Top 10 questions to be answered on Dubai World Cup night
Here are the conundrums I'm most eager to have resolved on the track, counting down in reverse order:
10. Can Surfer or Sloane Avenue overcome their abominable post positions in the Godolphin Mile? Both were major contenders before winding up in posts 16 and 15, respectively. Morning-line favorite Tamarkuz was far more fortunate: he's won half the battle by drawing the rail again.
9. How will Dubday fare in his first attempt at about two miles in the Dubai Gold Cup? The Qatari win machine would be a welcome addition to the staying ranks, if he passes this distance test.
8. Will Al Quoz Sprint contender Sole Power finally win in his ninth try over the Meydan course? Eddie Lynam's top-notch sprinter has managed just a trio of second-place efforts here, including the 2012 Al Quoz. This marks his fifth consecutive appearance in this race, and it might be a case of now or never for the eight-year-old.
7. Will there be a revival of America's old glory days in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, with Secret Circle spearheading Team USA? It's been five years since Kinsale King last scored in this race for the United States. Although the return to dirt should be a boost, Hong Kong's now got its own dirt maestros in the house.
6. Will Solow prove a revelation in the Dubai Turf (formerly Duty Free), vindicating trainer Freddy Head's lofty opinion of him? The late developer has given every indication of becoming a real force on the international scene, but now he's got to go out and prove it in his first Group 1 challenge.
5. Will there be a reversal of American fortunes in the turf races? Doug Salvatore has all of the grim statistics regarding U.S. futility here. Mshawish's last-minute foot bruise doesn't inspire confidence on the eve of the Dubai Turf, while Distinctiv Passion and Green Mask are pitched into the most madcap race on the card, the Al Quoz Sprint. Main Sequence is the best U.S. turf runner on World Cup night, but he's also in the race that's positively overloaded on quality, the Sheema Classic. Then again, maybe Main Sequence is just the sort of American who can win: bred and owned by a Greek family and trained by an Englishman, he's a real cosmopolitan.
4. Will Sheema Classic hopeful Harp Star at last deliver the kind of massive performance she seems capable of? To be blunt, this is put up or shut up time for the alluring Japanese filly, who runs tantalizingly well in defeat, but has yet to live up to the hype. If she can't get it done with an inspired Ryan Moore ride, then Harp Star wouldn't be as good as I still hope she is.
3. Will Mubtaahij emerge as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender in the U.A.E. Derby? If the Dubawi colt can dispatch a proper group of rivals in Golden Barows, Sir Fever and Maftool, he'll bring a better profile to Churchill Downs than most other internationals in the past. And who wouldn't love to see renowned international trainer Mike de Kock at the Derby?
2. Will California Chrome join Silver Charm (1998) and Animal Kingdom (2013) as Kentucky Derby winners who went on to victory in the World Cup? The reigning American Horse of the Year is already a Hollywood-style rags to riches story, and if he can take the world's richest race too, the "Chromies" will go wild.
1. Will Epiphaneia transfer his world-class turf form to dirt in the World Cup? As a fan of both his sire and dam -- Symboli Kris S and Cesario -- I've happily watched his progress over the last couple of seasons, culminating in a jaw-dropping performance in the Japan Cup. Unlike the stereotypical turf horse, who rates off the pace and slays his foes with a lethal late kick, Epiphaneia is a keen traveler with a high cruising speed, a galloper of raw power whose running style -- at least theoretically -- could apply to dirt. I think that Epiphaneia is the most naturally gifted horse in the race, and that makes this question the most tantalizing of all.
Epiphaneia photo credit: Neville Hopwood/Dubai Racing Club.