Dubai World Cup retrospective: highs, lows, and videos

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

April 4th, 2015

As with the other marquee race meetings around the world, last Saturday's Dubai World Cup program offered some exhilarating moments, interspersed with a few disappointments.

Here are the replays of the eight Thoroughbred races, along with my personal highs and lows:

Godolphin Mile

High: Tamarkuz's sheer determination to extend his winning streak to four, and become the first horse to sweep Meydan's series for milers -- the Firebreak (UAE-G3), Burj Nahaar (UAE-G3) and Godolphin Mile (UAE-G2). When the pace factor blew the start, I thought it was over, but Sheikh Hamdan's colorbearer simply rallied from off the pace instead. As others have pointed out, that flub could have been a blessing in disguise, since he was spared being part of the frenetic pace. Nevertheless, Tamarkuz deserves credit for displaying tactical versatility and admirable resolve. Racing Manager Angus Gold indicated that the son of Speightstown could point for a U.S. campaign, a logical plan in light of his proficiency on dirt.

Low: The what-might-have-been if Sloane Avenue hadn't drawn a dreadful post 15. The Jeremy Noseda trainee covered about 26 more feet than the winner, according to Trakus, and missed by all of a short head. Considering that he hadn't run since taking the Hyde S. at Kempton last November, shipped to Gulfstream only to have to scratch from the Donn H. (G1) after grabbing a quarter, and had to maneuver his way from near the tail of the field here, Sloane Avenue ran a mighty race in defeat. The Candy Ride colt proved his mettle on the dirt, earning himself a crack at the June 6 Metropolitan Mile (G1).


Dubai Gold Cup

High: Seeing the best horse in the race, Brown Panther, put on a course record-setting show. After jockey Richard Kingscote niftily steered him over from post 14 and slotted into a tracking second, the proverbial handwriting was on the wall. Brown Panther delivered the coup de grace turning for home and flaunted his class. The Tom Dascombe charge became the first fresh shipper to win this race, without having prepped at the Carnival. That stat unanimously in favor of Carnival runners looked a bit shaky going in, given the brief race history and the past shippers who've tried, but it's still good to have it overturned.

Low: While Dubday was a decent fifth in his first marathon attempt, especially after a less than ideal stretch passage and significant ground loss (36 feet, according to Trakus), Bathyrhon didn't perform up to his high-class French form and reported home seventh. You could say that he came a long way to get a prep run for the European season. Look for the son of Monsun to be a different proposition in the staying contests back home.


U.A.E. Derby

High: The change of gear Mubtaahij showed when inhaling the early leaders and clearing right away from the field. Yes, the Dubawi colt had the run of the race, stalking the contentious pace from the box seat, saving all the ground. But he didn't just capitalize -- he demolished them in the manner of a solid Kentucky Derby (G1) hopeful. That final 300 meters (approximately three-sixteenths of a mile) in :18.74 is pretty respectable, and this field was likely better than your average renewal. Trainer Mike de Kock will advance to Churchill Downs with a horse who belongs there.

Low: The trips endured by his three main opponents all left a lot to be desired, and it's fair to note that inflated Mubtaahij's margin. Maftool acted up in the gate and "was never traveling at any stage," according to jockey Paul Hanagan. Trakus also reports that Maftool covered 75 feet (!) more than Mubtaahij. Golden Barows did himself no favors by arguing the early pace in his first two-turn attempt, compared to his dynamic off-the-pace victories in his last two in Japan. And Sir Fever was basically finished after getting away a tad slow and having to check abruptly on the first turn.


Al Quoz Sprint

High: Sole Power's finally ending his winless skid at Meydan. The five-furlong, quick ground specialist should have been a natural fit for Meydan, but it took nine tries over the course -- five of them in this very race -- before the swashbuckling Irishman earned a richly deserved victory. The placegetters also warrant a mention. Hong Kong's own Peniaphobia was superb in second, despite wanting another furlong, and U.S. shipper Green Mask punched well above his weight to flash home for third, giving Wesley Ward another Royal Ascot prospect.

Low: Since I was concerned that Distinctiv Passion's talents might not be best suited to a straightaway, I don't hold it against him that he faded to 13th. The disappointment of the race for me was Via Africa. Widely expected to move forward in her second start off the bench, the de Kock mare instead regressed to 11th, beaten 6 1/2 lengths. Connections subsequently decided to retire the South African champion, who unfortunately didn't get to put her best foot forward on the international stage.


Golden Shaheen

High: Having the Stars and Stripes fly proudly over the main track sprint for the first time in five years. Moreover, Secret Circle made it extra special by showing guts to keep his head in front of Hong Kong's lunging Super Jockey at the wire. After dropping six straight since scoring in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Sprint, Secret Circle was in the midst of the longest losing streak of his career -- an unhappy form reversal for a horse who once upon a time was a win machine. Good for him to regain the winning thread on a big occasion.

Low: Lucky Nine didn't get the trip I envisioned for him, slogging it out on the front end before wilting to 11th. (Super Jockey got the perfect draft-behind-the-leaders set-up I projected for Lucky Nine.) But Hong Kong's champion sprinter was found to have mucus in his trachea when scoped post-race, so he was going to be subpar regardless of tactics. Big Macher again cost himself with a slow start, and considering how well he closed for fifth, it's frustrating to think how close he might have gone with a halfway sensible break.


Dubai Turf

High: Solow in full flight, becoming the latest celebrity trained by Freddy Head. Aside from the visual impression, the Trakus sectionals underscore the world-class quality: the gray was zipping in each of his last three furlongs (to be precise, 200-meter splits) in :11.75, :10.93 and :11.08. Solow is now bound for the May 24 Prix d'Ispahan (Fr-G1) en route to the June 16 Queen Anne (Eng-G1) at Royal Ascot. That Royal meeting opener would be a dazzler if Hong Kong phenom Able Friend makes the trip.

Low: Mshawish's foot bruise wrecked his final days in the lead-up to this race. Although the Todd Pletcher team pulled off quite an accomplishment in just getting him into the gate, and Mshawish was positively gallant in third, beaten only three-quarters of a length by The Grey Gatsby, it's tough to think how costly that ill-timed setback was. To be sure, no one was beating Solow, but Mshawish might well have been a strong second. While Euro Charline's unexpected role of pacesetter might have qualified as a low, particularly since she was very fresh and too eager, she did exceptionally well to finish fourth in her first start since the Beverly D. (G1).


Sheema Classic

High: As a fan of the Aga Khan's bloodstock collection, I'm always pleased to see a homebred like Dolniya striking in such illustrious company -- even if I was too blockheaded to see it coming. The Alain de Royer-Dupre filly was plenty good enough to take advantage of her textbook trip, saving ground all the way, stalking the leisurely pace, and pouncing decisively. Flintshire ran his typically fine race in second. Hong Kong Horse of the Year Designs on Rome was the only deep closer to make his presence felt in fourth, a highly creditable effort with no pace help, while covering an extra 39 feet to boot.

Low: Harp Star was bitterly disappointing. Had she at least tried to improve her position, as Designs on Rome managed to do, the Japanese champion could have been forgiven. But Harp Star just didn't appear that interested in the game. Her second straight lackluster performance begs the question of whether she's trained on at four. This simply isn't the same filly we saw last year. Main Sequence also fared worse than expected. Unlike Harp Star, however, at least Main Sequence had some contributing factors to his flop. Trainer Graham Motion observed that his star was wound up in the preliminaries, and you could see that Main Sequence was pretty sweaty nearing the gate. After being in tight quarters on the first turn, he peeled out for a wider trip, and his early advance into a contending position didn't play to his strengths as a one-run closer. Even so, in hindsight, Main Sequence probably wasn't going to confirm the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) form with Flintshire over a course that suited his rival better.


World Cup

High: California Chrome can hold his head high in defeat. After tracking the early leaders through a taxing pace, the U.S. Horse of the Year appeared poised on the far turn, only to be overpowered by Prince Bishop's improbable rally from last. "Chrome" safely held the runner-up spot from Lea; far outperformed the other pace factors, Hokko Tarumae and African Story (who both faded from the scene); and endured the widest trip of anyone in the race. You couldn't ask for any more.

Low: Watching a horse the caliber of Epiphaneia flounder helplessly, unable to do himself justice. I knew that my hopes were dashed when the field passed the majestic Meydan grandstand for the first time, and he wasn't striding out with his usual gusto. My first thought was, "It's going to be a loooong 1 1/4 miles." Then when Christophe Soumillon got him in a sensible spot on the backstretch, there was a faint glimmer -- not that he'd threaten to win, but that he might at least turn in a respectable tour of the circuit. Yet even that modest idea was soon quashed as Epiphaneia began to labor, couldn't maintain his position, and trudged home last. Soumillon later reported that Epiphaneia resented the kickback and sounded as though he had a breathing problem.

I still don't regret his daring gambit to try dirt, and usually prefer the "nothing ventured, nothing gained" approach. But it was disconcerting to see a couple of reports in Japanese (made into somewhat readable English, thanks to Google translate) citing his horseshoes as a problem: from what I could gather, connections noted that more "study" was needed regarding the proper shoes for the surface. Fair enough that he just doesn't want to go on dirt, but the idea of a footwear fail would be worse. At least we'll get to enjoy him back on the turf, possibly in the June 28 Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-G1).