This winter's Dubai Carnival draws to a close this Saturday with Dubai World Cup day. Saturday's card features a full day of world-class racing on dirt and on grass, and horses from all over the globe have flocked to Dubai in recent weeks to settle into the desert and make sure they can bring their best on the big day.
Here at Picks and Ponderings, we delve into two of Saturday's races at Meydan in detail. The day's feature, the Dubai World Cup (G1), attracted an international field of ten older horses to contend for a $10,000,000 purse. We also, in keeping with our content all winter and spring, discuss the three-year-old points race on the card, the UAE Derby (G2). In addition to full written previews of those two races, we offer selections and longshots for the whole day's races at Meydan in a chart at the bottom of this piece, and will be happy as always to discuss our logic in the comments or on social media.
In a separate piece, we preview the day's three-year-old points action stateside: the Florida Derby (G1) and the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).
The preview of the Dubai World Cup is published jointly with ThoroFan Handicapper's Corner. Updated Thursday, March 29 to add morning lines.
Meydan Racecourse: Saturday, March 31
Race 4: United Arab Emirates Derby (G2), 1,900 metres (about 9.5 furlongs) on the dirt, post time 5:30pm GST (8:30am CDT)
Though the Road to the Kentucky Derby spends more time overseas than ever, with Derby trails in both Japan and Europe, the original overseas spur of the Derby trail is Dubai. Unlike the Japanese and European roads to the Kentucky Derby, the UAE Derby is a points race just line any of the American races, offering 100, 40, 20, and 10 garden-variety Kentucky Derby points, and also offers 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. However, 2014's winner, Toast of New York, saw significant success on these shores later in his three-year-old season. He finished second in both the Pacific Classic (G1) and the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). Ever since then, the winners of this race have been heading to the American classics. Mubtaahij (2015) contested the first and third legs of the Triple Crown, with his best placing a fourth behind American Pharoah in the Belmont. Lani (2016) came stateside for all three of the Triple Crown races, including a third-place finish behind Creator in the Belmont. Thunder Snow (2017) came to the United States for the Kentucky Derby last year, and though his bizarre bucking bronco show eliminated him at the start, he later won the 2017 Prix Jean Prat (G1) on grass, and has been running in the dirt races this winter at Meydan. Both he and 2015 UAE Derby winner Mubtaahij are slated to contest the Dubai World Cup this year.
Thunder Snow wears down Epicharis in the 2017 UAE Derby.
The pace of the UAE Derby should be honest, if not truly hot, with RAYYA, RERIDE, GOLD TOWN, YULONG WARRIOR, and THREEANDFOURPENCE showing some of their best form up front. It should set up beautifully for a horse with a well-proven rating gear and a solid stamina pedigree: Japanese shipper TAIKI FERVEUR. He rallied well to finish second last out in a sloppy rendition of the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo, and with so much speed in front of him, such an effort should serve him well again here. In that outing he ran down one of his foes here, RUGGERO; unlike RUGGERO's stamina-questionable pedigree, TAIKI FERVEUR should flourish going 1900 metres on the dirt. All three of his dirt starts have been good, and being by Furioso (a three-time G1 winner at 2000 metres) out of an Any Given Saturday mare with quality American dirt route pedigree, TAIKI FERVEUR should be primed for his best here.
MENDELSSOHN tries dirt for the first time in the UAE Derby. he has already proven himself a top-class turf horse, winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) last year. First off the lay, he tried something a little different; he won a European Kentucky Derby prep over the Dundalk polytrack earlier this month. Now, MENDELSSOHN tries dirt. His pedigree should suit the dirt well; the son of Scat Daddy is a half-brother to Beholder (a multiple G1-winning dirt horse) and Into Mischief (a G1 winner on synthetic who has sired classy runners on every surface). And, on pace? MENDELSSOHN should be able to stay off the fight on the front end, and make a well-timed run under Ryan Moore.
GOLD TOWN has dazzled in both of his outings this meet at Meydan. In January, his first start since August and his first ever try on dirt, the Godolphin homebred son of Street Cry won his division of the 2000 Guineas Trial easily. The next month, in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3), he dazzled. He beat Gotti, the winner of the other division of the Trial, by ten and a half lengths. The question for GOLD TOWN here is pace -- he won't have it easy up front on Saturday. But, GOLD TOWN might just be good enough to turn back the other speed and finish the deal, or (better yet) if he can settle down and rate a bit if he gets outgunned early. If so, he could still be in the picture late.
#8 TAIKI FERVEUR (20/1)
#4 MENDELSSOHN (5/2)
#5 GOLD TOWN (6/5)
Longshot: Trainer Aidan O'Brien sends forth fully a third of the field of the UAE Derby. MENDELSSOHN rates a serious win chance; THREEANDFOURPENCE should be part of the pace. But, if the pace is as hot as it looks on paper like it could be, his other entrant may have a say. #6 SEAHENGE (15/1) may get ignored on the tote because does have tables to turn on his stablemates -- he was third behind MENDELSSOHN and THREEANDFOURPENCE last out at Dundalk. But, that was a six-horse field in which his second-place stablemate dictated terms much of the way. It was also SEAHENGE's first race since last October. Second off the lay, with a bigger field and more pace to chase, SEAHENGE should be able to acquit himself better here. As with the whole O'Brien contingent, dirt is a question. But, there's a chance he can handle it. Another son of Scat Daddy, SEAHENGE is half to Frank's Folly, a filly who is stakes-placed going two turns on the date. If he takes to the main track, he should be running late.
Race 9: Dubai World Cup (G1), three-year-olds and up, 2000 metres (about ten furlongs) on the dirt, post time 11:50am CDT (8:50pm GST)
This year marks the twenty-third edition of the Carnival's flagship race, the Dubai World Cup. It offers a rich $10,000,000 purse, more than any race on Earth save the Pegasus World Cup. 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 victorious in Dubai's biggest race. All of those horses won the races in its days on the dirt. During the Tapeta era, 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom (2013) . In 2015, Meydan switched back from Tapeta to dirt. Though Meydan local Prince Bishop won the first over the new dirt surface, American horses won the next two. In 2016, California Chrome joined Animal Kingdom and Silver Charm in the club of horses who have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup. Last year, Arrogate notched the final victory of his short, brilliant career in the race.
In the 2017 Dubai World Cup, Arrogate proves that a victory by a heavy favourite can still be a thrill and a surprise.
Trainer Bob Baffert remarked this week that the Dubai World Cup would give WEST COAST some class relief -- after all, he won't be chasing Gun Runner around. This space agrees, and finds it hard not to like him on top here. Baffert knows how to pick good horses to send to Dubai, and WEST COAST fits this spot like a glove. He has been able to carry his form to multiple tracks, and he has proven mile and a quarter stamina. WEST COAST's running style also fits beautifully: he can lead if the race demands it, but he more typically stalks. Speed can be quite good, but with NORTH AMERICA likely to go from inside, the ability to stalk should pay dividends. WEST COAST looks like the total package here: stamina, class, and a conditioner who knows the Dubai World Cup winners' circle well. He'll be a short price, but oppose him at your peril.
This is Dubai, and it's hard to talk about Dubai without mentioning who wears the Godolphin blue. They send a pair out here: THUNDER SNOW from the barn of Saeed bin Suroor, and TALISMANIC from the Andre Fabre yard. THUNDER SNOW is well proven on the dirt, but it looks like 2000 metres may be a little long for him. On the other hand, Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) winner TALISMANIC is trying dirt for the first time, and has some upside. Not only is his breeding all class, but he has some strains of solid dirt acumen, being by Medaglia d'Oro out of a Machiavellian mare. (Machiavellian, of course, sired Street Cry -- sire of Zenyatta, Street Sense, and Street Boss.) He has a relatively forward running style; though he won't be on the lead, if he handles dirt as well in the afternoon as he does in the mornings, he has a chance to keep them in range and not leave himself too much to do late. Add in the fact that TALISMANIC has the stamina to get this distance, he looks the most likely to pose a threat for the home team.
WEST COAST isn't the only horse here from the Bob Baffert barn -- he also sends MUBTAAHIJ out from his California base. The son of Dubawi comes to the Dubai World Cup off a rather strange run in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), a race in which it was unlikely on paper that he'd set the early fractions, but he did. That is a positive suggestion that MUBTAAHIJ will stay relatively forward in this race, and not leave himself too much to do late. Though there's always a bit of a question with a horse who ships out to Dubai when the trainer has called an audible? Baffert knows this race well enough to trust him in that move, especially when he's sending a horse with proven form over both the Meydan dirt and the 2000-metre trip. As the Baffert "B", MUBTAAHIJ presents a fair chance at a fair price.
#9 WEST COAST (4/5)
#7 TALISMANIC (7/1)
#5 MUBTAAHIJ (15/1)
Longshot: Several others in this field would be no surprise to see in the trifecta or superfecta: GUNNEVERA or FOREVER UNBRIDLED may clunk up for a share, THUNDER SNOW may stay on for a piece, and even FURIA CRUZADA has been in decent form. But, from the perspective of finding a potential longshot winner? There's an old saying, speed is its own bias. #2 NORTH AMERICA (8/1) won the local prep for the Dubai World Cup, the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) on Super Saturday. The race covers the same course and distance as the Dubai World Cup, 2000 metres over the Meydan dirt. That day, under rider Richard Mullen, he quickly cleared to the front, leaving THUNDER SNOW in a futile chase down the lane. Speed held very well that day, par for the course on Super Saturday. But, the way the Dubai World Cup drew? The only one who stands to try to keep him honest up front is WEST COAST. Should WEST COAST choose to rate, or if he has some trouble at the break, or runs into some traffic trying to get in from that outside gate? Then, NORTH AMERICA may have things well enough for long enough on the front to remain a factor late.
Below are all of Nicolle Neulist's picks for Saturday's Dubai World Cup day card at Meydan. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!
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