Kentucky Derby winner, or a winner of any of the three-year-old Classics in the United States. Last year's winner, Toast of New York, finished second in both the Pacific Classic (GI) and the Breeders' Cup Classic (GI).
Toast of New York wins the 2014 United Arab Emirates Derby over the Tapeta at Meydan. In his first dirt start, later that year, he would finish second behind Bayern in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
The prep season in Dubai has focused around three horses: Sheik Mohammed al Maktoum's MUBTAAHIJ, Godolphin's MAFTOOL, and Uruguayan Triple Crown winner (and fellow bearer of the Godolphin blue) SIR FEVER. MAFTOOL held on against the siege of MUBTAAHIJ in the the UAE 2000 Guineas (GIII - UAE), and then skipped the Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday. SIR FEVER made his Meydan debut, and his first start after a perfect ten straight wins in Uruguay, in the Al Bastakiya. He stalked the pace, but MUBTAAHIJ mowed him down late. Seven more runners descend upon Meydan to take them on.
There is the lone American, MY JOHNNY BE GOOD. He broke his maiden at Arlington last summer and flashed some promise finishing third in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa, but after his last place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) last out, he looks in over his head against the better horses here. The Irish runner FAITHFUL CREEK surfaces for the first time since finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) last fall at Santa Anita. He still only has a single win to his name, a maiden win at Epsom, in seven starts. This will be his first run on dirt and his first at longer than a mile -- making him the biggest question mark of the group. There is tbe enigmatic pair from Saudi Arabia, MOTAA and ALNAJEM ALFAIZ. MOTAA will have to take a large step forward to beat his local rival, much less the trio from Meydan. ALNAJEM ALFAIZ has been hardly tested in his last three starts, and keeps his rider from Saudi Arabia, but will need to take a step ahead to defeat this set. Finally, there is the trio of Japanese runners: TAP THAT, GOLDEN BAROWS, and DEAR DOMUS. GOLDEN BAROWS appears to be the best of the three in the Japanese contingent, and the one with the best chance to challenge the trio who has been at Meydan through the winter. Still, he has two disadvantages: he is unproven shipping, and has not gone past a mile. He has enough sprinting on the underside of his pedigree to make him a little hard to trust at about a mile and three sixteenths.
Among the trio of Meydan familiars, SIR FEVER should be well set to turn the tables on MUBTAAHIJ this time around. It will be his second time running since shipping in from Uruguay, and he should be fitter this time out. The distance will not be a problem; he won at distances as long at 1 9/16 miles back in Uruguay, and finished second at the same distance as this in the Al Bastakiya. This bunch should be harder, but a step forward from last should be enough. MUBTAAHIJ looked sharp last out, and did clearly beat SIR FEVER. Still, he just looks a bit less likely to take a step forward, giving him slightly less upside as the favourite. MAFTOOL likes the track, and will contend if he can stretch out to the distance of this race, but was well enough tested by MUBTAAHIJ at a flat mile to make the extra distance a question.
#4 SIR FEVER (3/1)
#1 MUBTAAHIJ (5/2)
#9 MAFTOOL (9/2)
Longshot: GOLDEN BAROWS does not stand to be much of a long shot, there is enough of a chance that MAFTOOL will drift lower in odds due to his proven Meydan form, letting GOLDEN BAROWS off at some kind of price. There may be enough pace if MY JOHNNY BE GOOD and SIR FEVER hook up to give him something to run at; if going the formful route, this is how to go. However, there is always a chance for a three-year-old race to be a little less than formful. In that light, consider #5 FAITHFUL CREEK (50/1). He would need the same sort of thing as GOLDEN BAROWS, a bit of pace into which to close. He races for the first time since the Breeders' Cup Turf, so has had a chance to grow into himself between ages two and three. In that race, he made a sharp rally, suggesting some ability to run well against classy horses. The dirt remains a question, since he has not yet raced on anything but grass. Take a look at him in the post parade; if he looks fit, strong, and happy to stretch his legs on the dirt, he could add spice and price to the intra-race exotics.
Race 8: Dubai Sheema Classic sponsored by Longines (GI - UAE), northern hemisphere bred four-year-olds and up and southern hemisphere bred three-year-olds and up, 2410 metres (about one and one half miles) on the turf, post time 11:15am CDT
The Dubai Sheema Classic has been run since 1998. It is the third-longest of four turf races on the Dubai World Cup card, and the richest of the grass races given its $6,000,000 purse. Two winners of the Dubai Sheema Classic have won the Breeders' Cup Turf as well: 2001 Breeders' Cup Turf winner Fantastic Light (2000), and 2011 BC Turf winner St. Nicholas Abbey (2013). Fantastic Light also won the Eclipse Award for Champion Grass Horse in 2001, the same year he won the Breeders' Cup Turf. Sulamani, who won the Sheema Classic in 2003, also made his mark in the United States -- and the Chicago area, in particular. He won the Arlington Million later that year upon the disqualification of Storming Home.
Heart's Cry wins the 2006 Dubai Sheema Classic. One and Only, a son of Heart's Cry, races in the Sheema Classic this year.
The talk on this side of the Atlantic has been about MAIN SEQUENCE, who reversed his questionable European form and has won five straight in the United States. He hopes to join Fantastic Light and St. Nicholas Abbey as the third winner of both races, but he has a few strikes against him. Though he beat a field that included FLINTSHIRE in the Breeders' Cup Turf last year, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to keep his form after an international ship, and with the removal of Lasix. He is not without a chance, especially since he did show such promise when racing Lasix-free earlier in his career, but the likely short price in the American pools makes him unbettable given the uncertainty.
With that out of the way, who does look good? DESIGNS ON ROME comes into this race in the sharpest form of the group, having won three straight against group company in Hong Kong. His Timeform speed figures are consistently the best of the field, rivaled only somewhat by FLINTSHIRE. The biggest question is the distance, since he has never won past about a mile and a quarter. However, between his recent performance and the fact that the North American pools may end up more weighted toward familiar horses like MAIN SEQUENCE and FLINTSHIRE, the price should be right to bet DESIGNS ON ROME can get the distance. FLINTSHIRE is a fast enough horse to contend with this group, and has proven himself to be a classy sort at this distance. Though most of last year was a string of second-place finishes at the distance of the Sheema Classic, he broke that string of bridesmaid finishes with a confident win in the Hong Kong Vase (GI - HK) two starts back. He finished second in a lower-level race at Chantilly behind DOLNIYA last out, but that was over a synthetic surface. Though DOLNIYA Back on turf for this start, he has proven he can race sharply off of a ship, and stands as one of the top contenders here.
The rest of the field consists of an English horse running his first meet at Meydan, two Europeans more experienced at trotting the globe, and a pair of Japanese runners. TRUE STORY has been at Meydan through the winter, mustered a win and a second at shorter distances earlier in the Carnival, but finished a somewhat flat fourth in the City of Gold (GII - UAE) on Super Saturday. He would have to improve significantly to beat these. SHEIKHZAYEDROAD, second in the aforementioned City of Gold, is a late-running type whose class for this field is questionable. His only top-level win was in the Northern Dancer (GI - CAN) at Woodbine last year; though it came at this distance, the horses he faces here are a tougher test than the likes of Dynamic Sky, Reporting Star, and beloved Illinois-bred The Pizza Man. JUST THE JUDGE could only muster third against a relatively weak field in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last out; she would need a significant improvement from that performance in her first race off a five-month lay. That seems unlikely. HARP STAR and ONE AND ONLY, the Japanese pair, complete the field. HARP STAR looks the stronger of the two. HARP STAR, a four-year-old filly, beat open company (and older company) in a Group II in Japan last year. She shipped to France to race in the Arc de Triomphe last year, and though she did not his the board, she did not disgrace herself by finishing sixth in the field of twenty. It also means she has a large ship under her belt, something ONE AND ONLY does not have. Though ONE AND ONLY does have a win at a similar distance, it was against straight three-year-old company. HARP STAR has the edge on class and experience, things that should serve her well in the Sheema Classic.
#7 DESIGNS ON ROME (4/1)
#4 FLINTSHIRE (7/2)
#9 HARP STAR (6/1)
Longshot: #2 DOLNIYA (12/1) is lightly raced; the four-year-old filly has started just six times in her career. She is proven at the distance, having beaten her age group in France last year going this route, and finishing a perfectly respectable fifth behind Trêve in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last year. She beat FLINTSHIRE last out over an all-weather surface at Chantilly, her first race in five months. That race put her in the same range of speed she was showing before her layoff. DOLNIYA has been training well at Meydan leading into the race, and if she takes a step forward second off the lay, she could hit the board against this solid field.
Race 9: Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (GI - UAE), northern hemisphere bred four-year-olds and up and southern hemisphere bred three-year-olds and up, 2000 metres (about one and one fourth miles) on the dirt, post time 12:00pm CDT
The flagship race of the Carnival, the Dubai World Cup will be run for the twentieth times this year. Its purse of $10,000,000 makes it the richest Thoroughbred horse race in the world. Originally run over the dirt at Nad Al Sheba, it was moved to the Tapeta when Meydan opened in 2010. The very first World Cup in 1996 saw Cigar score the fourteenth of sixteen consecutive victories. Cigar is not the only Hall of Fame inductee to have won the Dubai World Cup during his career: Silver Charm (1998), Invasor (2007), and Curlin (2008) have also emerged victories in Dubai's biggest race. All of those horses won the races in its days on the dirt, and this year the race returns to a dirt surface for the first times since Well Armed's frontrunning victory in 2009.
Well Armed scores a frontrunning victory in the 2009 Dubai World Cup for trainer Eoin Harty and WinStar Farm, whose racing partnership then involved Bill and Susan Casner. Harty and the Casners return to Dubai this year with My Johnny Be Good in the UAE Derby.
With the return to dirt, the Dubai World Cup has once again started to attract marquee American handicap horses; this year, a pair of them have stamped themselves the ones to beat. Bill Mott, whose Cigar won the very first Dubai World Cup, brings LEA. Art Sherman brings CALIFORNIA CHROME, who aims to join Silver Charm and Animal Kingdom as the third Kentucky Derby winner to win the Dubai World Cup as well. Given the dirt form they have shown in the United States, they come into the race as the ones to beat. CALIFORNIA CHROME drew the outside post of nine in the field, a perfect draw for him. He should be able to either set the fractions or stalk off them if LEA or SIDE GLANCE end up sending, and keep the dirt out of his face. Last out, in the San Antonio, Shared Belief soundly beat him but he was well clear of everything else. His connections were already talking Dubai at that point, but even if not? There are some solid horses here, but there is no Shared Belief. LEA looks his stiffest competition, and reports from Dubai suggest that he handled the ship well. However, LEA has never raced past a mile and an eighth on any surface. At close to their morning lines, CALIFORNIA CHROME looks a bit more attractive. He is likely a little faster, and he is proven at the Classic distance. He is the top selection, though if so much Chromie money enters the pool (or so few wise guys wade into the win pool) that LEA drifts up to 4/1 or better, one cannot be blamed for deciding LEA is the play instead.
Among the rest? Defending Dubai World Cup champion AFRICAN STORY and perennial World Cup also-ran PRINCE BISHOP fought to a 1-2 finish in Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge, the final local prep to the World Cup. They outclassed the field in that race, but their lack of affinity for the surface makes them unattractive against truly classy dirt horses. A pair of other American horses join the fray. LONG RIVER is a question mark after his disappointing run in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3: did he hate the surface, or was he just very rusty off of a four and a half month lay and a long ship? CANDY BOY has not raced since a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic last year, and has not put his nose on a wire first in over a year. The globetrotting SIDE GLANCE takes his first try on dirt here. Though he has proven himself at this distance and longer, his ability to hang on near the lead against proven dirt horses like CALIFORNIA CHROME and LEA seems a tough ask from a horse who has not tried dirt until age 8. Still, given how well he ships and how hard he always tries, he could dig in for a placing. The best shots to upset the marquee American duo are the Japanese pair, HOKKO TARUMAE and EPIPHANEIA. HOKKO TARUMAE faltered in last year's Dubai World Cup, but that was over the Tapeta. He is well-proven on dirt in Japan, currently the best dirt horse in the country, and has won at the distance of this race. EPIPHANEIA tries dirt for the first time, but has proven himself to be a fast and classy horse over the grass. He has the stamina to get a mile and a half on the turf, and though that does not always translate to dirt, it does suggest a certain long-windedness. Reports from Dubai are that EPIPHANEIA handled the ship and is training well, and he should go off a longer price than HOKKO TARUMAE given the surface switch. EPIPHANEIA's speed is so good on the grass that giving his class a chance to shine on the dirt for a price could pay off.
#9 CALIFORNIA CHROME (8/5)
#5 LEA (5/2)
#8 EPIPHANEIA (12/1)
Longshot: He has never been the most consistent horse in the world, but if Saturday catches #7 LONG RIVER (30/1) on a good day, he could challenge this group at long odds. He finished a disappointing ninth and last in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 last out, his first race in four and a half months and his first in Dubai. Still, he has shown the ability to run a good race off of a clunker. After all, after a summer full of clunkers as the Wise Guy Horse last year, LONG RIVER fired a solid third-place finish behind Tonalist in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 52/1 odds. If the likes of SIDE GLANCE, CALIFORNIA CHROME, and LEA get a little too frisky near the front, and LONG RIVER finds the form he showed at various points last year, he could pick up the pieces.
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