Welcome to Meydan, and the UAE Derby

Every winter, the eyes of the horse racing world turn to Dubai.  The Carnival meet at Meydan featured classy and competitive racing all winter long, and the stakes racing all pointed to one end-of-meet goal: Dubai World Cup day.  That day is coming up this Saturday, and will be one point of our focus here at Picks and Ponderings this week.  Our other point of focus will be Louisiana Derby Day at the Fair Grounds, which Paul Mazur previews.

Our coverage of Dubai World Cup day will come in two parts.  Here, we check in with the top-billing Americans shipping over, as well as a few horses who have links to Arlington Park.  We also handicap the UAE Derby (GII – UAE), since posts have been drawn.  In a second piece, we previewed the five Group I races on the Dubai World Cup day card.

Meydan returned to a dirt track last year; in response we saw an uptick in American shippers for the big race.  That trend only picked up this year, with five members of our handicap division shipping to Dubai to take on the world.  California Chrome finished second in the big race last year; Keen Ice, Frosted, Hoppertunity, and Mshawish will join him in the American contingent.  The versatile Mshawish makes his second voyage to Dubai; last year, he finished a strong third in the Dubai Turf despite some foot issues in the days before the race.

Unlike the Dubai World Cup, the UAE Derby has not gained quite so much traction as a destination for American runners, despite being a 100-point prep for the Run for the Roses.  One US-based horse, Doug O’Neill’s El Camino Real Derby (GIII) winner Frank Conversation, makes the trip.

Two Grade I winners at Arlington will also appear on World Cup day.  2014 Beverly D winner Euro Charline, fourth behind Solow in last year’s Dubai Turf, will return for another try this year.  She has had a prep race at Meydan this time around, finishing second behind Very Special in the Balanchine (GII – UAE) last out.  2015 Secretariat Stakes winner Highland Reel will also have a shot for Dubai glory in the Sheema Classic, his first start since winning the Hong Kong Vase (GI – HK) last December.

One other familiar face from the local circuit will make his Dubai debut this weekend.  2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GI) winner Mongolian Saturday, a three-time winner at Arlington Park, will run in the Al Quoz Sprint.  Like Highland Reel, this will be Mongolian Saturday’s first race since Hong Kong; last out, the Enebish Ganbat trainee was fifth in the Hong Kong Sprint (GI – HK).

Morning lines were not available at original publish time.  Updated Friday, March 25 to add morning lines.

Race 4: UAE Derby (GII – UAE), three-year-olds, 1900 metres (about nine and a half furlongs) on the dirt, post time 8:35am CDT (5:35pm GST)

Once again, the Road to the Kentucky Derby makes its one overseas foray with the UAE Derby.  Like today’s 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.  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 (GI) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), and now stands stud in Qatar.  Last year’s winner, Mubtaahij, finished fourth behind American Pharoah in the Belmont, and will contest this year’s Dubai World Cup.

This year’s edition only sees one United States shipper: FRANK CONVERSATION.  Trainer Doug O’Neill was correct to send him here, in a sense — if the goal was the Kentucky Derby, this turf-and-Tapeta horse would not cut the mustard against American three-year-old dirt horses.  Here, he can evade them, get a run on dirt, and face a shorter field than he would trying polytrack in the Spiral.  However, his dirt form looks even questionable against these, and he may be underlaid in the American pools based on name recognition.  Toss him.

A filly has won this race once: in 2011, UAE Oaks winner Khawlah returned in the Derby and won a stretch duel against Master of Hounds.  This space sees VALE DORI, second in the UAE Oaks, becoming the second filly to win this race.  Though VALE DORI finished second behind POLAR RIVER last out in the Oaks, she has far more upside.  POLAR RIVER has been running at Meydan all meet.  On the other hand, VALE DORI’s last outing was her first race in ten months.  She also showed some versatility in that race.  Though she had been an off-pace type in Argentina, she made the lead in the UAE Oaks, yet continued to battle back after POLAR RIVER passed her.  VALE DORI’s re-rally got almost all the way there — suggesting not only that she is in sharp form, but that this distance will not be a problem.  She does carry more weight than the rest of the field by virtue of being a southern hemisphere three-year-old, but she did in the UAE Oaks as well, and almost won despite the layoff.  The weight should not be a problem.  Finally, trainer Mike de Kock knows how to win a UAE Derby.  He has won six, and VALE DORI looks primed to make it seven.

Among the shippers, YU CHANGE has the most going for him.  Though it’s LANI whose connections have made it abundantly clear that he will be heading stateside after his trip to Dubai, LANI’s deep-closing style will be a liability in a short field without a ton of speed.  YU CHANGE, on the other hand, does not have to rally from so far back.  He also brings true Group-level class with him; he was fourth in the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (GI – JPN) last year.  This colt has also shown his ability to stay the trip, at least on turf; he graduated in Japan last year going 2000 metres.  The biggest question is that YU CHANGE has never run on the dirt.  But, there is pedigree precedent for him to like it.  All five other winners out of his dam won on dirt in Japan, and two of those were by another Sunday Silence-line stallion.

For the third slot, it was a tough call between POLAR RIVER and LAZZAM.  POLAR RIVER has been undefeated against the fillies this winter at Meydan, but the fact that she almost folded in the UAE Oaks raises questions about whether she can stay the trip, and whether her form is going downhill.  Trainer Doug Watson’s decision not to send her stateside for the Oaks, furthermore, sounds like a vote of no confidence.  The argument can be made that the ride got a bit too confident last out, and perhaps she bounces back.  Still, at a short price, she holds little appeal.  LAZZAM has not been exciting in the three-year-old open-company preps for the UAE Derby, but at least he has bee consistent.  He was second behind Market Rally in both local preps, the UAE 2000 Guineas and the Al Bastakiya.  In fact, he has been second five times in eight of his starts.  He can track from not too far off the pace, so the short, not-exactly-speed-laden field should not hurt him the way it may LANI.  LAZZAM hardly seems a win candidate, but he seems an honest enough sort, with form over the course.  Play him to place, or key him underneath in exactas and trifectas..

Selections:

#5 VALE DORI (9/2)

#4 YU CHANGE (8/1)

#7 LAZZAM (30/1)

Longshot:  This race only drew seven runners, and does not stand to have a ton of early speed.  If the track plays as speed-friendly on the big night as it did on Super Saturday, then YU CHANGE’s longer-priced stablemate #6 ON THE ROCKS (30/1) moves up in the rankings.  Though he was well-beaten in his only dirt start, that came over slop: something he does not stand to get in the desert.  ON THE ROCKS has shown some distance aptitude; he broke his maiden going 1800m on grass, and has hit the board twice at 2000m.  He has also shown speed in Japan.  If VALE DORI does not send again, he could get the front end to himself for the early stages of this race.  Given the way he still kept trying last out after being outclassed by the top four in the Kisaragi Sho (GIII – JPN) last out, perhaps he can strike the front and dig in for a piece here, too.

***

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    I think you've underestimated Polar River. Her last run we strategically done so as to not push her. She had a tooth removed and hadn't been eating. I think she's got a true shot at taking the UAE Derby. Also, if you've read the Watson interview about the Kentucky Oaks, he said he wanted to give her a break, and might look at Belmont... so, he's very enthusiastic about Polar.

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    In reply to AnnieWJ:

    we = was... in line 2.

  • In reply to AnnieWJ:

    thank you so much for your feedback. i get your point...and i thought long and hard about her before not picking her here. perhaps i'm too much of a skeptic, but i saw the idea that it was strategic, that "oh, not the Oaks, but maybe Belmont later as "trainer-speak," as if she needs a break. i'm not willing to take that at a short price -- the public would have to sleep on her big time for me to consider going in. if you're right with taking Watson's comments on their face, and the last race was truly strategic, and i'm reading too much into her not going to the Oaks...then, i'm going to let her beat me at a short price.

    again, thank you so much for your comments -- horse racing is a game of opinions, and that's part of what makes it so much fun. i just wanted to shed a touch more light on why i opted off of Polar River. if you're right -- perhaps i lift your price a few pence? good luck this Saturday!

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