Dubai World Cup night trends

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 15th, 2016

Rummaging through the Dubai World Cup night results, we can try to detect trends both positive and negative.

Not-so-Super Saturday? The first observation is how often the Super Saturday form either fails to translate, or is reversed, on the big night. Since the final local preps were concentrated onto a mega-Saturday card in 2003, Super Saturday winners have been shut out on World Cup night in seven of 13 years.

Of the six years when horses doubled up on Super Saturday and World Cup night, three times it was just a single, outstanding horse who did the honors (Ipi Tombe in the 2003 Jebel Hatta/Dubai Duty Free, Electrocutionist in the 2006 Maktoum Challenge Round 3/World Cup, and Asiatic Boy in the 2007 Al Bastakiya/UAE Derby).

Super Saturday winners have fared a little better recently, with at least a couple of horses prevailing on both cards in three of the past four years. In 2012, Krypton Factor (Mahab al Shimaal/Golden Shaheen) and African Story (Burj Nahaar/Godolphin Mile) turned the double. A trio did so in 2013 (Sajjhaa in the Jebel Hatta/Duty Free, Reynaldothewizard in the Mahab al Shimaal/Golden Shaheen, and Shea Shea in the Meydan Sprint/Al Quoz). After a shut-out of Super Saturday winners on the 2014 World Cup program, two horses revived Super Saturday fortunes last year (Mubtaahij in the Al Bastakiya/UAE Derby and Tamarkuz in the Burj Nahaar/Godolphin Mile).

As a general rule, these results suggest that you’re better off opposing Super Saturday winners (Special Fighter, Tryster, Postponed, Muarrab, Cool Cowboy, Fityaan and Market Rally) as win candidates on World Cup night. This makes intuitive sense too. A horse would normally have to run close to his peak to win a contentious local prep, and coming back in three weeks against even stiffer competition is tough. For the same reason, Super Saturday losers have been known to take a step forward on World Cup night.

To get a better sense of the overall trends, we need to go race by race. As you’d expect, the patterns can differ.

Dubai World Cup – Since the inaugural running in 1996, 11 winners were last seen racing abroad (eight in the US), while nine winners prepped locally.

The single most productive prep is the Maktoum Challenge Round 3. Although only three turned the double in the World Cup (including Dubai Millennium and Street Cry in the pre-Super Saturday era), four World Cup winners were rebounding off Super Saturday losses in Round 3. That quartet all occurred in the six runnings since the fixture moved to Meydan -- Gloria de Campeao, Monterosso and African Story did so on the old synthetic, but Prince Bishop continued the trend on the new dirt in 2015. Given how biased the Meydan track was for this year’s Round 3, the rebound angle may be worth remembering.

Moon Ballad, the 2003 World Cup hero, was exiting a win in the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (the same route Frosted is taking). Curlin prepped in a handicap over the World Cup track and trip in 2008 (California Chrome is using the same game plan).

Aside from Curlin, the other eight American-based World Cup winners all prepped in the US. Four used the Donn, making it the key US stepping stone (take heed Mshawish fans); three tuned up in California, two of them in the San Antonio (as is Hoppertunity); and Animal Kingdom went Gulfstream Park Turf to synthetic in 2013.

As far as overall resumes go, five of the last seven World Cup winners had been beaten in their previous World Cup attempt(s). No UAE Derby winner has gone on to win the World Cup, but Mubtaahij fans can take solace in the fact that the UAE Derby winners who’ve placed in the next year’s World Cup (Victory Moon and Asiatic Boy) were both trained by Mike de Kock.

Finally, only two winners (Singspiel and Almutawakel) in the 20-year history of the World Cup went in without a prep. That strategy hasn’t worked since the late 1990s.

Turning to the supporting events on World Cup night, we’ll begin our reckoning from the year 2000 (unless noted otherwise).

Godolphin Mile – The scoreboard stands 11-5 in favor of the local preps, including the last seven in a row. The Burj Nahaar is logically the key prep, producing five Godolphin Mile winners (three of whom had been beaten on Super Saturday).

The lopsided shift to the locals is largely a byproduct Meydan’s synthetic era (2010-14), for the ratio between local and international tune-ups had been perfectly even on the Nad al Sheba dirt from 2000-09. The pendulum may be due to swing back now; indeed, but for some bad luck, English shipper Sloane Avenue might have broken the local stranglehold in 2015.

Dubai Gold Cup – Since the first three runnings were held earlier in the Carnival, we’ll look only at the four runnings that have taken place on World Cup night (2012 on).

Three of the four prepped locally: two placed in the Nad al Sheba Trophy, while another placed in Super Saturday’s Dubai City of Gold. Last year’s winner, Brown Panther, smashed that pattern by romping in his first start since an 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. But the ill-fated English stayer was also by far the best horse in the race, so he may continue to prove an exception.

Three of the four were already proven over the about two-mile trip, while all had reached full maturity as either 6- or 7-year-olds.

UAE Derby – Ten of the 16 winners had participated in local preps. Other than Discreet Cat’s allowance stepping stone in 2006, the remaining nine were all coming off UAE classic races – five from the Al Bastakiya, three from the UAE 2000 Guineas, and the lone filly winner, Khawlah (2011), from the UAE Oaks. Khawlah is the most recent of Saeed bin Suroor’s seven UAE Derby winners, and in a parallel to this year, the fillies were better during the 2011 Carnival too.

Asiatic Boy (2007) remains the only horse to sweep the UAE Triple Crown consisting of the 2000 Guineas, Al Bastakiya, and Derby. (Market Rally hopes to join him.) Mubtaahij is the only other horse to have won both the Al Bastakiya and UAE Derby. He ranks as de Kock’s sixth UAE Derby winner, preceded by five Southern Hemisphere-breds. In fact, de Kock is the only horseman to win this race with a Southern Hemisphere-bred.

It’s a misnomer to claim that the other six UAE Derby winners all prepped elsewhere, for three were Godolphin runners who had last raced abroad but were simply resuming off layoffs here. Hence 13 of 16 winners actually wintered in Dubai.

The three exceptions to this rule occurred during Meydan’s synthetic era, which lured quality Europeans. Aidan O’Brien upended the Godolphin/de Kock rivalry in 2012-13, and Toast of New York made it three in a row for Euro-shippers in 2014. But the old pattern reasserted itself back on the Meydan dirt in 2015, with de Kock and bin Suroor running one-two.

Al Quoz Sprint – The first three runnings took place earlier in the Carnival, so we’ll focus on the six World Cup night runnings (2010 on). So far, the results are evenly split 3-3 between horses who prepped locally and newly arrived internationals (two from Hong Kong and one from Australia).

Only one was coming off a layoff, the Australian mare Ortensia. All had run well in their prior starts, including a couple of unplaced efforts that were full of hidden merit. All six were already Group 1-caliber performers (not necessarily international Group 1 winners).

Five are Southern Hemisphere-breds, with the lone exception being defending champion Sole Power. Only one horse has won the Al Quoz twice, J J the Jet Plane, who took the pre-World Cup night version in 2009 before scoring on the big stage in 2011. As with the stayers, maturity helps. The youngest winner was Amber Sky (a 5-year-old if judged on Northern Hemisphere terms).

Golden Shaheen – Horses who last raced abroad hold a decisive 12-4 edge over local preppers, with 10 of those international winners being Americans.

Most of those US wins came on the dirt at old Nad al Sheba, a pipeline restored by Meydan’s switch to dirt last year. Secret Circle’s 2015 success brought the total up to seven for California-based horses, while three prepped on the East Coast. X Y Jet has won two of the Gulfstream preps successful in the past, the Sunshine Millions Sprint and Mr. Prospector.

Meydan’s Tapeta era blunted American dominance, with the lone exception of synthetic specialist Kinsale King. It also yielded one winner apiece from Hong Kong and Singapore.

But the synthetic apparently leveled the playing field for the locals. In the last 10 runnings at Nad al Sheba, only two locals won the Golden Shaheen, and both had lost on Super Saturday. In contrast, two local winners emerged from a mere five runnings on Meydan’s Tapeta. It might not be accidental that Krypton Factor and Reynaldothewizard are the only two Super Saturday prep winners to double up in the Golden Shaheen. Reynaldothewizard, still around as a 10-year-old, tries to become the first dual winner in non-consecutive years. America’s Caller One (2001-02) is the lone repeat winner.

Finally, 4-year-olds have done pretty well, with six wins.

Dubai Turf – The overall tally is a slim 9-8 in favor of horses last seen abroad. (There are 17 winners since 2000 thanks to the dead heat in 2004). Since three of the last four winners have been international shippers, the trend is heading in that direction.

The invaders have come from all points, including three exiting the Hong International Races and two who won in Japan. Five did not have a prep, but the only one to fit this profile in recent years is Cityscape (2012).

Of the locals, only two Jebel Hatta winners have gone on to win this race, the distaffers Ipi Tombe (2003) and Sajjhaa (2013) (when it was known as the Duty Free). The better angle has been to lose or skip the Jebel Hatta: three placed in that prep, two were coming off wins in earlier preps, and one went synthetic-to-turf from a sixth in the Maktoum Round 3 on Super Saturday.

A total of three females have won, beginning with the French mare Terre a Terre (2002). With a few exceptions, the winners have typically been aged five and up. No horse has won twice, so Solow is gunning for history.

Dubai Sheema Classic – Horses last campaigned internationally have owned this race, with a one-sided 14-2 advantage over local preppers.

Remarkably, neither of the two local winners competed in the Super Saturday prep, the City of Gold. The distaffer Sun Classique (2008) swept the Balanchine and Cape Verdi, and class climber Eastern Anthem (2009) captured a couple of handicaps, en route to their Sheema scores. Thus no horse coming out of the City of Gold, win or lose, has ever landed the Sheema. That statistic looms against Postponed this year.

Beginning with Sun Classique, females have won four of the last eight runnings, including the past two with Gentildonna and Dolniya. Gentildonna made it three Sheema wins for Japan, while Dolniya made it three for France. Four British-based trainers have won, but none since John Gosden with the mare Da Re Mi in 2010.

Eight Sheema winners came straight here without a prep. Unlike the World Cup, it’s well established that you can win this fresh off the bench.