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It’s Showtime in the desert!
by Geir Stabell / Globeform
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Nad Al Sheba Thursday: Opening day of the Dubai International Racing Carnival is taking center stage in the racing world this week.

This is a race meeting with a difference, as horses from all over the globe meet up, and assessing the form is not at all easy. Assessing the nations, and their trainers, as well as looking at stats from previous years, can be just as important.

Examining results from the four previous carnival meetings in the desert, we see that South African trained runners boast the best strike rate, with 71 wins from 398 runs (17.8%). That record is more than twice as good as English trained horses have achieved, as the English have won 58 times from 655 attempts (8.9%). North American shippers have yielded 12 wins from 91 runs (13.2%), while the home team, horses based in the UAE, have a relatively poor record; 171 wins from 2229 runs (only 7.7%). The Australians have had just 12 runners thus far, but come back with 4 winners, and any contender from “down under” must clearly be respected.

There are various factors hiding behind these figures:

Firstly, Southy Africa
’s success is mainly thanks to their top trainer Mike de Kock. His strike rate in 2004 – 2008 is a very healthy 21.9%, with 53 hits from 242 runners. He has also saddled 31 runners-up and 32 of his runners have finished third place finishers.

This means that nearly 50% of Mike de Kock’s runners have finished in the first three at this meeting. Although he may not have as many runners this winter, due to global targets later in the year for many of his stars, I fully expect him to keep up the good work.

Secondly, some horses coming in from England (and Ireland for that matter) are badly handicapped. A large proportion of the Carnival races are handicaps, and horses rated 95+ in England will sometimes be harshly treated. At least in their first and second starts.


It is my impression
that the UAE handicapper drops horses quite quickly in the handicap when they run below form at the Carnival. This is an interesting point well worth bearing in mind. Whereas a horse rated in the 90’s will need to run badly a few times in Europe before the handicapper drops his rating, no more than two (sometimes just one) disappointing outing is sufficient to get a lower mark at Nad Al Sheba.

This is probably by design, since the Emirates Racing Association want to bring in as many horses from as many nations as possible. It is important that they all go home happy, that they all feel that they have had a share of this massive cake. 27 nations are represented this year.

Thirdly, when it comes to local horses struggling, that is probably due to two factors:

A) They are often coming off good performances in the UAE over the past few weeks, and are therefore quite exposed and also going into the Carnival handicaps with tough weights (for what they are capable of).

B) Most of them are older horses, with less scope for improvement than, say, a group of lightly raced four-year-olds from bigger racing nations.


A former assistant
trainer to Godolphin, and from what I hear the man who trained Lammtarra, Noseda was quick to send out winners here when this Carnival was instigated. His strike rate is 23.2%, following 10 winners from 43 runners, plus eight horses finishing second or third. In other words, 41.8% of Noseda’s runners at Nad Al Sheba have finished in the first three. Each-way / across-the-board bets on all of his runners must have made a profit.

PS… Remember that if we take Noseda’s good results out of the stats for English trained runners, an already low strike rate for “Team GB” will drop to an even less impressive figure.

Also bear in mind that if you bet with UK bookmakers, most of the English horses will be poor value in their markets. So one conclusion must be, don’t get too excited about runners from these shores when planning your bets. We will have winners, but perhaps not too many at what we would call good value odds.

Now, you may be hoping I can provide some confident selections for opening day at Nad Al Sheba. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I am overly confident. We never can be, on day one at a Carnival. The first day is very much a day to watch and learn. About the track, about how each trainer has his / her team in shape or not etc. Tomorrow, it is best to keep the stakes low and enjoy the show while we take useful notes for future dates.


One horse
that catches my eye today is Mike de Kock’s runner SILVER MIST in the Mujahid Handicap (4.55 UK time). This is a risky race to get involved in, as we are dealing with a full field over 7.5 furlongs, but there is a lot to like about Silver Mist, a 7-year-old son of the successful stallion Western Winter. A tough and battle-hardened performer, Silver Mist has finished only a couple of lengths behind the South African champion Pocket Power in four Group 1 events in his homeland. He was sixth in the prestigious Durban July Stakes (G1) at Greyville last summer, beaten only 2 ¾ lengths, and went on to fill the same place in the Champions Cup (G1) at Clairwood three weeks later, when he was again less than three lengths off the winner. Silver Mist has been fairly handicapped in today’s race and there are more plus points worth mentioning:

He has a solid record in this distance bracket, with 6 wins from 12 runs (second / third twice), and overall he has won 7 times from 32 runs. Silver Mist, who will be ridden by Kevin Shea, has finished in the top three in just over 40% of his races. He has a high draw but this horse seldom races prominently so he will probably be dropped in behind, in an attempt at coming with a late run. There are only two confirmed speed horses in the field (Yaddree and Dijeerr) but races over shorter than a mile are seldom run at a false pace at this venue. Put in as a 6-1 shot on the morning line, Silver Mist looks an interesting each-way bet.

Another worth backing is Pascal Bary’s Brazilian import ESTRELA DO ORIENTE in the Green Desert Handicap (5.30). This lightly-raced colt won a 14-runner Group 1 event over a mile on heavy ground at La Gavea in June, after having also landed a Group 2 over 7.5 furlongs on good ground at the same venue in May. He will be stretching out to 9 furlongs here but, as a son of the top class 8 to 10-furlong performer Redattore, out of a daughter of Banker’s Note, that may not be a problem. Estrela do Oriente has been given a lenient weight by the handicapper, and that was probably what tempted Bary to start him off in this contest rather than in the Al Maktoum Challenge (G3), which was his initial plan.

THE AL MAKTOUM CHALLENGE Round One (G3), going off at 6.05 English time, is the highlight on the card and here we have an example of why it can be a little bit tricky to follow Mike de Kock’s runners at the Carnival. The man is responsible for four of the 12 runners! Nevertheless, his South African gelding ROYAL VINTAGE looks the one to back. Unfortunately, he will also be the favourite, based on strong form at last year’s Carnival, when Royal Vintage ran second to his high-class stablecompanion Honour Devil both in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G2) and UAE Derby (G2), and landed a Listed event in between. He is hard to oppose in this mile contest on the dirt track, worth nearly £85,000 to the winner.


DON’T FORGET our excellent quick results service from the Dubai Carnival, with 1-2-3 from each race posted on the home page 30 sec. after it’s gone official at Nad Al Sheba.

Published: 2009-01-15 03:33:25

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