Americans bid to regain Dubai World Cup & international stars rise over Meydan

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 21st, 2016

The first big jamboree -- and the richest -- on the 2016 international racing calendar, Saturday’s Dubai World Cup program presents a fittingly cosmopolitan spectacle. Every continent but Antarctica has a rooting interest, and winning chances come from every corner of the globe.

The $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1) anchors proceedings, and a five-strong US posse appears to have the world’s richest race surrounded. California Chrome (pictured), the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) hero who was voted the 2014 Horse of the Year, is back again after an honorable second in last year’s World Cup. Now a more robust model at the age of five, he’s the early favorite after breezing to victory in his Meydan prep.

California Chrome’s leading rivals are compatriots, all millionaires with Grade 1 wins on their resumes – the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Frosted, who set a Meydan track record when crushing the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2); newly blinkered Keen Ice, best known for shocking American Pharoah in the Travers (G1) but unable to crack the trifecta since; Todd Pletcher’s turf-turned-dirt star Mshawish, who captured the historically key Donn H. (G1); and Hoppertunity, successful in the traditional West Coast prep, the San Antonio (G2), for two-time World Cup winner Bob Baffert.

Locally based Special Fighter scored a major upset in Meydan’s final prep, the Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), over Hong Kong’s Gun Pit. Last year’s UAE Derby (G2) winner, Mubtaahij, was fourth and Keen Ice only seventh, and both will try to reverse the form in the big event.

An old rival of Chrome’s, Candy Boy, will make an audacious return from a year-long layoff. Transferred to Dubai-based Doug Watson over the winter of 2014-15, the American expatriate hasn’t been seen since his fourth in the last year’s World Cup. Rounding out the field are Japan’s 10-time Grade 1 winner Hokko Tarumae, unplaced in his two previous World Cup attempts; France’s Vadamos, highly regarded by Andre Fabre but untested on dirt; and the ex-French Teletext, who’s found a new career on the Saudi dirt.

The $6 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) at about 1 1/2 miles on turf features Japanese champion Duramente, making his international debut with an eye toward October’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1); compatriots Last Impact, who missed by a whisker in the Japan Cup (G1), and One and Only, third in the 2015 Sheema; the Aidan O’Brien-trained Highland Reel, last seen adding the Hong Kong Vase (G1) to his prior victory in the Secretariat (G1) at Arlington; King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) winner Postponed, coming off a cozy success in the Dubai City of Gold (G2) over this course and distance at the expense of the Aga Khan’s Dariyan; French-based Gailo Chop, who earned his Group 1 laurel in Australia’s Mackinnon (G1); British globetrotter Sheikhzayedroad, third in the Canadian International (G1) two back and most recently impressive going longer in the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3); and Qatar’s The Blue Eye, a dynamic winner of the lucrative Emirs Trophy at Doha in his latest.

The $6 million Dubai Turf (G1) lost reigning champion Solow to a last-minute workout injury, but the about nine-furlong contest is not wanting intrigue. Godolphin’s upwardly mobile Tryster and Very Special are both two-for-two this Carnival. In their last preps, Tryster beat Farrier, Ertijaal (Aus), and Harry’s Son in the Jebel Hatta (G1), and the filly Very Special wired a game Euro Charline in the Balanchine (G2). South African maestro Mike de Kock is double-handed with Forries Waltz and Ertijaal (Aus), the one-two from the Al Rashidiya (G2), and the locally based squad is completed by Zabeel Mile (G2) near-misser Ghaamer, his familiar foe Forjatt, and smashing handicap winner Basateen. They’re bracing for a formidable invasion. Japan’s Real Steel competed valiantly in all three legs of his homeland’s Triple Crown last year and isn’t far off Sheema threat Duramente. Great Britain dispatches budding star Intilaaq (who was rerouted from the World Cup), the progressive The Corsican, and the old campaigner Gabrial in addition to the aforementioned Euro Charline. Southern California’s French émigré, Flamboyant, is in good form at present but faces the stiffest challenge of his career.

The $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) has attracted American speed merchant X Y Jet (pictured), who brings a five-race winning streak into the dirt sprint, and Frosted’s stablemate Confrontation, who cuts back in trip after capturing the Firebreak (G3) over Meydan’s metric mile. Hong Kong’s quartet includes Rich Tapestry, who’s placed in the past two runnings; Super Jockey, narrowly denied here a year ago; and the gutsy Master Kochanwong, who tuned up by edging Domineer in a Sha Tin trial. Spearheading the local brigade are Muarrab, runaway winner of the Mahab al Shimaal (G3) from Kifaah; 10-year-old Reynaldothewizard, who seeks to regain his Golden Shaheen crown from 2013; and Jebel Ali specialist Morawij.

The $1 million Al Quoz Sprint (G1) is an ultra-competitive turf dash, with a case to be made for just about everyone. The respective top two from the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), Mongolian Saturday and Lady Shipman, renew rivalry while trying to adapt to a straight course. Defending Al Quoz champion Sole Power was third in a three-way photo in the local prep, the Meydan Sprint (G3), just denied by the unheralded Fityaan and Godolphin’s promising Jungle Cat. Fourth-placer Sir Maximilian and seventh Goldream are both eligible to make their presence felt in the main event. Locally based Ertijaal (Ire) (different from the Australian-bred Ertijaal listed above in the Dubai Turf) has been freshened since his conquests earlier in the Carnival. His former trainer, Britain’s William Haggas, takes him on with the dashing Muthmir. Hong Kong holds a strong hand with last year’s close second, Peniaphobia, and emerging force Not Listenin’tome, while Australia’s A$6 million man Buffering figures to put up his typical fight, and Japan’s Bel Canto won her only start at this about five-furlong trip at home. But Naadirr, more of a six-furlong type, needs to step up on his known form.

The $2 million UAE Derby (G2) marks unbeaten filly Polar River’s biggest test against the boys. But one of her principal opponents, Market Rally, is a surprise absentee after developing a foot issue and spiking a fever. A front-running winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) and Al Bastakiya, he would have been going for the UAE Triple Crown sweep here. The about 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby is the first of the Kentucky Derby preps worth 100 points to the winner, but only two entrants were early Triple Crown nominees: Doug O’Neill’s El Camino Real Derby (G3) winner Frank Conversation and Japan’s Lani. Argentinean import Vale Dori, who threw a brief scare into Polar River in the UAE Oaks (G3), is a 4-year-old by Northern Hemisphere reckoning and thus ineligible for the US Triple Crown. The remaining trio in this small field theoretically could have been made late Triple Crown nominations by the March 21 deadline (but those are yet to be revealed). The Hideyuki Mori duo of Yu Change and On the Rocks have proven stamina but have yet to show much in limited experience on dirt. Yu Change is the more interesting, since he was fourth in Japan’s marquee race for juveniles, the Asahi Hai Futurity (G1). Lazzam, no match for Market Rally when second in the UAE 2000 Guineas and Al Bastakiya, would do well to hit the board among these.

The $1 million Dubai Gold Cup (G2) has a standout in the Aga Khan’s Vazirabad, who burst onto the staying scene with a five-race winning spree culminating in the Prix Royal-Oak (G1) over older horses. British shipper Big Orange, game victor of the two-mile Goodwood Cup (G2), was last seen finishing a gallant fifth in the Melbourne Cup (G1). Compatriot Suegioo, the Fabre-trained Manatee, Japan’s Neo Black Dia, and German filly Paradise conclude the invading party. The others are familiar Carnival faces – warhorse Star Empire, who’s placed in the last two runnings, and his younger stablemate from the de Kock yard, Tellina; Certerach, the 2014 Dubai Gold Cup winner who improved in blinkers when second in the prep, the Nad al Sheba Trophy, beating Star Empire, Meadow Creek, and Tellina; and Haafaguinea, in the form of his life at the moment for Saeed bin Suroor but venturing into terra incognita at this marathon trip.

The $1 million Godolphin Mile (G2) opens the Thoroughbred action with a fairly evenly matched group. McLaughlin’s well-regarded Marking was redirected here after finding six furlongs a bit sharp for him, but the Godolphin colt has to keep his nerves in check in the World Cup cauldron. The Jeremy Noseda-trained Sloane Avenue warrants respect after suffering a tough beat in this race last year, as does Maftool, last year’s UAE 2000 Guineas winner (denying Mubtaahij the UAE Triple Crown) who recently made it two-for-two over this track and trip. Leading UAE trainer Doug Watson has had a brilliant Carnival, and good luck separating his trio – last-out Burj Nahaar (G3) romper Cool Cowboy (the choice of stable rider Pat Dobbs), track record-setting One Man Band, and the classy and reliable Faulkner. Le Bernardin has fallen off a bit since landing the Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2), and Gold City and Prayer for Relief look more like minor players. God’s Speed had been on a roll in Saudi Arabia before winding up fifth this past Saturday.

Purebred Arabians kick off the World Cup festivities in the $1 million Dubai Kahayla Classic.

Final Dubai World Cup night fields are available here.

Dubai World Cup trophy photo courtesy Frank Sorge/

California Chrome photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club via Twitter.

X Y Jet photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Neville Hopwood.