2016 UAE Oaks Preview

Most of the Kentucky Oaks points races happen in North America, but for one day, the trail leads overseas.

This Thursday is that day.

The card at Meydan features the Group III United Arab Emirates Oaks.  In addition to being the only Oaks points race outside of the United States or Canada, it also holds the distinction of being the only prep that is longer than the Kentucky Oaks itself: about a mile and three sixteenths, as compared to the mile and an eighth that the field of fillies will have to cover in Louisville.

The UAE Oaks has been run fifteen times previously, and has been a 50-20-10-5 points race ever since the Road to the Kentucky Oaks point system was inaugurated in 2013.  If the race’s history can be summed up in one name, that name is Godolphin.  Their charges have won twelve of the fifteen runnings of the UAE Oaks.  That tally includes the first three (2001-2003), as well as the most recent five (2011-2015).

Godolphin campaigned perhaps the best-known UAE Oaks winner on American shores, Chilean-bred Cocoa Beach (2008).  She followed her Oaks win with a third-place finish in the UAE Derby, won two Grade I races in the United States later that year (the Beldame and the Matriarch), and finished second behind Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic that year.  She also also produced an American graded stakes winner, 2014 Pilgrim Stakes winner Imperia (Medaglia d’Oro).

They campaigned Imperial Gesture (2002), the only UAE Derby winner so far to contest the Kentucky Oaks.  Imperial Gesture had American form before her visit to Meydan; in 2001, she broke her maiden at the Spa, and finished 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) as a 53/1 bomb.  That second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup came behind Tempera — her stablemate, on whom she turned the tables at Meydan.  Though Imperial Gesture finished just eighth in the Kentucky Oaks, she won the Gazelle (GI) and the Beldame (GI) later that year.

They campaigned Khawlah (2011), the first and (so far) only filly to win the UAE Derby.  After upsetting odds-on favourite Mahbooba in the Oaks, she prevailed against the boys on World Cup night after a protracted stretch duel against Master of Hounds.

Khawlah holds safe from Mahbooba in the 2011 UAE Oaks.

Godolphin campaigned a trio of close relatives who all won the UAE Oaks, all of whom had American form as well.   Danuta (2003) broke her maiden at Belmont her juvenile year.  Danuta’s half-sister Folk (2007) finished 3rd in the Coaching Club American Oaks, and has since produced graded stakes placed Captivating Lass (3rd, 2012 Davona Dale S.).  Danuta’s daughter Devotee (2009) broke her maiden at Saratoga in 2008, and subsequently finished third in the Alcibiades (GI).

However, Godolphin’s vice grip on the UAE Oaks will loosen this year for the first time since Raihana won in 2010 for Mike de Kock and Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum.  After all, they do not have an entrant this year.

Updated Thursday, March 3 to add morning lines.

Meydan Racecourse: Thursday, March 3

Race 3: United Arab Emirates Oaks (GIII – UAE), three-year-old fillies, 1900 metres (about one mile and three sixteenths) on the dirt, post time 8:10pm GST (10:10am CST)

This year’s renewal of the UAE Oaks offers a $250,000 (US) purse, but POLAR RIVER looms so large that only two others have declared that they will enter the starting gate to face her: DOLLY DAGGER and VALE DORI.  A third, Pure Diamond, was a preliminary entrant, but opted instead to face the boys in the Meydan Classic.

POLAR RIVER, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Congrats, has been nothing short of dominant in three starts at Meydan during the Carnival meet.  The Doug Watson trainee debuted in December as a two-year-old, breaking her maiden in a thirteen and a half length laugher against older.  Returning in the Guineas Trial on January 14, she tracked well in range of early leaders Promising Run and DOLLY DAGGER, and drew off in the final furlong to win by four and a half lengths.  In her most recent start, the UAE 1000 Guineas, she faced a truly small field for the first time.  Just four others showed up to face her, but she proved she could handle it.  DOLLY DAGGER cut out the early fractions, but once again proved no match.  POLAR RIVER stalked, took over easily, and won by thirteen easy lengths.

Barring a huge effort from one of the others, this is POLAR RIVER’s race to lose.  This space can’t stand against her, and will be hoping she turns up against the boys in the UAE Derby at the end of the month.  Even moreso, this space hopes that the talk about her racing in the United States actually comes to fruition.

As for her competition, there is the known DOLLY DAGGER, and the unknown VALE DORI.  DOLLY DAGGER’s frontrunning style would typically help in such a tiny field, but she showed in the 1000 Guineas that she was no match for POLAR RIVER.  This Swedish-bred daughter of Eishin Dunkirk also folded once she got passed — not a good sign.  Yes, DOLLY DAGGER will likely cut the opening fractions, between POLAR RIVER’s stalking style and VALE DORI’s midpack to closing style.  But, if VALE DORI still has the closing kick she showed in Argentina last year, she should be able to run on well enough for second.

Argentina-bred VALE DORI is a Group I winner on dirt in her native country, having annexed the Gran Premio Jorge de Atucha (GI-ARG) last May.  In that race, as well as in a second-place finish in an Argentine Group II on turf, she ran on very nicely late.  There are a few drawbacks: she has to carry 4.5 more kilograms than POLAR RIVER and DOLLY DAGGER since she is a southern hemisphere three-year-old, and she has not raced since that victory last May.  Still, she resurfaces here for a trainer you can trust to have a horse fit for the Dubai Carnival: Mike de Kock.  de Kock also has no shortage of success with running southern hemisphere sophomores in the Carnival; he trained VALE DORI’s sire Asiatic Boy to a UAE Triple Crown in 2007.  All in all, VALE DORI has some upside.

Will VALE DORI beat POLAR RIVER?  Probably not.  POLAR RIVER does not stand to be tiring out late like so many of VALE DORI’s foes in her last start appeared to.  But, she should at least pick up the pieces when DOLLY DAGGER folds.


#3 POLAR RIVER (4/5)

#1 VALE DORI (6/5)

Longshot:  You’ll probably get a square price on POLAR RIVER if she comes stateside for the Kentucky Oaks to face the likes of Songbird and Cathryn Sophia.


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Filed under: horse racing, Meydan

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