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By Anil Mukhi | 28 Mar 2019 |

Anil Mukhi

The 24th renewal of the world’s richest horse race, the Dubai World Cup, is down for decision in the U.A.E. this coming Saturday, March 30th. This will be the tenth running over the Meydan Racecourse surface, after the carnival was shifted to the iconic track from Nad Al Sheba in 2010. As many as 60,000 people are expected to attend and the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority has laid on 50 buses and hundreds of taxis to carry fans to the track from pick-up locations.

As usual, a sumptuous feast of quality horse racing has been laid on for fans worldwide to savour, even if the main event is a trifle short of talent. The appetising sum of $35,000,000 is on offer for this, the first major highlight of the Northern Hemisphere racing year.

The gates open at noon for the nine-race card, starting with the Dubai Kahayla Classic for Purebred Arabians at 3:45 p.m. local time (5:15 p.m. in India) and ending with the  $12,000,000 Dubai World Cup at 8:40 p.m. local, with the winner of the feature picking up an unprecedented cheque for $7,200,000 (approx. Rs.49 crores)! As usual there is an after-party once the equine action is done and dusted, with top international celebrities scheduled to perform including the likes of Grammy award-winning Gwen Stefani.

The first Thoroughbred race of the afternoon is the $1,500,000 Godolphin Mile (Gr.2; 1,600 m.), sponsored by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City-District One, on dirt at 4:15 p.m. The 13 participants include runners from the USA, England, Japan and Turkey, with course specialist Muntazah (by Dubawi), runner-up last year and in rousing form of late, the evens favourite to give Jim Crowley and Doug Watson a winner. Also in terrific form is Todd Pletcher’s Coal Front (by Stay Thirsty) and he would not have made the expedition from the US unless his schooler felt he could prevail. Jose Ortiz replaces Johnny Velazquez, who is not making the trip.

The Dubai Gold Cup (Gr.2; 3,200 m.), sponsored as before by Al Tayer Motors, at 4:50 p.m. is the first turf event on the card, and will see 10 stayers vying for the $1,500,000 on offer. France has had a stranglehold on this race the last three years, with the admirable Vazirabad scoring a hat trick, and that country fields Frankel’s gelded son Call The Wind here. Freddie Head’s excellent performer should run well but might find it tough to beat Godolphin on their own turf, so to speak. The principal trainer for the “Blue” team is Charlie Appleby and he sends out Lexus Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter (by Teofilo), not seen since November, and the in-form Ispolini (by Dubawi). William Buick and Brett Doyle respectively have been declared to ride, as James Doyle remains in England for engagements there on the opening day of the flat season.

Forty minutes later comes the Al Quoz Sprint (Gr.1; 1,200 m.) on turf, sponsored by Azizi Developments. Despite the brevity of the contest, this should provide a grand spectacle as several of the 13 sprinters hold serious claims. Of course, there would likely be a rush for the early lead, but often a finisher takes it all. Now aged seven, multiple Breeders Cup hero Stormy Liberal (by Stormy Atlantic) has made the long journey from California but without his usual pilot Drayden Van Dyke. Schooler Peter Miller has drafted the talented Joel Rosario in his stead for his ward who was runner-up here last year. Accompanying him from the USA is Caribou Club (by City Zip), from the Tom Proctor barn, with usual rider Joe Talamo astride.

Godolphin’s Blue Point (by Shamardal) has been in imperious form in his two starts of the year, both at Meydan, adapting to the conditions so well that he is quoted at half-money here. Sands Of Mali (by Panis) is attempting to make light of an absence of 161 days. Aidan O’Brien has a strong representation on the day, his chosen nominee here being Lost Treasure (by War Front), to be ridden by Ryan Moore. And then there is a clutch of Aussies, and we all know how talented that nation’s sprinters are.

Shortly before 6:05 p.m., fourteen three-year-olds (including four fillies) are scheduled to be circling behind the gates for the start of the $2,000,000 UAE Derby (Gr.2; 1,900 m.) on dirt, sponsored by the Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group. This race, won back in 2000 by Usha Stud's China Visit, looks destined to fall to a runner with local connections. Trained by Charlie Appleby under the Godolphin banner is the consistent Scat Daddy filly, Divine Image, winner of 3 from 4, including her last two at Meydan.

Officially the highest-rated in the line-up at 113 is the American Plus Que Parfait (by Point Of Entry) whose last run was a clunker. His schooler, Brendan Walsh, has pulled off a coup of sorts by getting Jose Ortiz to partner. So too has Ahmad bin Harmash, who has secured the services of Frankie Dettori to guide one of his two runners, Walking Thunder (by Violence). The obligatory Coolmore presence comes through Van Beethoven, who – like last year’s winner Mendelssohn – is a son of Scat Daddy with Ryan Moore aboard and named after a musician. Stubbins (by Morning Line) has won his last three starts, all at Santa Anita.

Thirty five minutes later comes Race No. 6, which will find 10 fleet-footed customers lining up for the Dubai Golden Shaheen (Gr.1; 1,200 m.) sponsored by Gulf News, which provides dirt sprinters with an opportunity for glory. Stablemate of Stormy Liberal, and third here last year, Roy H (by More Than Ready), with Paco Lopez at the controls, is another repeat winner at the Breeders Cup and is quoted at the short price of 11 to 8 against. Fellow Americans X Y Jet (by Kantharos), narrowly beaten in both the 2016 and 2018 runnings of the Golden Shaheen, Imperial Hint (by Imperialism), making his first trip to the Middle East, Promises Fulfilled (by Shackleford) and Switzerland (by Speightstown) add strength to the trans-Atlantic challenge. An injection of spice comes from the Argentinian Tato Key (by Key Deputy), the Japanese Matera Sky (by Speightstown) and Hong Kong’s Fight Hero (by Footstepsinthesand). The chief local hope is Doug Watson’s Drafted (by Field Commission), presently in awesome form.

The sprints will be followed by a pair of the finest turf events anywhere on the globe. First up at 7:20 p.m. is the Dubai Turf (Gr.1; 1,800 m.), sponsored by DP World, worth $6,000,000 in total!

Thirteen have accepted, one of which ought to be an old-fashioned banker. This is the Japanese star, Almond Eye (by Lord Kanaloa), winner last time out of the Japan Cup, whose connections have preferred this event over the Sheema Classic. French saddle ace Christophe Patrice Lemaire does not think she’ll get beat. Silk Racing’s evens favourite seems a cut above – trainer Sakae Kunieda has sent her out for 6 wins from 7 starts.

A couple of her compatriots Deirdre (by Harbinger) and Vivlos (by Deep Impact) – the 2017 winner – have made the journey but seem well held on current form. Godolphin have a strong hand with Dream Castle (by Frankel) and Wootton (by Wootton Bassett), while arch rival Coolmore rely on I Can Fly (by Fastnet Rock). Yet one feels that if anyone is going to topple the public choice, it will be the Gosden-Dettori representative Without Parole (by Frankel), who has been the subject of steady preparatory work.

Like the Dubai Turf, the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (Gr.1; 2,410 m.) also offers total prize money of $6,000,000. To be run as the eighth race on the programme, it is due off at 8:00 p.m. and has eight runners in opposition. Surely that is a tip for No.8 ?!! Desert Encounter (by Halling), the horse with that saddle cloth number, was good enough to win the Pattison Canadian International last year but will have to somehow overturn a three lengths deficit vs. the 7 to 4 favourite, Godolphin’s Old Persian when the pair last met. Runner-up in the Pegasus World Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park in Florida in January, Coolmore’s Magic Wand (by Galileo) has greater appeal, with Ryan Moore up. She has thrice been second in Gr.1 events – perhaps this could be her “break-out” effort?

It’s hard enough to win one event on a power-packed card like this, but Japan is well-placed to complete a double, if Almond Eye obliges in the previous race. They have the high-class Tenno Sho winner, Rey De Oro (by King Kamehameha), the Osaka Hai hero Suave Richard (by Heart’s Cry) and the 2017 Japan Cup winner Cheval Grand (also by Heart’s Cry) to bat for them in the Sheema Classic.

That brings us to the feature of the night, the Dubai World Cup (Gr.1; 2000 m.) set for 8:40 p.m. and sponsored by Emirates Airlines. Unfortunately, the winners of both the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic and the 2019 Pegasus World Cup – Accelerate and City Of Light – have been retired to stud. However, three of the first four home in the Classic, as well as the runner-up in the Pegasus, have shown up here to make it a competitive renewal.

Dealing with the international challenge first, Seeking The Soul (by Perfect Soul) will encounter conditions very different to the slop in which he ran second in the Pegasus World Cup. In his favour, though, is the fact that “Big Money Mike” Smith has chosen to fly over for the mount. Yoshida (by Heart’s Cry) switches back to dirt and represents the Bill Mott-Jose Ortiz combo. Gunnevara (by Dialed In) is a rare specimen in that he has earned over $4,000,000 without ever having won a Gr.1 event! He gets a rider change with Emisael Jaramillo jetting in from Florida. Another North American representative is WinStar Farm’s Audible (by Into Mischief), placed third in last year’s Kentucky Derby not too far behind Justify. He has been tracking well. All these four contestants last raced at Gulfstream Park as have six previous Dubai World Cup winners.

That brings us to the local challenge. Nominal favourite at the time of writing is North America (by Dubawi), owned by Ramzan Kadyrov and trained by Satish Seemar. He took part in last year’s Dubai World Cup as well but ran about 100 points below his known form, but has since remained unbeaten. The Zabeel Stable’s retained rider, Richard Mullen, continues his long-standing partnership.

Capezzano (by Bernardini) has been a revelation in 2019, recording a hat trick of wins at Meydan for S. bin Ghadayer. He will be piloted by Mickael Barzalona. And although no horse has won the Dubai World Cup twice, Godolphin’s Thunder Snow (by Helmet) is back to try and achieve this feat with Christophe Soumillon in the saddle. The bay loves the Meydan track, having scored 4 times and been second thrice, from 7 starts, but will have to overcome a very wide draw. Finally, one has to commend the initiative of the Korean Turf in sending Dolkong (by Afleet Alex) to Dubai, where he won a race by 9½ lengths, although he has no chance here if form has any meaning.