Dubai World Cup night: selections and longshots

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 24th, 2017

Jack Hobbs photo courtesy Melanie Martines @SkimtheRail

After the form study, race previews on, news monitoring, and analysis of how the contenders stack up according to the trends, I’ve got to make the selections for Saturday’s Dubai World Cup (G1) card.

As ever, these races are so competitive that it’s not easy to land on just one. The top pick is often more who I’ve talked myself into than a confident selection, let alone a stand against someone else.

1ST Race, Godolphin Mile

Top pick: #6 Sharp Azteca (9-5) is given the slight edge over #7 North America (2-1), primarily because of the strength of his U.S. dirt form. North America’s come very far from maiden to Godolphin Mile threat in a mere four starts this UAE season, but this is the most acid test he’s faced, and he may benefit from the tussle. Look for him to emerge as a prospect for the 2018 World Cup. 

Longshot: #5 Second Summer (15-1) was a bang-up second in his Meydan debut for Doug Watson in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2) to Furia Cruzada (see World Cup below), but flopped over further in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1) and came out a bit sore. Considering that he’d won last summer’s Californian (G2) before running below par in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), Second Summer may just be happier around this trip. Watson, who just won another UAE training title, sent out the trifecta in this race last year.

(2ND Race, the Dubai Kahayla Classic, is for Purebred Arabians)

3RD Race, Dubai Gold Cup

Top pick: #3 Vazirabad (9-5) is hardly an original idea as the defending champion, but the Aga Khan homebred has had a much less eventful preparation than last year (when having a bad experience on the flight from France). A strong second in his local prep, he’s entitled to come on a lot at a more suitable trip.

Also use: #12 Heartbreak City (6-1) was denied in a photo in the Melbourne Cup (G1) at this distance, and he reunites with Hong Kong ace Joao Moreira, who was aboard at Flemington. Any horse who bolts up in the Ebor as he did is a proper runner.

Longshot: #4 Wall of Fire (20-1) faces a searing test against a terrific group of veteran stayers, but the up-and-comer won his last two in the manner of an exciting type. I’m intrigued that trainer Hugo Palmer, rapidly making a name for himself, has shipped him into such a tough spot. As a four-year-old, he gets a six-pound weight break that could come in handy.

4TH Race, UAE Derby

Top pick: #10 Epicharis (5-1) is the apple of jockey Christophe Lemaire’s eye, and it’s easy to see the appeal of the big, long-striding Japanese colt. Four-for-four, he stayed perfect in the Hyacinth despite being not fully cranked. This represents another major class test, on a different dirt surface, but I’m taking his prep win as an indication of how much scope he has to progress. Trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara was already talking Belmont S. (G1) even before he garnered his “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” invitation. If he’s as good as connections think, he should win this.  

Also use: #6 Fawree (8-1) might not be as good a value as I first hoped, and there’s no guarantee how the inexperienced son of Candy Ride and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Keeper Hill will respond to the atmosphere of World Cup night. Despite his best behavior of late for South Africa’s “horse whisperer,” he might revert to his gate antics that cost him in the Al Bastakiya. But Mike de Kock is a big believer in his ability, and so am I, after he dusted Bee Jersey in a maiden. A strict reading of that formline puts Fawree close to favorite Thunder Snow on this surface. And unlike the shippers, we know that Fawree acts over this track.

Longshot: #11 He Runs Away (50-1) may be in tough as a newly arrived Argentine-bred giving away weight, and he’d prefer more ground. Still, there’s something about the way he circled the field out wide and dispatched them in the Gran Premio Nacional (G1) on dirt. He was also a close fourth in the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (G1), South America’s “Arc,” and might have grabbed a placing but for being tightened up by the winner late. That winner, by the way, is Sixties Song, who went on to win another prestigious Group 1 in South America and is ticketed for Royal Ascot. He Runs Away won’t mind the kickback, giving him perhaps a better chance than most closers on this track, particularly tender three-year-olds still testing their surface (and distance) preferences.

5TH Race, Al Quoz Sprint

Top pick: #6 Ertijaal (9-5) was runner-up in this a year ago, his only loss in his past seven starts, and he comes off a scorching course record in the about five-furlong Meydan Sprint (G3). The newly added furlong here doesn’t figure to disadvantage him, since he’d won over farther earlier in his career, and he still owns the course record for this trip at Meydan. But I’m especially taken with his more relaxed vibe this Carnival. Sure, he’s still in the vanguard through a blistering pace, but he is so much in his comfort zone that he just takes off and leaves them standing. That’s why Sheikh Hamdan’s retained rider, Jim Crowley, has said “it would take a hell of an aeroplane to get him off the bridle.”

Also use: #11 Limato (5-2) will likely get his optimal conditions of a straight course sprint with a rattling pace. The concern is that he hasn’t raced since the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), where two turns proved too much. Last spring, trainer Henry Candy’s yard took time to come to hand, and there’s a question of whether Limato would be in his devastating summer form. In any event, he’s too dangerous to leave out.

Longshot: #1 Amazing Kids (10-1) probably shouldn’t be labeled this way, since chances are he’s too attractive an alternative to the top two to remain this price. Among the notables on the ferociously talented Hong Kong sprint scene, the closer is unbeaten from two starts on Sha Tin’s straightaway. Amazing Kids isn’t as well suited to the turn. Costly trouble prevented him from placing to Australia’s Chautauqua last May, and he again just missed out on the top three in the Hong Kong Sprint (G1) in December.

6TH Race, Dubai Golden Shaheen

Top pick: #5 Cool Cowboy (7-1), winner of the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) two back, was arguably compromised by an inside speed bias last time when a fast-finishing second to Morawij in the Mahab al Shimaal (G3). After Wednesday’s draw, when he landed a plum gate compared to the best Americans, he really grew on me. The Watson trainee projects perhaps the best trip behind the speed war.

Also use: #11 St. Joe Bay (4-1) was going to be my top pick originally, according to the “speed of the speed” theory, until he drew post 11. His trip is going to be trickier now, forcing a hot pace out wide. He’s in such good form at present, and has the tenacity of a terrier, that he might work out a better passage than I’m envisioning. #14 Mind Your Biscuits (5-2) is the clear form choice, but he may need a bigger pace meltdown than Meydan may provide, especially at six furlongs. Post 14 may cause him to drop back further than planned rather than get hung out chasing too.

Longshot: #10 Not Listenin’tome (20-1) is more properly a wild card, or a wild stab, in his first career attempt on the dirt. Yet another of Hong Kong’s fine turf sprinters, he let me down in the Al Quoz last year. Nevertheless, I find it captivating that trainer John Moore is putting him in this spot, and he’s getting over the track nicely in the morning. I have no idea what to expect in the stress of a race of this caliber, but if post 10 might work in his favor to avoid the worst of the kickback, and if he handles it, we’ll all say “he was the highest-rated horse in the race!”

7TH Race, Dubai Turf

Top pick: #6 Mutakayyef (4-1) missed his intended prep with a momentary but ill-timed hoof abscess. Still, his form through Postponed, Highland Reel, and Tepin last summer is too tantalizing to pass up, especially since he’s typically fired off the bench for William Haggas. In a deep race, Sheikh Hamdan’s son of Sea the Stars is a known quantity at this level, and the in-between about nine-furlong trip may be ideal.

Also use: #2 Zarak (2-1) also boasts superb form from last summer, having finished best of the rest to the world-class Almanzor twice in France. And the blueblood son of Dubawi and Zarkava has a recency edge by virtue of taking the Dubai Millennium (G3). The slight scruple is the short price in a field brimming with talent. He may be poised for stardom already on Saturday, or he may come into his own over a little further as the season unfolds. I can see either scenario.

Longshot: #9 Vivlos (20-1), winner of a fillies’ classic in Japan last fall, warmed up in the key Japanese prep for this race, the Nakayama Kinen (G2). A creditable fifth against classy Group 1-caliber males while well above her racing weight, this full sister to multiple Group 1 queen Verxina may take a step forward here. The booking of Moreira ensures she’ll get the best opportunity, if she’s good enough. 

8TH Race, Dubai Sheema Classic

Top pick: #2 Jack Hobbs (4-1) may be on the verge of a career year in 2017. John Gosden always knew this grand stamp of a horse would be at his peak as an older campaigner. So it’s a barometer of his raw ability that as a three-year-old, he was second to his world-class stablemate Golden Horn in the 2015 Derby (G1) at Epsom before romping in the Irish Derby (G1). Sidelined by a pelvic fracture sustained in his 2016 debut, he resumed in the Champion (G1) and rallied for third to Almanzor and Arc heroine Found over a trip that’s short of his best. Gosden had long set him for this target, so he’ll be spot-on. The addition of blinkers could help him get over his babyish tendencies and gain focus.

Also use: #3 Highland Reel (4-1) would be tough if in the same sparkling form as in his Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) triumph and near-repeat in the Hong Kong Vase (G1). Since he was only fourth in this very same reappearance last season, there’s just enough room to wonder. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if he shows a lot more this time, though.

Longshot: #4 Sounds of Earth (15-1) is a perennial bridesmaid in Japan, but warrants respect for placings in such marquee races as the 2015 Arima Kinen (G1) and last November’s Japan Cup (G1). If any of the “Big Three” of Highland Reel, Jack Hobbs, or Postponed is a little subpar, he can crash the exotics.

9TH Race, Dubai World Cup

Top pick: #9 Arrogate (1-5). I’m hoping for a Dubai Millennium-evoking tour de force. Too much to ask?

Also use: #12 Hoppertunity (15-1). Bob Baffert couldn’t be raving any more about how well his second-stringer is coming into the World Cup, even calling him his “exacta horse.” There’s objective evidence too. Last year, he barely got up in the 1 1/8-mile San Antonio (G2) before finishing third in the World Cup to California Chrome. This year, Hoppertunity was much sharper in his San Antonio victory, despite the distance being reduced to 1 1/16 miles. That presages an improved showing here too.

Longshot: #8 Furia Cruzada (60-1) is arguably at her best going 1 1/4 miles on dirt, yet was classy enough to place over a mile at Royal Ascot. The former Chilean champion has turned in two solid efforts over this track, beating Godolphin Mile runner Second Summer in the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 and fighting against the bias to close out wide for third in Round 3. She gets a five-pound weight break from the boys, and with her representative effort, she could box her way into the lower rungs of the exotics.

Good luck with your handicapping, and happy World Cup Day!