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2013 Dubai World Cup night preview

Expert
29th March, 2013
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1684 Reads

The Dubai World Cup card is the world’s richest race meeting, with prizemoney totalling USD$27.25m.

It’s easy to see why runners from all over the world clamber to get to Meydan for the last Saturday in March.

The last three races on the card are considered the features: the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free (1800m, turf, 3:40am ADST), the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic (2410m, turf, 4:20am ADST) and the world’s richest race, the Group 1 Dubai World Cup (2000m, synthetic, 5:05am ADST).

I’ve previewed the three features, as well as looking at my highlights across the rest of the card.

Dubai World Cup

I think it is fair to say the Dubai World Cup has the most limited history of any prestigious race worldwide.

First run in 1996, when won by the champion American galloper Cigar, it was a race dominated by the Americans when run at the old Nad Al Sheba racecourse.

They won eight of the 14 editions run between 1996 and 2010 with the likes of Silver Charm, Captain Steve, Pleasantly Perfect, Roses in May, Invasor, Curlin and Well Armed.

However, in 2010, the shift was made from Nad Al Sheba to Meydan. This was a significant shift for this race, as the World Cup is now run on the synthetic Tapeta surface as opposed to a dirt surface.

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The Americans, naturally more comfortable on dirt, have not won in three runnings since. Notably, their best result has come from Gio Ponti, a turf champion who finished fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2011.

This year, they bring their strongest contingent to the Dubai World Cup since the transition to Meydan.

Royal Delta ran in this race last year, when she had absolutely no luck. She comes here a much stronger horse, aiming to become the first mare to win a Dubai World Cup.

As for Animal Kingdom and Dullahan, both were gun three year olds aiming to make their mark as older horses.

Animal Kingdom officially races here as an Australian, now that John Messara’s Arrowfield Stud has purchased a majority share.

He is listed as an Australian runner in the racebook, and the Australian anthem will play shall he be successful. Weird!

We’ve only had two runners in the feature before – Danewin in 1996 and Juggler in 1997 – neither of them made an impact.

As for Dullahan, he would represent the best story, for he is to be ridden by Gary Stevens.

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The 50-year-old jockey only returned from a seven year hiatus in January, but has already recorded 13 winners, including three graded victories.

His strike rate in Dubai is phenomenal, although he has never ridden at Meydan.

More on the Americans later.

As always, the local contingent will be there waiting to fend off all comers.

Global powerhouse Godolphin has three entries trying to win the World Cup for Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum – last year’s winner Monterosso, Hunter’s Light and African Story – while two of his sons have one runner each. Capponi is owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum while Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum owns Kassiano.

If you’re not confused already, they are split amongst two trainers. Saeed bin Suroor trains Hunter’s Light, African Story and Kassiano, while Mahmood Al Zarooni has Capponi and Monterosso.

The Europeans, however, add the most interest here for they give the race a true international flavour.

Between Treasure Beach (who is owned by Irish connections for a South African trainer in Dubai), Red Cadeaux, Side Glance, Planteur and Meandre, these five gallopers have raced in 10 of the world’s biggest racing jurisdictions.

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However, only two European trained horses have won this race – Singspiel in 1997 and Gloria de Campeao in 2010 – although they are rarely aimed at this race, with the best Europeans heading to the Sheema Classic or the Dubai Duty Free.

Pace will be crucial here with a number of these looking to fall off the pace in the early stages. I’m expecting Royal Delta to push towards the lead with Planteur, while I expect Treasure Beach to race a lot handier than he did first up at Meydan.

Remember, Treasure Beach almost led all the way in the 2011 Epsom Derby, so it’s a definite possibility.

I’m expecting one of the locals to press on, too, to ensure there is a true gallop and to give their horses every hope. So while there doesn’t appear to be much speed on paper, I’m expecting it to be at least a steady gallop.

I think Animal Kingdom may be the classiest horse in the race, even though he’s still underrated by a lot of the American journalists here.

His career has been restricted by injury to three runs since the 2011 Triple Crown, where he won the Kentucky Derby, finished second in the Preakness Stakes and finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes.

He was huge in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in November, flying home from near the rear to grab second behind the flying Wise Dan. In one start since, he was second to Point of Entry in a Group 1 handicap at Gulfstream Park.

Given he seems to perform as well on turf as on dirt, and he looks to be hitting peak form for this race, he rates on top – as long as he can get a clear crack at them in the straight.

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Planteur is the interesting runner for me. Trained by Marco Botti, who brought Jakkalberry to Australia to run third in the Melbourne Cup last year, he’s coming off a Listed win at Lingfield last month. That hardly seems form for this race.

However, he ran third behind Monterosso and Capponi last year. Given Monterosso finished third to Victoire Pisa in 2011 before saluting last year, I think this is a relevant statistic. The Tapeta track appears to be a surface which suits certain horses and the ability to handle such going appears crucial.

His form either side of last year’s run doesn’t suggest he is classy enough to win a Dubai World Cup, but I’m certain he’ll give a sight at odds.

The best roughie could be Treasure Beach. In a past life, he was an Irish Derby winner and an Epsom Derby runner up. Last season, however, he seemed a shadow of his old self. Now with Mik

Interestingly, Mike de Kock has a knack for improving horses off their first up performances. His strike rate in the United Arab Emirates this season is shocking with horses fresh, however he is lethal when the step out second up.

Data from American company Trakus, such as average speed and metres covered, suggests his run was much better than expected first up. With a new jockey in Christophe Soumillon aboard, I expect him to settle closer and be in the picture at some point.

Next best for mine is Godolphin’s Hunter’s Light, who was dominant winning the Al Maktoum Challenge last time out. Capponi, too, must rate as some sort of hope of recording a local victory, although he has not been in the same form since he finished second to Monterosso last year.

Speaking of Monterosso, he has had a lot of issues over the last year and it would be a game man to tip him on top once more. However, given he’s already been there and done the job, he cannot be ignored.

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Many of the Americans are keen on Dullahan, who finished third to I’ll Have Another in last year’s Kentucky Derby.

He’s only won the one race since, and the rest of his performances have been all over the place.

I saw him at trackwork on Wednesday morning, and while he looked incredible, he seemed to struggle a bit on the Tapeta surface. He was ploughing into the ground, as opposed to gliding on top of it.

I’d be happy to risk him.

The same goes for Red Cadeaux, who I still cannot believe is tackling this race instead of the Sheema Classic in which he would have been a live chance.

He would need everything to go his way to win here, and that looks the longest of longshots.

Selections: 1. Animal Kingdom; 2. Planteur; 3. Treasure Beach; 4. Hunter’s Light

Dubai Duty Free

This race presents as one of the most open on the card.

However, if it is a question of class, I think it shapes up as a match race between the American Little Mike and New Zealand’s Ocean Park.

It is not only a battle of hemispheres, but also a battle of philosophies. It is a clash between the American notion of demonstrating to the world they have the best horses, as opposed to the Kiwi self-deprecating approach.

At this meeting, the United States is represented in large numbers every year, all trying to prove that they are the best in the world.

By contrast, New Zealand has only had two runners before on this card, both in this race – Sunline (2001, 3rd) and Seachange (2008, 6th).

Chatting to Ocean Park’s trainer Gary Hennessy yesterday, he said that New Zealanders often believed their horses weren’t good enough to tackle the best in the world.

Hennessy comes from a different mould. He believes the only way he’ll know his horse isn’t good enough is by testing him against the best in the world.

In that sense, his mindset belongs more to the American school of thought.

Most New Zealand trainers would have pulled the pin after Ocean Park finished fourth of five behind Nashville in the Haunui Farm Classic first up.

However, Hennessy decided to press on, instead giving him another run in New Zealand to ensure he was spot on for his Dubai campaign.

In the New Zealand Stakes, he proved he was back to his best with a slashing victory over five time Group 1 winner Veyron.

Ocean Park is only the third Cox Plate winner to run at this meeting, after Sunline and So You Think (fourth in last year’s Dubai World Cup).

The form from the Cox Plate continues to look strong. All Too Hard (Orr Stakes, Futurity Stakes), Pierro (Canterbury Stakes), Shoot Out (Chipping Norton Stakes), Green Moon (Melbourne Cup) and Happy Trails (Emirates Stakes) have all won at Group 1 level since, while Proisir (Randwick Guineas), More Joyous (Canterbury Stakes) and Glass Harmonium (Mackinnon Stakes, Futurity Stakes) have all been placed at Group 1 level in the subsequent months.

There is no doubt some query about how this form will stack up internationally. Ocean Park doesn’t look in the same league as Sunline or So You Think yet, although both were older and he still appears to be improving.

This also doesn’t appear to be as strong a race as what Sunline or So You Think contested.

He has attracted support from all around the world, and he may even start favourite. As the race gets closer and closer, he looks to be an even greater chance of giving New Zealand their first victory here.

Little Mike should provide significant opposition, though.

He tends to mix his form – his last four wins have been split by poor performances. However, at his best, he is scintillating.

Last year, he won the Arlington Million, defeating the likes of Afsare, Crackerjack King, Treasure Beach and Wigmore Hall.

He then won the Breeders’ Cup Turf, with Sheema Classic aspirants St Nicholas Abbey, Trailblazer and Shareta left in his wake.

It all depends on which Little Mike turns up. If he is switched on and focused, he should dictate out in front and prove hard to run down. However, if he has another off day, he will be comfortably beaten.

It is a bit of a conundrum.

Add in South Africa’s champion (Australian-bred) mare Igugu, who has performed below her best at her first two runs in Dubai.

She has been beaten both times by Sajjhaa, who has been one of the stars of the Dubai World Cup carnival and looks to be underrated here.

I do think the real Igugu can turn up here, now that she has fitness under her belt. Track watchers at Meydan say she has really turned the corner the last week or so. If so, she could have the last crack at them.

Others who attract attention are last year’s third placegetter City Style, English 2000 Guineas runner up French Fifteen and the boom horse Trade Storm.

It’s a tough race, but one in which the latest star from Oceania can prove his credentials.

Selections: 1. Ocean Park; 2. Little Mike; 3. Igugu; 4. Sajjhaa

Dubai Sheema Classic

There will be a riot if Japanese mare Gentildonna, the winner of last year’s Japan Cup, does not make a winning international debut in the Sheema Classic.

There are more Japanese journalists here than every other nation combined. Japanese racegoers are found all over Dubai.

Incredibly, most of the Japanese media will be flying home at midnight on Sunday – only two hours after the meeting ends – so they can cover Orfevre making his seasonal return on Sunday afternoon.

They are truly a dedicated bunch.

Unlike last year’s Arc, when Orfevre looked home before being grabbed late by Solemia, they should get the result they desire here with Gentildonna.

She dominated the three year old fillies in Japan before stepping up to the Japan Cup, when she proved her strength by defeating Orfevre.

Her opposition, led by Caulfield and Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden and the classy St Nicholas Abbey, are by no means weak. But what she has achieved in Japan is phenomenal and I expect that form to translate to the world stage.

Also in her favour is a lack of pace, something which will play against her rivals – in particular, Dunaden.

Unfortunately, he is not versatile, in that he cannot race on the pace. That tactic was tried in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes last year, when he finished sixth to Danedream.

He struggled in last year’s Melbourne Cup, thwarted by a masterful Tommy Berry ride on Glencadam Gold, in a similar effort to what he showed in another dreadfully slow race, the 2011 Prix Kergorlay behind Jukebox Jury.

If they can slow it up here, which looks a possibility, Dunaden may not get his chance to show his true ability.

St Nicholas Abbey looks a little more versatile, although I’m not sure he’s the same horse he once was.

His last win came in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, when he smashed Red Cadeaux, but he’s recorded a series of placings since. He finished third in the King George, third in the Juddmonte International, third in the Irish Champion Stakes and third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. It wouldn’t surprise to see him plce again here.

Next best is Await The Dawn, a former stablemate of St Nicholas Abbey. He won the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot amongst an injury-plagued tenure with Aidan O’Brien. He looks to have come on significantly for his last run behind Jakkalberry, and he looks the genuine improver with match fitness under his belt.

Japan’s Trailblazer, Yorkshire Oaks winner Shareta and Irish St Leger Royal Diamond headline the rest, but it looks to be a benefit for Gentildonna.

Selections: 1. Gentildonna; 2. St Nicholas Abbey; 3. Dunaden; 4. Await The Dawn

Other races

There are six other races on Dubai World Cup night.

Outside of the main races, most Australian attention will be on Mental in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m, synthetic, 2:45am ADST).

He was impressive first up, but many pundits have dropped off in the last 24 hours. Quite a few are now behind the American raider Trinniberg, while Hong Kong’s Frederick Engels and last year’s winner Krypton Factor also have supporters.

The Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint (1000m, turf, 2:05am ADST), won last year by Ortensia, looks at the mercy of the Mike De Kock-trained Shea Shea, who won in track record time here three weeks ago.

Personally, I’ll be interested to see Godolphin’s Tenenbaum go around in the Group 3 Dubai Gold Cup (3200m, turf, 12:45am ADST). He is lightly raced and looks to have scope for improvement.

He first caught my eye when he beat Brigantin in France in August, before finishing midfield behind Masterstroke and Gatewood at Deauville.

He could be a potential Melbourne Cup runner later this year, so I will be watching closely.

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