Dubai: Look who's coming to World Cup night

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 20th, 2015

I've emerged from my cocoon of Dubai research (and other various duties at the Brisnet News desk) to give an overview of the projected international shippers for the March 28 extravaganza otherwise known as World Cup night. More discussion will be forthcoming next week, so consider this an initial briefing.

In race order, building to the $10 million crescendo:

Godolphin Mile (UAE-G2) - metric mile on dirt

Sloane Avenue, unfortunately scratched from his bold crack at the Donn (G1), goes on his travels again for English trainer Jeremy Noseda. Also slated to come from England is Group 3 scorer Graphic, who was a close third to Sloane Avenue in last November's Hyde S. on Kempton's Polytrack. (Splitting them was Cladocera, who has since turned a U.A.E. Group 2 double in the Cape Verdi and Balanchine and next contests the Dubai Turf.) Both will be trying dirt for the first time, but Sloane Avenue has an enticing pedigree for it. The American hopefuls are Prayer for Relief, a multiple Grade 2 winner of nearly $2 million, and Bradester, hero of last year's Mineshaft (G3) and Ack Ack (G3). Prayer for Relief, a near-miss third to World Cup contender Lea in the Hal's Hope (G3) at Gulfstream two back, will reportedly switch from Dale Romans to Mike de Kock. Bradester has been sidelined since trailing in the September 27 Kelso (G2), but represents Eddie Kenneally, who won the 2007 Golden Shaheen with Kelly's Landing. They will meet a robust local team spearheaded by the streaking Tamarkuz (who has reportedly ended his flirtation with the World Cup), Surfer and Frankyfourfingers.

Dubai Gold Cup (UAE-G2) - two metric miles on turf

English invader Brown Panther brings the highest standard of international form, as the runaway winner of last year's Irish St Leger (Ire-G1). John Gosden has entered Marzocco, who has something to prove at this level, and he could opt for a softer spot during the April 3 All-Weather Championships at Lingfield. France has a progressive standard-bearer in Bathyrhon, victorious in the Prix Gladiateur (Fr-G3) and a near-miss second in the Prix du Cadran (Fr-G1) last fall. He is trained by Pia Brandt, who had such a productive Carnival in 2014 with L'Amour de Ma Vie. Dubday, unbeaten in Qatar, is a wild card in his first attempt over the marathon trip, but his class and solid pedigree make him interesting. British-based Havana Beat was a sneaky-good fourth in the local prep, the Nad al Sheba Trophy (UAE-G3), won by the de Kock-trained Almoonqith.

U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) - about 1 3/16 miles on dirt

While the locally based Mubtaahij and Maftool look tough in their rubber match, Japan sends a trio of contenders led by the fascinating Golden Barows. The Kentucky-bred son of Tapit is unbeaten since switching to the dirt and gets the added bonus of Ryan Moore in the saddle. Compatriots Dear Domus and Tap That were both beaten by Golden Barows last out, but Dear Domus is eligible to improve on the step back up in trip. Faithful Creek, last seen finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), is a question mark on dirt for Brian Meehan. The lone American entrant, My Johnny Be Good, looks up against it after being well beaten twice at Tampa Bay Downs. The Saudi duo of Alnajem Alfaiz and Motaa, stablemates from the Badr Resaque yard, will be tested for class. Not to be overlooked is Uruguayan Triple Crown winner Sir Fever, a useful second to Mubtaahij in his Dubai debut, but he must spot a hefty 10-pound weight concession to his younger Northern Hemisphere-bred rivals.

Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-G1) - about five furlongs on turf

Hong Kong holds a strong hand with defending champion and course record-holder Amber Sky, rising star Peniaphobia and Bundle of Joy. Amber Sky has gone winless since then while enduring physical issues, but might be getting back on song at the moment. Peniaphobia just caught Bundle of Joy in time in the Centenary Sprint Cup, but didn't have an ideal trip when fourth in the Chairman's Sprint Prize in his latest.

Ireland's Horse of the Year Sole Power and South African champion Via Africa are both entitled to improve markedly off their tightener in the Meydan Sprint (UAE-G3), won by Sir Maximilian in a thriller over Ahtoug and a slew of Carnival regulars. British shipper Caspar Netscher, a close third that day in his reappearance, is best known to North American fans for taking last fall's Nearctic (Can-G2) at Woodbine. Fellow Brit Mirza was scratched from the Meydan Sprint, so the two-time Prix du Petit Couvert (Fr-G3) hero enters without a prep. Compatriot Stepper Point likewise kicks off his campaign here, but brings smart form after playing second fiddle to Sole Power in last summer's King's Stand (Eng-G1) and Nunthorpe (Eng-G1).

French filly Farmah reverts to turf after flopping on dirt, but could find the minimum trip a bit too sharp at this level. The American pair of Green Mask and Distinctiv Passion likewise face questions. Green Mask's optimum distance appears a shade longer, although racing on the straightaway could help the Wesley Ward trainee. Conversely, speed machine Distnctiv Passion could have preferred the breather afforded by a turn.

Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-G1) - about six furlongs on dirt

No fewer than four alumni of the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) renew rivalry here -- Secret Circle, the 2013 winner and 2014 runner-up; seventh-placer Salutos Amigos; ninth Big Macher; and Hong Kong's Rich Tapestry, who bled when last of 14. Secret Circle has yet to win since the 2013 Sprint, but usually turns in good efforts in defeat. The Bob Baffert veteran exits a runner-up effort in the Palos Verdes (G2) to Conquest Two Step -- who had come within a neck of upsetting Shared Belief in the Malibu (G1) in his prior start. Big Macher weakened to fifth in the Palos Verdes, and consistency hasn't been a strong suit for the Bing Crosby (G1) winner. Aqueduct specialist Salutos Amigos brings a four-race winning streak, but must prove whether he can transfer his game effectively much further afield. He also can't drop as far back early as he did in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The expatriate Cool Cowboy is now with Doug Watson, but is worth mentioning for his better-than-appears fourth in his local premiere, the Mahab al Shimaal (UAE-G3), to Shaishee, United Color and Speed Hawk, with 2012 Golden Shaheen winner Krypton Factor back in fifth.

Rich Tapestry leads the triumvirate from Hong Kong. Runner-up in last year's Golden Shaheen, Rich Tapestry famously edged Goldencents in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) off a freshening, and trainer Michael Chang is employing the same page from his playbook here. Hong Kong's reigning champion sprinter, Lucky Nine, has performed capably all around the world, from his consecutive wins in the KrisFlyer International Sprint (Sin-G1) to his luckless ventures in Japan and a tough beat in Australia's Manikato (Aus-G1) in 2013. The Caspar Fownes charge was third in the 2012 running of this race on the old Tapeta, but he's likely adept on dirt, since he won on Sha Tin's dirt track way back in 2010. Rounding out the Hong Kong team is Super Jockey, who thrived in his dirt debut in Sha Tin's designed prep for the Golden Shaheen.

Singapore's El Padrino enters off a repeat score in the Merlion Trophy on the Kranji Polytrack, and he'd also won over Meydan's Tapeta in 2012 (when racing under the name of Ip Man). Note that he earned his dirt stripes with a victory at Seoul last August. As a closer, however, he could have his work cut out for him.

Dubai Turf (formerly Duty Free) (UAE-G1) - about 1 1/8 miles on turf

Although Hunter's Light threw down the gauntlet with his devastating win in the Jebel Hatta (UAE-G1), four shippers bring sterling credentials. The Grey Gatsby was last seen upsetting Australia in the September 13 Irish Champion (Ire-G1), and this has been the long-range plan laid out by trainer Kevin Ryan. Nevertheless, the son of Mastercraftsman excels at upwards of 10 furlongs (see also his wins in the French Derby [Fr-G1] and Dante [Eng-G2]), so he could be outkicked in this spot.

Solow and Mshawish are likely suspects to do just that, and the filly Euro Charline is also worth a look. The Freddy Head-trained Solow has compiled a four-race winning streak, including the Prix Daniel Wildenstein (Fr-G2) and his recent Chantilly prep. Mshawish, fourth in this race last year for Mikel Delzangles, has won three straight at Gulfstream for Todd Pletcher. Euro Charline has not raced since making history as the first sophomore to win the Beverly D. (G1) -- and a loaded renewal at that.

Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-G1) - about 1 1/2 miles on turf

This contest is even more captivating to me than the World Cup, pitting dual Eclipse Award winner Main Sequence and Hong Kong Horse of the Year Designs on Rome against Japanese champion filly Harp Star and France's admirably consistent Flintshire and Dolniya. Main Sequence bested Flintshire in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) over a Santa Anita course that may not have suited his foe as much as the vast Meydan probably will. It's true that Main Sequence gets more homestretch to work with here, but so do his rivals who also have a ferocious turn of foot. Five-for-five in the United States for Graham Motion after prepping in the Mac Diarmida (G2), Main Sequence now faces his biggest test on the world stage.

Designs on Rome, who swept last term's Hong Kong Derby, Hong Kong Classic Cup and QE II Cup (HK-G1), sports another three-race spree bookended by the Hong Kong Cup (HK-G1) and Hong Kong Gold Cup (HK-G1). Japanese classic heroine Harp Star was a flying sixth in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1), where she was set a hopeless task of rallying from dead last. Only fifth in her two ensuing attempts versus males, she gets a giant, red-letter rider switch to Ryan Moore. Flintshire chased the likes of Cirrus des Aigles and Treve last season before capturing the Hong Kong Vase (HK-G1). The Andre Fabre trainee warmed up with a rattling second in a Chantilly all-weather race, beaten a scant neck by Dolniya. The latter is an improving Aga Khan homebred who landed last summer's Prix de Malleret (Fr-G2) and acquitted herself respectably with a third in the Prix Vermeille (Fr-G1) and a fifth in the Arc.

Rounding out the international contingent are One and Only, the 2014 Japanese Derby (Jpn-G1) hero who has been disappointing of late; Irish classic and E.P. Taylor (Can-G1) winner Just the Judge, the third-placer in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) who has picked a brutal spot for her first try at this trip; and Northern Dancer Turf (Can-G1) victor Sheikhzayedroad, second to locally based Sky Hunter in the course-and-distance prep, the City of Gold (UAE-G2).

Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) - about 1 1/4 miles on dirt

Horse of the Year California Chrome would pay a handsome compliment to his recent San Antonio (G2) conqueror, Shared Belief, if he can triumph here. The Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) star is fortunate that the two who beat him in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), Bayern and Toast of New York, were ruled out by injury. But there's another proper U.S. challenger in Lea along with expatriate Ron the Greek and Japan's duo of Epiphaneia and Hokko Tarumae.

Lea defeated champion Will Take Charge in a track record-setting victory in the 2014 Donn, and lost no luster when second to Constitution in the February 7 renewal, his second start back from an 11-month absence. Ron the Greek is brimming with back class as the winner of the 2012 Santa Anita H. (G1) and Stephen Foster (G1) (over Wise Dan) and the 2013 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). Subsequently based in Saudi Arabia with Nicholas Bachalard, he has won four in a row in his new home. Another expat, Candy Boy, is reportedly pleasing his new trainer Watson in Dubai. The Grade 2 winner was sixth in the Breeders' Cup Classic in his latest, and goes straight to the big night without a prep.

Epiphaneia is easily the highest rated horse in the race, thanks to his remarkable romp in last November's Japan Cup (Jpn-G1). That is held at about 1 1/2 miles on turf, however, and the son of Symboli Kris S and Cesario must prove that he can adapt to a shorter trip on dirt. If he can, Epiphaneia is more than capable of giving trainer Katsuhiko Sumii a second World Cup trophy, after Victoire Pisa (on the Tapeta in 2011). In contrast, Hokko Tarumae is a specialist on the surface as Japan's reigning champion dirt horse. In superb form, he sports a three-race winning streak at present.

British-based globetrotter Side Glance was fourth in the last two World Cups on Tapeta, but could find this a different game. Defending World Cup champ African Story hasn't loved the surface switch himself, even though he ground out the local prep win over Prince Bishop.

For more on the contenders who have already raced at Meydan this Carnival, see "Catching up with the Carnival highlights" and my post-analysis of Super Saturday.

California Chrome photo courtesy of Los Alamitos via Twitter.