Which American is the right American in Dubai World Cup?

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TwinSpires Staff

March 24th, 2016


The $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) will be run at Meydan on Saturday and it is one of the strongest renewals ever. The switch back to dirt a couple of years ago has worked out well and the American contingent is strong enough to sweep the board.

That said, the easy part is picking an American-raced horse. But, which one? Not very easy at all.

First, some background.

The dirt track at Meydan, like the previous Tapeta surface, gets quicker as the night goes on. You might watch horses on the undercard that rally from far back to win on the dirt track but it rarely happens in the World Cup.

The sun and heat make it impossible to keep the racing surface moist and tight. As the sun goes down, two things happen. The temperature drops some which tightens the track. But, the humidity that the sun burns off during daylight hours comes back with a vengeance, further tightening the track. By the time the World Cup is run at 9 p.m. local time, the track plays noticeably faster.

Still, because of the sun and heat during the day, the kickback on the dirt track is severe. Racing three or four wide is not that bad and despite losing ground, it is preferable to saving ground while racing in behind horses eating the kickback.

So post position and running styles become very important. And the horse that benefitted the most from Wednesday’s post position draw is 2014 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit), who drew post 11 in the 12-horse field.

With his natural tactical speed, Victor Espinoza should be able to forwardly place California Chrome going by the finish line the first time. If he makes an easy lead, fine. If he has to stalk from the outside, that’s fine as well.

California Chrome shipped over early and was able to get a race over the Meydan surface going this distance. What can unglue a horse the first time they try to race at Meydan are not only the lights that illuminate the track but the lights from the massive infield television screens on their left and the lights from the Meydan structure on their right. For a horse that has never raced at night, it can be quite intimidating.

Logistically, racing at Meydan presents some challenges. Horses are trucked to the track from a short distance away then have to walk enormous distances through tunnels to go get saddled and mounted by the jockey. It’s no big deal if you have been here a month but tougher on horses that ship in here and don’t have enough time to get acclimated.

Of the American contingent, FROSTED (Tapit), KEEN ICE (Curlin) and California Chrome have all been in Meydan for over a month preparing for the big night. HOPPERTUNITY (Any Given Saturday) and MSHAWISH (Medaglia d’Oro) did not come over early and will try to win racing’s biggest prize the more conventional way.

I thought Mshawish had a big chance of winning the Dubai World Cup after he won the Donn H. (G1) at Gulfstream Park. His last two races on dirt have been strong and he looked like he had the pedigree and running style to handle Saturday’s circumstances.

But on Wednesday, Mshawish drew post 2 and while that might not seem to be a big deal at first glance, it raises concerns for me. Since switching to the dirt, he has been able to show better tactical speed. But I can’t see him going to the front and making all the running against a stellar field.

Somehow, Frankie Dettori will have to get away from the gate cleanly, wait for the outside speed to clear the pack and then try to get to the outside of them for a stalking trip. If Mshawish gets stuck down on the rail, I don’t think he will have the chance to run the race that he is capable of. Flip post positions with California Chrome and I would pick Mshawish to win from post 11. But with him in post 2, I have to go with California Chrome.

Finally, when examining the race’s past performances, pay attention to the horses that have had races over the track. Don’t expect to see a logical progression up to the race. The history of the Dubai World Cup is the importance of having a race over the track and it doesn’t seem to matter how strong that race might have been.

With only three weeks between the final round of the Maktoum Challenge (UAE-G1) and the World Cup, trainers usually race their horses into shape and use that last prep race as an ultimate workout. You will see horses on Saturday in all the races jump up in form and it’s really a matter of the trainer timing the horse’s progression to the big race.

MUBTAAHIJ (Dubawi) ran great here last season. Rested up after the Belmont Stakes (G1), he has had two races to get ready and neither shows much possibility of sitting on a big race. But this is Mike de Kock and if Mubtaahij is ready to go, you have to ignore those two races. He drew well and has superstar rider Christophe Soumillon back in the irons.

Finally, Keen Ice did not look very good in his local prep race when beaten 11 lengths in the Maktoum Challenge. It might now up in the past performances that you are using for the race but Dale Romans is adding blinkers. Check for details on any equipment changes. Having the great Ryan Moore back aboard has to count for something.