International Thoroughbred Racing Editor & Handicapper: Geir W. Stabell 1992 - 2020
LEADING CONTENDERS, DUBAI WORLD CUP DAY
DUBAI WORLD CUP
California Chrome hardly needs an introduction. Racing fans worldwide are all familiar with his resume. To recap; he won the first two legs of the US Triple Crown in 2014, taking Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in great style. The Belmont was a bridge too far, but 'Chrome' bounced back to form in the autumn, to be a close third in the Breeders' Cup Classic and win the Hollywood Derby (where he proved himself on turf).
Last year was not so good, though finishing second in the World Cup was no mean feat. He was shipped to England with the intention of competing at Royal Ascot. California Chrome looked sharp on the Newmarket gallops but a last minute setback ruled him out of the Prince of Wales's Stakes. Sent back to trainer Art Sherman in California, the imposing chestnut was given a long time to recuperate. He returned to action in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita in January. The five-year-old was a bit rusty but far too good for his rivals. Imperative was held at bay in the closing stages, with the winning margin 1 ¼ lengths. Hoppertunity took third.
Some observers knocked the form but that makes little sense. Chrome needed the outing, and he tired a bit in the closing stages. He will be much sharper in the World Cup. His handicap win here on February 25 also indicates an upswing in form. Besides, Hoppertunity and Imperative came back to dominate the San Antonio Stakes in February, so his comeback run looks solid enough. It is impossible to say whether California Chrome will get back to his absolute best but if he does, well then the others are probably running for second.
Frosted is a four-year-old son of Tapit, one of the top stallions in North America, and this Godolphin owned runner made a sparkling seasonal debut when winning the second round of the Al Maktoum Challenge in early February.
Sure, he had by far the best form going into the race, and he was a hot favourite, but Frosted still exceeded expectations as he powered home by 5 lengths from Gold City. The 1900-metres track record was broken and Frosted had clearly improved on his three-year-old form. Form that was pretty solid. After tasting top level success in the Wood Memorial in April, Frosted went on to take fourth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Belmont Stakes, on both occasions running with great credit in the wake in Triple Crown champion American Pharoah. He was also third in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, when Keen Ice managed to beat American Pharoah after Frosted had put serious pressure in the favourite from the outset but tired in the closing stages.
He returned to winning form when gaining an easy win in the Pennsylvania Derby in September, then failed to show his true form when facing American Pharoah yet again in the Breeders' Cup Classic, where Frosted beat just one of his seven rivals. Frosted had a tough campaign last year but he has stood up to it really well and he could be in for a very successful season. Proven over the Meydan track, he has a good chance in the World Cup.
An American bred son of Medaglia d'Oro out of a daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch, Mshawish has a pedigree pointing at strong form on dirt tracks. Nevertheless, this handsome runner began his career on turf, and progressed to become a very good one too. He won the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap last winter, before running third to Solow in the Dubai Turf. This time, Mshawish returns to Dubai with an even bigger assignment. He is set for the World Cup.
Certainly the most versatile of the big race contenders, Mshawish is coming off a career best performance in Florida, having captured the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream in February. Mshawish travelled very strongly just off the pace in the prestigious event, and proved much too good for Valid, who he had beaten also when taking the Hal's Hope Stakes at the same venue four weeks earlier. Switching Mshawish to dirt has been a success and, although the competition will be stronger and the distance 200 metres longer, he may well step up again. Recent form counts for a lot in racing, and the Donn has been a good guide to the World Cup in the past. Mshawish has a lot going for him.
The one question mark is the distance. How will he cope with 2,000 metres?
This US contender made his fame when he became the only horse to beat American Pharoah last year. It happened in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August, a race contested over the same distance as the World Cup. American Pharoah and Frosted hooked up in a gruelling duel up front, a duel Frosted grudgingly lost, but Keen Ice came with a strong finish to pass them both in the last few strides. He beat the champion by three parts of a length, with Frosted 2 ¼ lengths further adrift. Was it a fluke? It was markedly Keen Ice's best run but he is undoubtedly a serious horse, and must be respected in the World Cup. His chances increase if the race is run at a strong early pace.
He had been runner-up to American Pharoah in the Haskell Invitational four weeks prior to the Travers, and he ran fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic – when a lack of pace was very much against him. Keen Ice took in one more top level event in 2015, and was a fast finishing fourth behind Effinex, Hoppertunity and Looks to Spare in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November. He resurfaced at Gulfstream Park ten weeks later, to have his World Cup prep in the Donn Handicap. Five horses beat him, with Mshawish on top, though note that Keen Ice was carrying top weight and that he once more stayed on well from the back. The Donn is 1800 metres. Keen Ice is much better over 2000, but he disappointed when finishing seventh to Special Fighter on Super Saturday.
Can Keen Ice bounce back in the big race?
This five-year-old son of champion juvenile Teofilo has taken longer to blossom than his father did. Special Fighter was a nice, useful horse when trained in England in his younger days, but he has turned a corner bigtime at Meydan this season. Who would have thought that this Musabah Al Muhairi trained chestnut would win a Group 1 as the Carnival opened? His trainer perhaps, though even he must have been somewhat baffled as Special Fighter ran his rivals into the ground for a solid 4 ½-length win of the Al Maktoum Challenge Round III three weeks ago.
Covering the full World Cup distance, Special Fighter led from start to finish, and he quickened from the front early in the straight. Within a few strides it was clear that he would not be caught. He ran on in great style under jockey Fernando Jara to win the race in a sharp 2.03.09 – a new track record. Jara rode Invasor to World Cup fame back in 2007 and in Special Fighter he seems to have found another live wire. Gun Pit, a solid dirt runner from Hong Kong, ran second in the Al Maktoum III, with 2 ¾ lengths back to Faulkner in third. The result was quite incredible. Okay, the two favourites Mubtaahij (fourth) and Keen Ice (seventh) both had a serious off day, but Special Fighter's performance was of a very high level.
The question now is; can he repeat it? After all, it was significantly better than anything he had achieved in his 17 previous races. Though it is worth bearing in mind that he 'won for fun' when scooting up by 5 lengths in a handicap in January, and that he lost a shoe when beaten a long way into sixth behind Frosted in the second round of the challenge series.
A winner of five races and $1,8 million from 18 outings, Hoppertunity has been one of the best thoroughbreds in North America over the past two years. He has, however, also been a bit of a 'nearly horse' in the top flight. Never quite able to go right to the top, he has been knocking on the door on more than one occasion – and one gets the feeling that one day he will get his breakthrough.
That said, Hoppertunity does have a Grade 1 win to his name, having captured the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs as a three-year-old in 2014. Last season, he won the San Pasqual Stakes over 8.5 furlongs (1700 metres) at Santa Anita, before going on to very good runner-up efforts in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (nose behind Hard Aces), Awesome Again Stakes (behind Smooth Roller) and Clark Handicap (less than a length off Effinex). The Bob Baffert trainee opened his 2016 campaign by finishing third to fellow World Cup contender California Chrome in the San Pasqual at Santa Anita in January. At first glance, that result might indicate that he has no chance against 'Chrome' this time but wait a minute; the distance, the pace scenario and the weights favoured the winner greatly that day, and Hoppertunity was doing all his best work at the finish. Stretching out to 2000 metres will be to his liking at Meydan. Four weeks after the San Pasqual, he stepped up to win the San Antonio Stakes, at about 1800 metres. The race turned into a fight between him and Imperative, and Baffert's favourite won it by a nose. Donworth was half a length back in third. Imperative and Donworth (who is still far too immature) were both well beaten behind the shock winner Melatonin in the Santa Anita Handicap next time out, though that was on a day when the track seemed to favour speed, and perhaps we should not read too much into that formline.
Hoppertunity looks an each-way chance in the DWC. He is similar to Keen Ice, in that he thrives in races with a strong early pace. Stamina is his forte.
DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC
Previously trained by Luca Cumani, this five-year-old was a very smart performer over the 'Sheema' distance in England last year. He peaked by winning the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July. Postponed had been beaten into third behind Snow Sky and Eagle Top at the Royal Ascot meeting five weeks earlier, but he turned the tables on both these rivals when it mattered the most – albeit only just versus Eagle Top, who he beat by a nose after a thrilling finish.
It was Postponed's fourth career win, and he gained a fifth by landing the Prix Foy at Longchamp in September. He beat Spiritjim by three parts of a length that day, with Baino Hope third and Dolniya fourth. Dubai racing fans will remember Dolniya's fine win in the Sheema Classic last year. All in all, Postponed's form is very solid, though perhaps not quite yet what we would call world class. He impressed once also as a three-year-old, outclassing Snow Sky in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York. Postponed is ideally suited by 2400 metres, and he goes well on any ground. His prep run for the Sheema came in the City Of Gold on Super Saturday, when he was a visually impressive 3-length winner over the French challenger Dariyan. Postponed is definitely a leading player.
A leading international owner-breeder, HH the Aga Khan has not had many runners in Dubai over the years, but he captured the Sheema Classic in 2015, when his principal trainer in France, Alain de Royer-Dupre, saddled the filly Dolniya to win this $6 million event. This time the team has Dariyan primed for the big race, and the four-year-old son of Shamardal had a satisfactory preparation when second to Postponed on Super Saturday. Dariyan was easily beaten by the winner that day, but he may be open to plenty of improvement and holds a decent chance in the Sheema.
He showed steady progress at a three-year-old, when he closed out his campaign with a crediatable third to Highland Reel in the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin. Dariyan stayed on well despite finding some trouble in running that day, and passed the winning post three lengths behind the winner. Coming after a four-month layoff since mid-August (when he ran second to New Bay in a Group 2), it was a performance auguring well for 2016.
Dariyan, who is effective from 2000 to 2400 metres and seems to act on any ground, won the Prix Eugene Adam at Maisons-Laffitte last June. He is normally held up at the back of the field though has the speed to take up a more prominent position if needed.
This colt was the top three-year-old in Japan last season, when he won the two most important classics, the Satsuki Sho (2,000 Guineas) at Nakayama in April and the Tokyo Yushun (Derby) in May. Unfortunately, a crack at the best older horses in big autumn races never happened, as Duramente sustained injuries to both his forelegs and found himself on the sidelines. A long rest was needed, leading up to a return to training in January. Fully recovered, the son of King Kamehameha came back to racing action at Nakayama on February 28 when he beat Ambitious by a neck to win the 1800-metres Nakayama Kinen. Real Steel finished third.
Duramente's 2,000 Guineas success last year came at the chief expense of Real Steel, who is also owned by Sunday Racing Co Ltd. Duramente won the 2,000-metres contest readily by 1 ½ lengths. Eventual St. Leger winner Kitasan Black took third. Duramente stepped up to 2,400 metres in the Derby, staged six weeks later. Quite dominant once more, the Mirco Demuro ridden favourite obliged by almost two lengths from Satono Rasen, with Satono Crown back in third (both were Group 2 winners in 2015).
Duramente's dam, Admire Groove, was a top class filly who won back-to-back editions of the Queen Elizabeth Commemorative Cup at Kyoto. His rider is an excellent horseman whose name made international headlines when he rode a superb race to win the Dubai World Cup on Victoire Pisa five years ago. Can Demuro strike again at Meydan? Of course he can. He has a fine partner in Duramente, a classy performer open to further improvement this year.
A well travelled and experienced runner rated not too far off the top over 2400 metres, Sheikhzayedroad was making his first start of the year when he ran out a comfortable winner of the Nad Al Sheba Trophy over 2800 metres in early March, a race he took by almost four lengths from Certerach (who won the Dubai Gold Cup in 2014). Sheikhzayedroad was ridden handily just a few lengths off the pace, a pace that was not particularly strong, and he quickened into a commanding lead once Martin Harley gave him the office at the top of the lane. The impression was that the seven-year-old gelding could have won by further if his rider had asked for more. Star Empire and Battersea, both with a win under their belt at the Carnival, filled third and fourth.
Sheikhzayedroad took second behind Sky Hunter in the 2015 Dubai City of Gold and he also ran fifth to Dolniya in the Sheema Classic last year. His class and durability was confirmed yet again as he came home in third behind Cannock Chase in the Canadian International at Woodbine in October. Sheikhzayedroad has raced 31 times for 9 wins, and he been in the top three on no fewer than 19 occasions. He's a longshot here but perhaps one to consider for trifecta and superfecta players.
DUBAI GOLDEN SHAHEEN
X Y JET
This American speed merchant looks very much the one to beat in the Golden Shaheen. X Y Jet, a sprinter who missed much of 2015 due to injury sustained in the spring, has been quite explosive at Gulfstream Park in Florida this winter, and he looks just the right type for this race. He came back from a near seven-month break to win at Monmouth Park last September, then shipped south and gained an easy win at Gulfstream in November, before taking a step up in class in the Mr Prospector Handicap at the same venue in December, a race he won most impressively by over nine lengths from Grande Shores (who was third to Mshawish on his next outing).
X Y Jet stopped the clocks in 1.08.4 in this event, running just a couple of lengths slower than the track record – and doing so with ease. His next win, in the Sunshine Millions Sprint four weeks later, was almost as fast and visually just as impressive. Again he quickened right away from his rivals coming into the straight, and again he powered right away from them, to beat Wildcat Red (a useful sprinter himself) by 4 ¼ lengths. X Y Jet is one of those few who goes straight to the lead, and keeps on running faster than the rest all the way to the winning post. He will get his stiffest test to date at Meydan of course, but is impossible to oppose nevertheless. His prep race, in the Gulfstream Park Sprint on February 27, resulted in another solid win and he comes here at the top of his form.
Rich Tapestry is a leading contender for the Golden Shaheen, a race he was runner-up in two years ago – when only the Australian sprinter Sterling City got the better of this Hong Kong based speedster. He could manage only third behind Muarrab when prepping for World Cup night in the Mahab Al Shimaal on Super Saturday, though that was clearly an off day for Rich Tapestry.
The eight-year-old gelding had already served up a warning to his Golden Shaheen rivals when bossing the field for a solid win in the Al Shindagha Sprint in February. His task that day may have been made easier when Marking stumbled right out of the contest at the start, but Rich Tapestry was by far the best of those who made it to the wire and he proved that he is still a force to be reckoned with at the top level. Confidently ridden by Frenchman Gerald Mosse, he led all the way and never looked in any danger at the finish. He beat Muarrab readily by 1 ½ lengths. Reynaldothewizard, who had won so well on his previous outing, filled third spot, beaten another two lengths. The Al Shindagha was Rich Tapestry's first run back since a below par effort in the Hong Kong Sprint on turf at Sha Tin in December.
This veteran has plenty of international experience, having also won the valuable Santa Anita Sprint Championship in California back in 2014. He is a game, tough and battle hardened sprinter, whose high cruising speed is a strong asset.
Up to Super Saturday, this son of Oasis Dream was considered a notch below the very top of the sprint division. Muarrab changed all that as he enjoyed a breathtaking win in the Mahab Al Shimaal three weeks before World Cup night. His easy success, while clocking the excellent time of 1.10.2 for the 1200 metres, definitely gave him elite status. If he runs like that again, well then Muarrab will be in the first three in the Golden Shaheen. He may well win the big race.
He met Rich Tapestry for a second time this season on Super Saturday, having been put readily in his place by the Hong Kong sprinter in February. This time, the tables were turned. Muarrab broke fast from the stalls and went to the lead. Rich Tapestry, a heavy favourite, shadowed him but when Muarrab kicked on as they entered the home straight, Rich Tapestry was unable to do the same. Muarrab and Paul Hanagan soon put the race to bed. By the time they passed the winning post, the gap back to the second best was an impressive 5 ¼ lengths. The Golden Shaheen prep even resulted in a one-two for owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, whose second string Kifaah went past a tiring Rich Tapestry in the last few strides. The latter clearly ran below par but take nothing away from Muarrab. He was absolutely perfect on the day.
Confrontation, who performed well when runner-up to such high class runners as Tonalist and Liam's Map in the US last year, improved his Globeform rating when winning the Firebreak Stakes over 1600 metres at Meydan in early February. He had been out of action for almost seven months, but showed no signs of being rusty as he came with a late surge to take the race by 2 lengths from Godolphin Mile contender One Man Band (an impressive winner on his next start). Le Bernardin, who was coming off a win in the first round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, filled fourth place, while the heavy favourite Mubtaahij had to settle fo fifth. The form looked very solid indeed. It was Confrontation's sixth success from 15 starts. He has also finished second on six occasions, giving him a remarkable 80% top-two strike rate. He was initially being pointed towards the Godolphin Mile but switched to the Shaheen when stable companion Marking went the other way. Confrontation seems to be on the upgrade and he should not be taken lightly. The big question is; does he have enough speed for this contest?
Right up to a week before the big day Intilaaq's name was on the list of projected World Cup runners, then switched to the Dubai Turf. A move that makes a lot of sense. He may be a son of Dynaformer, but his best form on turf has been on good to firm ground, he has shown an excellent turn of foot on the lawn in England, and this is where he belongs. Not only does he belong in the Dubai Turf, he is the best horse going into the race – and open to further improvement. A winner of three of his five starts, Intilaaq was beaten only once as a three-year-old last term, when he finished down the field in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May. Such a tough task probably came way too soon for him. He had raced only twice previously, taking third in an Ascot maiden at two and winning a Newbury maiden on his reappearance at three. Intilaaq was the talk of the town after his Newbury race, which he won by 8 lengths from the favourite Keble after making all and quickening right away from his rivals approaching the furlong-marker. He looked top class and connections went for a supplementary gamble into the Guineas. The gamble did not pay off but, passing the winning post 13 lengths behind winner Gleneagles while looking to be out of his comfort zone, Intilaaq was not at all disgraced in the mile classic.
A break of over two months followed and the Roger Varian trainee returned in a well contested Listed event over 10 furlongs (about 2000 metres) at Newbury in July, which he won readily by 2 ½ lengths from Consort (who was coming off a third to Gleneagles at Royal Ascot). The two three-year-old were well clear at the finish. Dual Listed winner Firefighting was beaten almost ten lengths in third place. He was third once more, beaten 6 ½ lengths, as Intilaaq followed up with a visually taking performance to win the the Rose Of Lancaster Stakes (G3) at Haydock in August. Intilaaq won this event by 5 lengths from the in-form Master Carpenter. He was always prominent, went to the lead with under a mile to go and kicked away with half a mile to go.
The Rose Of Lancaster is run over an extended ten-furlong trip, and the Dubai Turf distance is sure to suit Intilaaq. His good tactical speed should help him get a good position early on, and his stamina will be valuable at the business end of the contest.
Coming off two explosive wins over this turf course, Tryster looks like going off favourite in the Dubai Turf. This race represents a step up in class for the Godolphin runner but he has such a turn of foot, and wins with such ease, and he is probably a fair bit better than the handicap ratings say. How good is this son of Shamardal? World Cup night should give us the answer. He came from last to first to win the Jebel Hatta, run over this trip, on Super Saturday three weeks ago. Tryster was a hot favourite, having humiliated his rivals in the Dubai Millennium Stakes just over two weeks earlier, but it was still impossible not to be taken by the manner of his victory. He swooped past horses at the finish to win by 1 ½ lengths from Farrier, with Ertijaal (Aus) back in third.
Tryster was been a bit of a win machine at a lower level than this in England last year, and he looked an improved performer already when winning on his seasonal debut in February. He was making his first start since last September, and switching for racing successfully on artificial surfaces to turf, but neither factor seemed to bother him. Nor did the moderate pace, as he quickened right past his rivals to win comfortably by almost three lengths from the race fit favourite Haafaguinea (who was third to Postponed next time out). Last year, Tryster took the Winter Derby at Lingfield Park – a race he won by three parts of a length from this year's Winter Derby winner Grendisar. After that win, Tryster was well below his best as last of five in the top class Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park in the summer (when he may have been feeling the effects of his winter / spring campaign and the track may not have suited him) but he bounced back with a game half-length win over Let's Go in a minor event at Chelmsford City four months later (with no run in between).
Tryster is a game and enthusiastic runner who always tries his best and, although he is not in the same class as Solow, he must be a live contender.
Like the French trained Cladocera in 2015, Very Special completed the Cape Verdi / Balanchine double at Meydan this season, and like Cladocera she will try her luck against the boys in the Dubai Turf on World Cup night. Cladocera finished sixth to Solow in last year's edition of this $6 million contest. Very Special looks likely to do better. She deserves her place in the field. Very Special has as good a chance as any other runner going up against Europe's champion miler. She led all virtually throughout to beat Excilly easily by 3 lengths in the Cape Verdi over 1600 metres in February, and rider James Doyle employed the same tactics as she stepped up in class and distance in the Balanchine on March 3.
Very Special was really attacking from the front that day, and moved up a gear as she came into the home straight. Euro Charline, a top level winner in the US in 2014, was favourite but never had much of a chance against Very Special, who ran on strongly all the way to the line and beat her chief rival by 2 ½ lengths. She was even carrying 1,5kg more than Euro Charline. The latter was making her first start of the year, she raced too keenly and was undoubtedly compromised by the way the race was run. Nevertheless, Very Special was so much the best and she will will probably beat Euro Charline again as they represent the fairer sex in the Dubai Turf, a race Euro Charline ran fourth in last year.
Japanese challenger Real Steel, a four-year-old son of champion Deep Impact trained by Yoshito Yahagi, holds a strong chance in the Dubai Turf. Although effective also over much further than this 1800-metres trip, Real Steel seems ideally suited by it. He tackled this distanece on his first start of the year, when running a brave race for third in the Nakayama Kinen on February 28. The race was won by last year's Japanese Derby hero Duramente – who is one of the favourites for the Dubai Sheema Classic. He made a taking comeback to hold a late charge from Ambitious by a neck, while Real Steel was just a half-length further adrift in third place. Real Steel was well fancied for this race and his performance was by no means a surprise.
He was runner-up in three hot events last year; to Duramente in the Japanese 2,000 Guineas over 2000 metres, to Lia Fail in the Japanese St. Leger Trial over 2400 metres, and to Kitasan Black in the St. Leger – a classic contested over 3,000 metres. Real Steel did get to the winners' circle as well in 2015, after having beaten Duramente in a Group 3 race over 1800 metres early in the year. He is a very game and consistent runner and looks sure to go close here.
How Real Steel does in the Dubai Turf will give us a good indication of Duramente's chances in the Sheema Classic just over half an hour later into the big night. A Japanese double is not at all unlikely.
AL QUOZ SPRINT
This is the best turf sprinter seen in action in Dubai this winter. Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum's locally trained A Quoz contender may even be one of the best in the world, especially over 1,000 metres on a straight course. Ertijaal, who began his career with trainer William Haggas in England, gained two deeply impressive wins here in January and February. His first success came in a handicap on the first day of the Carnival, when he slammed Divine by 4 lengths. The handicapper raised his rating, meaning that he had to give a fair bit of weights to his 14 rivals when turning out again four weeks later. Experts and racing fans agreed that he would still be very hard to beat, and he obliged with a comfortable 2-length win over Fityaan. Ertijaal looks the complete sprinter. He has excellent tactical speed and can lead early, but he is also happy to sit just behind the early leaders if the race unfolds that way. This gives his rider Paul Hanagan options, and obviously also plenty of confidence.
A son of champion sprinter Oasis Dream, Ertijaal has 7 wins from 15 starts and it will probably take a world class performance to deny him an eighth success as he goes for the $1 million dash on the lawn on World Cup night.
Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum's silks will be carried by both Ertijaal and Muhtmir in this sprint, and the latter is also in with a fine chance. He looked really well, but had a tough weight and needed the run when making his seasonal debut at Lingfield Park in England four weeks prior to World Cup night. This was in a Listed contest run over 5 furlongs (about 1000 metres) around one turn on an artificial track. Muthmir put up a game performance the be third, beaten three parts of a length behind course specialist Lightscameraction. He is better suited by a straight turf course. The Lingfield run was his first since October 4, when he filled third behind fellow Al Quoz contender Goldream in the valuable Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp in Paris. Goldream was the winner also when Muthmir took third in the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. The son of Invincible Spirit gained a well deserved big race win two starts later, when he beat Take Cover by a head in the King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. Muthmir came from the middle of the field on that occasion, and got to the lead with about 100 metres to go, but he can use his speed to be more forwardly placed if asked to. Muthmir has won over further, though the Al Quoz distance is his optimum.
A top class sprinter from Australia, Buffering is a horse all the others will fear in the Al Quoz. This remarkable eight-year-old, trained by Robert Heathcote, ran in 18 Group One races before managing to win one, and he has definitely improved with age and experience. Looking back today, he been successful in six of his last twelve Group One contests, and he is coming off an easy win in the Magic Millions Plate over 1300 metres in January. Buffering was a 1.30-favourite in that event, as he stood out as the class act in the field. As always, he was one of the fastest from the gates. Moving smoothly forward from a wide post, he led vIrtually throughout around the right-handed course to beat Mister Booze without being extended. His preceding start, a win in the Winterbottom Stakes on the left-handed Ascot course, was against much tougher opposition. Buffering had won the race back in 2013, and this time he beat Ortensia's stakes record by stopping the clocks in a sharp 1.08.17. Buffering used his excellent speed to get a clear advantage down the stretch, and he won safely by a length from the staying-on Watermans Bay, who franked the form when winning the Scahill Stakes over the same course a week later.
Buffering was sidelined with injury from December 2014 to October 2015. He has come back just as good, if not better, and must have a great chance at Meydan. The only worry is the distance, as his best form has been over 1200 metres. On the other hand, with such gate speed, and such a determination to win, a strongly-run 1000 metres dash at Meydan might suit him well. His Magic Millions win took Buffering past the AUS$6 million mark. Only two Australian sprinters had managed that before him; the legendary Black Caviar and Takeover Target.
One of the best sprinters in Europe, Goldream seemed to need the race when finishing seventh to Fityaan in the Meydan Sprint on March 5, and he is very much among the leading contenders for the Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night. He failed to finish his race off as we know he can in the trial, and came home 3 ¾ lengths behind the winner. He is much better than that showing suggests.
The son of Oasis Dream, now aged seven, improved after moving from trainer Luca Cumani to David Simcock's care in 2013. Turned into a speed merchant, he was stepping gradually up in class and climbed the ladder to prove himself at the highest level over the shortest trips. Races run over about 1,000 metres definitely is his cup of tea. Goldream tackled this distance successfully in two of the most valuable sprints in Europe last term; the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in June (beating Medicean Man in an incredibly close finish) and the Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp in Paris in October (when he was a neck too good for Rangali). Goldream also took the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket on his first start of the 2015 season, and thus produced very smart form in the spring, summer and autumn, and more notably over three very different tracks. He is as adaptable as he is tough and genuine, and the Meydan lawn will not pose a problem. Goldream seems best when allowed to adopt a 'sit and pounce' style, in other words when waited with just off the pace in the early stages. Such tactics have worked well for quite a few horses on Dubai's main turf sprint course.
With 9 wins and four placings from 13 starts, Lady Shipman is a sharp lady we have to take seriously in the Al Quoz Sprint. Making her first start for Kiaran McLaughlin, having previously been trained by Kathleen O'Connor, she warmed up for her trip to Meydan with a comfortable win in the Ladies' Turf Sprint at Gulfstream Park in February. She won the 5-furlong event by almost three lengths from course specialist Katie's Kiss, with Jewel of a Cat (minor stakes winner & course specialist) a length further back in third place. Lady Shipman was long odds-on to beat these fillies but quite impressive nevertheless. She showed her high tactical speed throughout, and gave the impression that she is a progressive sprinter. It was a fine comeback, auguring well for another good season.
The daughter of Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Midshipman won 7 races in 2015, including four stakes wins on the trot at Monmouth Park and Saratoga (all over 5.5 furlongs on turf). Ageless got the better of her by a head when she failed to show her best in a fillies and mares stakes at Keeneland on October, but Lady Shipman came back to run second in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint over the same course three weeks later. As always up with the pace straight away, she was a game runner-up to Mongolian Saturday, who beat her by a neck. Green Mask, who ran third in last year's Al Quoz, was a length and a half behind her in third. The 2014 winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, Bobby's Kitten, came home in fourth and Roal Ascot winner Undrafted filled fifth spot.
Lady Shipman's one disadvantage in the Al Quoz may be that this is a straight course, while she is used to racing around a bend. On the plus side; the US based sprinters are normally faster from the gates than other turf sprinters and we can expect to see her in a prominent position right from the off. That she has shown her best over 5.5 furlongs (1100 m.) and also won over six, tells us that she will see out the trip – even in a strongly run race.
Lady Shipman will be racing with 2kg less (4.4lb) than the males.
This Doug Watson trained filly has taken Meydan by storm, with four ridiculously easy wins in the fillies' division, and she must have an excellent chance as she meets the boys for the first time on World Cup night. Fillies have done well in the UAE Derby before but this lady could turn out to be something extra special. Polar River's win streak began with a 13 1/2-length success in maiden company in December, when she showed excellent speed to win over 1200 metres. Her next task, the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial in January, represented a big step up in class and a small step up in distance, as she tackled 1400 metres just as easily to beat Promising Run by almost five lengths. The two met again in the Guineas four weeks later. The distance was now 1600 metres and the result the same. Only this time, Polar River beat Promising Ruin by 13 lengths.
It was a most impressive run by the young, still relatively inexperienced, daughter of Congrats. Jockey Pat Dobbs had her in a perfect position just behind the leaders from the outset, and sent her into a clear lead some 400 metres from the winning post. Polar River drew further and further away from her five rivals. Her performance made her the best horse seen in the classic division at Meydan this season. It also scared off all but two rivals in the UAE Oaks on March 3, when Polar River moved up to 1900 metres and faced just Vale Dori, a top level winner in Argentina last May, and Dolly Dagger, a badly outclassed runner representing Sweden. She cruised home again, beating Vale Dori geared down by three parts of a length. The race told us little new about Polar River but it was nice to see her handle the Derby distance so well. It will take a classy colt to lower her colours in the Derby.
Trainer Doug O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam, who enjoyed winning the Godolphin Mile together with Spring at Last in 2007, this time have an interesting UAE Derby contender in Frank Conversation. This son of Quality Road was born as late a on May 13, and probably needed time to fulfil his potential. He has won two minor classics already in 2016, landing the California Derby in January and the El Camino Real Derby in February - both staged over the artificial Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields in San Fransisco. Having finished fifth to Mor Sprit in the prestigious Los Alamitos Futurity on dirt in December, Frank Conversation won these races with little fuss, beating Tusk readily by three parts of a length when stepping up to 9 furlongs (about 1800 metres) in the El Camino Real. Frank Conversation started favourite, and raced nicely settled in a handy position throughout, before moving up three wide to take command halfway down the home straight. His runner-up was coming off a promising third in good allowance company at Santa Anita the third home, the ex-English Kasseopia, had finished second to the Canadian star Riker in the Grey Stakes at Woodbine last autumn. Frank Conversation's form can be best described as solid, not top class, but he may be a runner about to hit an upward curve.
Market Rally, who was a wide margin maiden winner for trainer Wayne Catalano at Monmouth Park in New Jersey last August, improved in leaps and bounds from his first to his second start here at Meydan, and he continued the progress with another impressive win in the Al Bastakiya over 1900 metres on Super Saturday. He sweated up before the race, he pulled hard early and he swished his tail when asked to quicken at the finish, but still proved way too good for his three rivals. Lazzam was a remote second.
A son of Florida Derby winner Unbridled's Song, Market Rally opened his classic campaign by finishing fourth of eight behind Steady Pace in the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial in January. Steady Pace was fancied to go in again when they met in the UAE 2000 Guineas the following month, but while the Godolphin colt failed to fire Market Rally most certainly did. He went straight to the lead in the 1600-metres contest, opened up a clear advantage and was never in any danger. Confidently ridden by Chris Hayes, the colt cruised home for a comfortable 6-length win over Lazzam, with another 7 lengths back to the third placed Hombre Rojo and Steady Pace well beaten in fourth. Market Rally handled the step up in distance really well when the result was duplicated on Super Saturday, he is open to further improvement and must be a live contender in the UAE Derby. But he also needs to grow up a bit and race in a more relaxed manner.
Marking is an exciting four-year-old trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who will saddle Frosted for the World Cup. This son of Bernardini has had two sprint runs in Dubai. One to forget and one to remember. He was favourite for his UAE debut on February 11, but took a bad stumble as the gates opened, went down on his knees and gave jockey James Doyle no chance of staying on board. Rich Tapestry went gate to wire in this race and ran out a solid winner. It is impossible to say whether Marking could have given him a fight but the Godolphin runner made amends with a highly promising handicap win two weeks later, when he carried to top weight to victory over Kifaah, who was swept aside as Marking hit top gear in the closing stages. The winning margin was 2 lengths and the time almost identical to that recorded by Rich Tapestry. Marking produced this performance despite once more fluffing his lines in the initial stages of the contest. He looked ungainly and immature while racing clumsily a few lengths behind the leaders around the bend.
His finishing kick could not be faulted, however, and stretching out in distance in the Godolphin Mile makes a lot of sense. Marking certainly has the talent to go right to the top. He ran second to North America's top sprinter, Runhappy, in last year's Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita in California, having previously won a good allowance race in New York by open lengths.
Sloane Avenue, who ran such a big race to be runner-up in last year's Godolphin Mile, has had just the one outing in England since, when he ran second to Captain Cat in a four-runner affair at Kempton Park in February. Sloane Avenue was a hot favourite that day but we should probably not read too much into this one-length defeat, as the race was run totally differently to what suits him the best. Captain Cat, who is also a very smart performer, was able to dominate in front and Sloane Avenue could not quite cut him back. What this Jeremy Noseda trainee needs, is a strongly run race with plenty of early speed, setting matters up for his off-the-pace closing style. He finished best of all when failing by no more than a nose against the favourite Tamarkuz here at Meydan 12 months ago. While the winner had the perfect starting point from stall one, Sloane Avenue broke from the widest stall in the 15-runner field. He must have good chance of avenging the bad luck this time. Sloane Avenue is a lightly raced five-year-old with 3 wins from 7 career starts. A typical miler, he won a Listed event at Kempton Park as a three-year-old (beating last year's Cape Verdi and Balanchine winner Cladocera by a neck).
Trainer Doug Watson, who has had an excellent season, takes a shot at the Godolphin Mile with Cool Cowboy, a tough and versatile runner who won the final prep for this contest in good style three weeks ago. Facing seven rivals, including the Al Maktoum Challenge II winner Le Bernardin, Cool Cowboy was well fancied in the Burj Nahaar – and he delivered with a rock solid 3 3/4-length win after leading all the way. The Meydan dirt track was certainly favouring speed on the day but it was still a fine performance by Cool Cowboy. Probably his best ever. He was comfortably in command throughout and had matters wrapped up well before the winning post. German challenger Ross stayed on to take second, half a length in front of Le Bernardin.
The Burj Nahaar was Cool Cowboy's seventh win from career 17 starts. He began his career with Dale Bennet in the USA, where he won four races, including the Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs as a juvenile. This miler can also do sprinting, as we saw when he took second behind Reynaldothewizard in the Dubawi Stakes in January. He followed that with two good runs in handicap company, beating Giftorm over 1400 metres and running second to Maftool over 1600 metres. Given his prominent running style, Cool Cowboy would be best off with a low to middle stall in the Godolphin Mile, a race where it is very hard to make an impact from a wide starting point.
DUBAI GOLD CUP
Vazirabad, owned by HH the Aga Khan and trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre in France, will be a tough nut to crack in the Dubai Gold Cup. This four-year-old son of Manduro is one of the best young stayers in Europe. He notched up five straight wins at home last year, culminating in a game one-length success in the prestigious Prix Royal-Oak over 3100 metres at Saint-Cloud in Paris, where he beat older horses for the first time. Jockey Christophe Soumillon rode his normal patient and confident race on the gelding, biding his time at the back of the field early on. He delivered the favourite with a relentless run taking him past horse by horse in the home straight and Vazirabad won by a length from Siljan's Saga, who was also finishing well from off the pace. Mille Et Mille finished third and the well known globetrotter Cirrus des Aigles (who failed to see out the trip) came home in fourth place. Vazirabad had previously won the Prix Lutece, beating Deauville winner Big Blue by just over a length, and the Prix Chaudenay at Longchamp, winning that event easily by 3 lengths from Tiberian. Vazirabad's sire Manduro excelled over 1600 and 2000 metres, and this Gold Cup contender probably gets more stamina from the dam, Visorama, who ran third in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud over 2400 metres as a four-year-old.
Andre Fabre, arguably one of the world's best racehorse trainers, has an intriguing contender for the Gold Cup, Godolphin's five-year-old Manatee. This son of Monsun shaped like an 'Arc' contender last spring, when he carried a tough weight to a a solid win over dual Group One winner Prince Gibraltar in the Grand Prix de Chantilly over 2400 metres on soft ground. Manatee looked tapped for toe as the pace lifted up a notch when the field came into the straight, but soon found an efficient stride to launch an attack. Jockey Mickael Barzalona had him in full flight as he took the lead with under 200 metres to go. Prince Gibraltar, winner of the Grosser Preis von Baden later on, stayed on for second, though was always held by Manatee. The winning margin was three parts of a length. Agent Murphy finished third and Spiritjim took fourth.
Manatee stepped right up in class four weeks later but had to settle for fourth in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, beaten by three high profile names; Treve, Flintshire and Dolniya. A break followed, before he was really thrown into the deep end in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in early October. Starting as one of the outsiders, Manatee finished 11th of the 17 runners, eased in the closing stages and beaten 7 ¼ lengths behind champion Golden Horn. Manatee's next task was a test of stamina, as he went for the Prix Royal-Oak. The stayers' classic was won by Vazirabad, who was followed home by Siljan's Sage, Mille et Mille, Cirrus des Aigles and Manatee. Godolphin's representative was once more beaten 7 ¼ lengths by the winner.
Manatee opened his 2016 campaign by running a game second in the Prix Darshaan over 1900 metres (surely too short for him) at Deauville three weeks ago. Beaten a length by Elliptique, he pipped Sheema Classic contender Gailo Chop for second that day. Fabre's runner may be improving, and turn out to be the biggest threat to Gold Cup favourite Vazirabad.
Mike de Kock's experienced stayer Star Empire, who was third and second in the last two editions of the Gold Cup, goes to post with an obvious chance again this year. This nine-year-old recorded his first win for almost three years when beating Elleval in a 2000-metres handicap in January, but don't be fooled by that stat; Star Empire is nothing but game and consistent. His last twelve results read '322337832153'. Five of these runs came in Group races, while the other seven were under tough weights in handicaps. That he was able to win over 2000 metres underlines his versatility. Staying is his game. The slow early pace was therefore against him in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy over 2800 metres three weeks ago. Star Empire was a bit slow from the gates that day, then took up a position in midpack, before fighting his way up to third place behind Sheikhzayedroad and Certerach.
Star Empire acually carried too much weight on this occasion, due to a mistake. He would not have been able to close the 4-length gap on the winner anyway, but an extra half-kilo or kilo can make a significant difference in these staying races. From one to two lengths in fact, depending on how strongly the race is run. Star Empire's camp will be looking for a real test on World Cup night. If they get it, then Star Empire could finally step up to the top of the podium.
Handassa, a French trained runner owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, looks the one to beat in this year's Kahayla Classic. This massive son of Madjani won the Al Maktoum Challenge Round III as he pleased. Handassa took some time to find his stride but when he did, rounding the home bend going very wide, it was soon obvious who would win the contest. He grabbed the lead early in the straight, and quickened away for a comfortable 8 1/2-length win over Af Tawaq, with Nashmee back in third place. Shaheer finished fourth and the race favourite Abu Alabayad was fifth, passing the winning post 14 lengths behind the winner. Handassa, who showed clear signs of immaturity in the paddock, stopped the clocks in 2.15.5 – a new course record for the Purebred Arabians.
It was even his first run over a dirt track, as he had raced on turf and an artificial track (once) in Europe. Handassa won a Group 2 contest over 2100 metres last year. Stamina is clearly no problem and he is not short of finishing speed either. Handassa looked absolutely different class in a strong field on his UAE debut and jockey Paul Hanagan remarked after the race; “he gave me a feel like a thoroughbred turning in”.
Winner of the President Cup over 2200 metres at Abu Dhabi and runner-up in a strong race over 1600 metres at Doha in February, Thakif is one of the leading contenders for this year's Kahayla Classic.
A very versatile and adaptable performer, he has also shown his liking for Meydan's dirt track, having won the first round of the Al Maktoum Challenge back in January. Thakif went to the front that day, and soon had his rivals in trouble. He ran out a comfortable 3 3/4-length winner from Af Mathmoon, with Bigg N Rich 4 lengths further adrift in third and Sha'Red fourth. This win set Thakif up for a crack at the President Cup, where he switched successfully to racing on turf. Young Harry Bentley was on board this time and he placed Thakif just behind the early leaders, before taking the lead with 400 metres to go. Thakif came under pressure from Abu Alabyad, who finished strongly from the back, but he held on to win by half a length. Nashmee, who went on to finish third behind Handassa on Super Saturday, filled third place. Two weeks later, Nacer Samiri's star tried the turf course in Doha, and ran another game race to be second, though Aba'ath proved 7 lengths too good for him. Thakif is a high class runner who is also very game and consistent. He might be Handassa's biggest danger here.
A regular player on the main stage of Purebred Arabian racing over the past four years, Versac Py made an encouraging comeback when finishing second to Haajeb in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round II over 2200 metres in early February. The winner was rather unexpected but nobody were surprised to see Versac Py make an impact.
He had been out of action since last year's Kahalya Classic, when the son of Njewman picked up an injury and was pulled up. He looked fully recovered with his game run last month, and we know he has the class to match strides with the very best. He was beten only a nose in the 2013 edition of the Kahayla (caught very late by Al Mamoun Monlau, with 2012 winner Tm Fred Texas behind him). Last year, Versac Py won the Al Maktoum Challenge Round III, beating Af Lafeh by 3 ¼ lengths over the 2000 metres trip. Abu Alabyad, another tough top flight runner, was beaten ten lengths into third place on that occasion. It was another classy performance by Versac Py, and a return to such form would put this nine-year-old right in the mix on World Cup night.
Copyright (c) Geir Stabell / globeform
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