Dubai: Super Saturday Forecast, Part II
The Dubai City of Gold (UAE-G2) (post time 9:55 a.m. EST) is the stepping stone to the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-G1). No City of Gold winner has gone on to victory in the Sheema, and that trend appears safe for another year. Whoever prevails on Saturday will have a mountain to climb against a ferocious band of invaders – from U.S.-based Main Sequence to Japan’s Harp Star to Hong Kong’s Designs on Rome and France’s Flintshire. And that’s just the top four, never mind the stealthy ones.
To go back to our paradigm of considering questions that have to be answered, trying to find the most logical contender in the circumstances, and venturing out on a speculative limb, the Godolphin duo (down from three after the scratch of Songcraft) poses questions of varying degrees.
True Story is in great form at about 1 1/8 miles, which has looked his best distance so far. His only prior try at this about 1 ½-mile trip resulted in a seventh in last year’s Derby (Eng-G1) at Epsom, but trainer Saeed bin Suroor believes that gelding him has reformed him.
Gelding has definitely reformed the more compelling of the two, Sky Hunter, who has crossed the wire a daylight winner in both of his post-operative starts. But he has not raced since his St Simon (Eng-G3) romp at Newbury in October, and he could bump into an improving, race-fit opponent.
Umgiyo, who has also thrived since being gelded, fits that profile well. Admittedly, he faces a question in his first attempt at this distance, but given how the Mike de Kock pupil chased Hunter’s Light (see the Jebel Hatta) at about 1 ¼ miles, he looks well suited to it. His pedigree reinforces the idea, and de Kock didn’t mince words when predicting a “big race” from him. Those combined strands make him a logical win chance at 10-1.
For the more speculatively inclined, de Kock’s other runner, Mickdaam, ran his best race in a long time when a fast-closing fourth in an about 1 ¾-mile handicap in his latest. The hero of the 2012 Chester Vase (Eng-G3) who was fifth in Camelot’s Derby (in which Main Sequence was second), he has no distance qualms. Argentine import Cooptado is worth a look, considering he reverts to turf for the first time since his third in the 2013 Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (Arg-G1) (“the South American Arc”) as a three-year-old. Sheikhzayedroad is probably a better horse than he was at this time last season, when a close sixth in this race, and he promises to turn in a typically solid performance in his reappearance.
The Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (UAE-G1) (post time 10:30 a.m. EST) is the prep held over the about 1 ¼-mile trip of the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1). As the City of Gold is to the Sheema, so is this year’s Round 3 to the World Cup: the locally based runners don’t appear capable of withstanding the heavyweights coming in from elsewhere.
Reigning World Cup winner African Story was up to the challenge on the old Tapeta, where he was a horse-for-the-course. But the dirt has been a different story. The Godolphin veteran was only seventh on the new track in the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (UAE-G2). His effort was so disappointing that bin Suroor reportedly said African Story wouldn’t race on dirt again. But connections subsequently stepped back from that hasty response, and here we are. Bin Suroor told godolphin.com that if African Story can get a “clear run” and avoid the kickback, “he can run a huge race.” That might have been easier with an outside post, but possibly trickier on the rail.
Stablemate and defending Round 3 champion Prince Bishop has already answered the surface question, making him the most logical contender. Uncorking a terrific late run in Round 2, he missed by a diminishing head to front-running Frankyfourfingers (who was at the end of his tether). The added sixteenth of a mile will work to Prince Bishop’s advantage, and he should also get a fair amount of pace support. He doesn’t need to improve an iota to become the first two-time winner of this race.
A few others are of the progressive handicapper variety, such as recent track record-setter Storm Belt; his stablemate, admirably consistent pace factor Henry Clay; and fellow closer Toolain. Any would fit the mold of a good Carnival horse excelling himself on Super Saturday.
But I’m very curious about how Long River will perform first time out for Salem bin Ghadayer. Although he hasn’t lived up to his pedigree as a son of A.P. Indy and Round Pond, his best piece of form came in his only attempt at this distance – a third to Tonalist in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). He’d be an underlay if hovering in the vicinity of his 5-1 morning line, but if he drifts higher, he’d count as a speculative shot. With jockey Mickael Barzalona keeping faith in Frankyfourfingers, Long River picks up top rider Richard Hughes.
The Jebel Hatta (UAE-G1) (post time 11:05 a.m. EST) ought to have a considerable bearing on the Dubai Turf (formerly the Duty Free) (UAE-G1), contested at about 1 1/8 miles on the Meydan turf.
One year ago, Vercingetorix easily landed the Jebel Hatta en route to a second to Japanese beast Just a Way in the Duty Free. The South African champion had been playing catch-up last season, but his preparation has been much smoother this time around, and that could be the key to victory on World Cup night.
As far as his Jebel Hatta title defense goes, Vercingetorix is the class of the field and racing over perhaps his optimum trip. Although he’ll be a short-priced favorite off his bloodless score in the Al Rashidiya (UAE-G2), there’s no compelling reason to oppose him. The de Kock charge is as logical as they come, with only two career losses.
Godolphin’s Hunter’s Light has won both of his starts this Carnival, most recently handling de Kock’s upstart Umgiyo in the Dubai Millennium. That came in a course-record 2:00.67 for about 1 ¼ miles – his ideal distance. The question is, can the multiple Group 1 veteran be as effective on the cutback to this trip? And would that even be enough to dethrone a true champ in Vercingetorix?
Darwin and Johann Strauss, stablemates of Vercingetorix, also bring questions in tow. Darwin never quite fulfilled his promise with Aidan O’Brien, but his close third to Kingman and Toronado, albeit in a tactical Sussex (Eng-G1), leads me to hope that he’s still got something to offer. His rallying fourth, to dead-heat with Johann Strauss, in last week’s Zabeel Mile (UAE-G2) implies that he’s rounding into form for de Kock. Yet according to the stewards’ report, Darwin was lame afterward, and on his website, de Kock sounded cool about his prospects on this step up in trip. De Kock was more positive about Johann Strauss, with the proviso that they’ve had to “rush him” into this spot. Another who failed to develop for Ballydoyle, he is coming around for his new yard. Although not as eye-catching as Darwin in the Zabeel, the son of High Chaparral is entitled to be effective over the distance.
While this race has a formful look to it, the 20-1 Calling Out could make the frame. The $437,955 Arqana Arc Sale graduate was a tiring seventh behind Hunter’s Light and Umgiyo last time, his first start for David Simcock. Eligible to do much better second time out, the four-year-old does have a bit of useful French form from last season.
Once Super Saturday answers a lot of these questions, we’ll be back next week to analyze the results, and what it all might mean for World Cup night.
Photo credit for Vercingetorix: Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club