Handicapping the Dubai World Cup: race trends

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 24th, 2017

Arrogate photo courtesy Melanie Martines @SkimtheRail

Arrogate stands apart in Saturday’s $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1), whether your measuring stick of choice is depth of form or the times he’s put up.

There’s also a race stat in his favor: reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winners are 4-0 in the World Cup. That’s from the old days at Nad al Sheba, where Cigar (1996), Pleasantly Perfect (2004), Invasor (2007), and Curlin (2008) all held sway, but since Meydan’s gone back to dirt, the old trend figures to be revivified.

Indeed, it’s a strong signal that California Chrome struck here last year. Although he was well removed from his 2014 BC Classic third, and his second to Arrogate still lay in the future, the Classic-placer form worked in the former dirt years at Nad al Sheba. Captain Steve (2001) and Roses in May (2005) flattered their respective BC Classic conquerors Tiznow/Giant’s Causeway and Ghostzapper in absentia.

As if Arrogate needed something else in his favor, he prepped in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), the replacement/successor race to the Donn H. (G1) over the same nine-furlong trip at Gulfstream that’s produced four World Cup winners. The Donn was historically the most productive U.S. prep, used by Cigar, Invasor, Roses in May, and Captain Steve (for Arrogate’s trainer, Bob Baffert).

Baffert’s other hope, Hoppertunity, graduated from another successful U.S. prep, the San Antonio (G2), which served as the springboard for Pleasantly Perfect and for Well Armed (2009).

If you’re casting about for a trend that goes against Arrogate, six of the last eight World Cup winners had tried the race before. Meydan’s Tapeta years are influencing this factoid, but it’s continued to play out in the first two years here on the dirt, with both Prince Bishop (2015) and California Chrome improving off previous World Cup losses.

Hoppertunity fits this pattern too, having finished third to Chrome last year. Mubtaahij (second), Special Fighter (fourth), Keen Ice (eighth), and Long River (seventh in 2015) can likewise take comfort from this stat.

But Mubtaahij and Lani, the past two winners of the UAE Derby, must defy an enduring trend against them. No winner of the UAE Derby has ever come back to add the World Cup, not even such outstanding performers as Discreet Cat or Asiatic Boy.

Another negative stat for Lani – as well as half-brother Awardee and fellow Japanese standard-bearers Gold Dream and Apollo Kentucky – is that Japan has had no success in World Cups on dirt. The lone Japanese winner, Victoire Pisa (2011), prevailed on the Tapeta, where he famously spearheaded the exacta with compatriot Transcend.

An additional question about Apollo Kentucky and Awardee, one-two in the December 29 Tokyo Daishoten (G1) when last seen, is their lack of a recent prep. Only two have managed to win the World Cup in their first start of the year, Singspiel (1997) and Almutawakel (who reportedly participated in a private trial) (1999).

Japanese champion mare To the Victory fared best on the dirt when second to Captain Steve in 2001, which also rates as the top World Cup performance by a distaffer. Chilean champion Furia Cruzada will try to join her on the podium.

Furia Cruzada was third in the final local prep, the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), traditionally an important indicator as the launching pad for seven winners. Taken at face value, that would boost the top two from Round 3, Long River and Special Fighter, but again context is everything.

Round 3’s historical significance is mostly bound up with the powerhouse Godolphin operation, whose standouts Dubai Millennium (2000), Street Cry (2002), and Electrocutionist (2006) all won on the way to World Cup glory. Two other Godolphin winners, Monterosso (2012) and African Story (2014), moved forward off Round 3 losses, as did the ex-Godolphin Prince Bishop (who was still trained by Saeed bin Suroor after donning other Maktoum family silks) (2015).

As a seven-time World Cup winner, bin Suroor can never be discounted in Dubai’s signature race. He relies on Move Up, a useful fourth in his dirt debut in Round 3.

But aside from the potent bin Suroor angle, Move Up doesn’t fit the general pattern of World Cup winners’ most recent performances. Thirteen winners were coming off wins, and another five had finished second in their last prep. Only three had failed to crack the top three in their latest. Yet bin Suroor trained two of those three outliers – Almutawakel (again) and African Story.

African Story is also one of only three World Cup winners who had lost their previous attempts over a classic distance, along with Captain Steve and Roses in May. Thus Gun Runner fans can cling to those precedents (as can Gold Dream, Mubtaahij, and Lani). Neolithic, however, is trying to become the first horse to win the World Cup without any prior experience over 1 1/4 miles.