Dubai World Cup Card kicks off

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Ted Black

March 26th, 2016

Serious and novice thoroughbred racing fans alike will have to get up bright and early on the east coast, while those on the west coast may simply have to pull an all-nighter on Friday to enjoy the lucrative Dubai World Cup card at Meydan Race Course that gets under way around 8 a.m. on the east coast on Saturday and culminates with the $10 million World Cup at 1 p.m.

Saturday's annual Dubai World Cup Night card - the United Arab Emirates is eight hours ahead of those in the east coast time zone in the U.S. - has become the equivalent of the spring version of the Breeders Cup, with many of the best horses in training on hand to compete for purses that exceed $30 million. Horses from around the globe venture to the tiny, but wealthy nation that has found its niche among thoroughbred racing's elite ovals.

Saturday's second race at Meydan is the Grade I, $1 million Godolphin Mile for three-year-olds and upward on the main dirt track. Marking, who was superb in a six-furlong dash in his previous outing here after losing his rider in his Dubai debut one month before, perhaps threw opposing trainers a curve by entering this one-mile event rather than the Grade I, $2 million Golden Shaheen at six furlongs. His early speed will make him a factor throughout, but now onlookers will have to decide whether or not it will be worth backing him at a short price while stretching out.

So those looking to back an upsetter will have plenty of choices, although the best one appears to be Cool Cowboy. A sharp winner of a $200,000 Grade III event at the one-mile distance last out, Cool Cowboy has always done well over the course and could top a rare exacta that could include Prayer For Relief, another former U.S. runner. Both Cool Cowboy and Prayer For Relief have something in common that few onlookers in Dubai might believe - both were stakes winner at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia when they were based in North America.

Two races later in the $ 2 million UAE Derby for three-year-olds contesting the Preakness Stakes distance of one-mile and three-sixteenths and perhaps gearing up for a trip to the U.S. for the Kentucky Derby in six weeks, a pair of local sophomore fillies, Polar River and Vale Dori merit top billing against American invader Frank Conversation, winner of two stakes at Golden Gate Fields this season for trainer Doug O'Neill.

Polar River has been the best sophomore filly in Dubai this winter and it is no surprise to see her contest the boys in the UAE Derby. But her latest win suggests some minor flaws. She broke a step slowly and enabled Vale Dori to dictate the tempo, surged to command leaving the quarter pole and then was geared down late and nearly caught by Vale Dori in the final 100 yards. Polar River will be the odds-on choice in this event, but Vale Dori looks like the play. Frank Conversation's best efforts have been on synthetic ovals, while his main track performances leave a lot to be desired.

One race later in the Al Quoz at five furlongs on the turf, this no-turn dash should be one of the more contentious and entertaining races on the program. But it also looks wide open. Ertijaal has looked superb while facing lesser locally but gets tested for class against Jungle Cat, Peniaphobia, Sole Power, Goldream, Buffering, Muthmir and Lady Shipman, a fast mare based in the U.S.

Then one race later in the Grade I, $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen at six furlongs on the main track, U.S. invader XY Jet puts his five-race win streak on the line against a talented cast that has experience over the strip including Rich Tapestry, Kifaah, Muarrab, Confrontation and Reynaldothewizard. Confrontation was giant in a prep at a mile and appears to have traded places with Marking, who seemed destined for this spot. Rich Tapestry, Kifaah, Muarrab and Reynaldothewizard all merit respect in this spot and at least three of them will be double-digits at post time.

Both the seventh and eighth races on the card have plenty in common - both are $6 million Grade I events on the grass at varying distances and both feature a standout. Tryster has delivered two dominant performances over the Meydan lawn for trainer Charlie Appleby and gets the nod over lightly raced British invader Intilaaq. Then one race later Postponed and Duramente both should complete the exacta in a one-mile and one-half marathon where the well-traveled Highland Reel from the powerful Aidan O'Brien barn is likely going to garner strong support.

Then one race later in the finale, the ultimate race of the Dubai Racing Carnival, a full field of 12 older runners will contest the latest edition of the $1o million Dubai World Cup at one-mile and one-quarter on the main track. The race features many of the best distance runners in the world, several of which arrived from the U.S. recently.

California Chrome, the 2014 horse of the year following a campaign in which he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, is seeking redemption in the World Cup. Last spring he finished second to locally based Prince Bishop, so this year his connections opted to send him earlier in order to get a prep race over the track. He won that very weak event as the 1-9 choice and now prepares for another serious test against a stellar group and despite the local prep appears a very vulnerable favorite.

Frosted spent much of his previous campaign chasing Triple Crown winner and eventual horse of the year American Pharoah, but he arrived in Dubai last month and easily won a prep for this event at the Preakness distance of a mile and three-sixteenths. Frosted looked superb in his local debut despite the three-month layoff and only figures to improve off that effort and rates one of the better plays on the card considering his sharp prep tally and the fact that he could be double the price of California Chrome.

But those looking to beat both California Chrome and Frosted will have several logical contenders to support. Mshawish has won two straight graded stakes at Gulfstream Park for trainer Todd Pletcher and appears to be improving with each start. Hoppertunity won a Grade II stakes at Santa Anita last out after running third behind California Chrome in the San Pasqual for trainer Bob Baffert and merits respect in this spot, as does Teletext, a Grade I winner at Saudi Arabia in his previous outing. Mubtaahij was clearly the best three-year-old on the grounds last winter, but his two starts this year leave a lot to be desired. The same can be said of Keen Ice, who has failed to hit the board in four starts since upsetting American Pharoah in the Grade I Travers Stakes last summer at Saratoga.