MARCH 27, 2007
by Kellie Reilly
Now that the fields have been set for Saturday's Dubai World Cup card, I'll discuss the major international contenders. In addition to highlighting logical threats, I'll try to identify a few sneaky sorts who could be overlooked in the wagering.
$6 million DUBAI WORLD CUP (UAE-G1) -- 1 1/4 miles on the dirt
It's difficult to imagine anyone upstaging the Big Three -- Horse of the Year INVASOR (Arg) (Candy Stripes), undefeated sensation DISCREET CAT (Forestry)and multiple Grade 1 hero PREMIUM TAP (Pleasant Tap). When the innumerable variables of horse racing come into play, however, strange results have been known to happen.
If such a surprise is in the offing on Saturday, STORM MAYOR (Bernstein) rates as the most eligible to deliver it. What I find appealing about this Argentinean is an historical angle: in December, he became the first horse in 61 years to win back-to-back editions of the prestigious Gran Premio Internacional Carlos Pellegrini (Arg-G1), a turf contest that has been taken by such subsequent North American stand-outs as *Forli (1966) and *Practicante (1969). Considering the illustrious names on the Pellegrini honor roll, Storm Mayor's achievement is monumental and stamps him as a horse of world-class ability. Indeed, trainer Juan Bianchi, who has conditioned his share of first-rate performers, labeled Storm Mayor "exceptional."
Storm Mayor is no less effective on the dirt, having romped by eight lengths in the 1 9/16-mile Gran Premio de Honor (Arg-G1) last October. He'll be traveling 1 1/4 miles at Nad al Sheba, but the grueling length of the straight tends to put a premium on stamina, and that should suit Storm Mayor perfectly. It's also worth noting that Storm Mayor was recently purchased by Saudi Prince Tirki bin Badr bin Saoud expressly for the World Cup.
(UPDATE: Storm Mayor has since been withdrawn.)
Another Argentinean who now races for Saudi interests is FORTY LICKS (Not for Sale), a dual classic winner and Horse of the Year in his homeland. He defeated Storm Mayor in the Gran Premio Nacional (Arg-G1) when the pair were three-year-olds in November 2005, but one month later, Storm Mayor subdued Forty Licks by a head to earn his first Pellegrini crown. Last time out in Saudi Arabia, Forty Licks clashed with Premium Tap in the 1 1/2-mile Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup (i.e., King's Cup) and wound up a well beaten fourth. He's much better than that, and cutting back in distance could help him. I suspect that Storm Mayor has surpassed him by this point, but Forty Licks is still a class act.
The Japanese hopeful, VERMILION (El Condor Pasa), has turned in career-best efforts in his past two outings, garnering the Nagoya Grand Prix and Kawasaki Kinen by a combined 12 lengths. On the debit side of the ledger, he did not take part in either the Tokyo Daishoten or the February S. (Jpn-G1), which attracted this season's leading lights on the dirt, so I'm not sure how significantly he has improved. Three starts back, Vermilion did line up against the cream of the crop in the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-G1) and finished fourth, a particularly honorable effort considering that he had not run for six months. To sum up, he doesn't have quite the resume of his countryman Kane Hekili, who was promoted to fourth in last year's World Cup. He could be on the upswing, but I'm ambivalent.
Hong Kong's own BULLISH LUCK (Royal Academy) has been a terrific campaigner on the turf for the last few seasons. In 2006, he captured two legs of the Asian Mile Challenge series, claiming a $1 million bonus in the process. The Tony Cruz trainee proved that he's still got it at the age of eight when finishing a close third in the recent Hong Kong Gold Cup (HK-G1). He's never tried dirt, though. His pedigree suggests that he should handle it, but it's asking a lot for him to make his main track debut against the likes of these. Although Bullish Luck tracked closer than usual last time, he has been known to drop far back early, even when the pace is slow, and that can only complicate his task here.
KANDIDATE (Kabool), a Group 3 winner on the all weather last season at Kempton, hoists the British flag. By virtue of his front-running, 5 3/4-length triumph in the Maktoum Challenge Round II (UAE-G3) going nearly nine furlongs, the Clive Brittain charge has created a bit of buzz. Call me perverse, but I'm not seeing it. He looked like a world beater against an easier bunch that day, but he won't have things his own way here with several classy pace-prompters breathing down his neck.
$5 million DUBAI DUTY FREE (UAE-G1) -- nearly 1 1/8 miles on the turf
DAIWA MAJOR (Sunday Silence) is the horse they all have to beat. A Japanese classic winner at three, the chestnut struck top form as a five-year-old in 2006, taking the 1 1/4-mile Tenno Sho Autumn (Jpn-G1) and then turning back sharply in trip to claim the Mile Championship (Jpn-G1). Daiwa Major stretched out to 1 9/16 miles in the Arima Kinen (Jpn-G1) and finished third to the great Deep Impact in his seasonal finale. Effective at a range of distances and blessed with tactical speed, he figures to enjoy a stalk-and-pounce trip at Nad al Sheba.
POMPEII RULER (Genuine), a rising star in Australia, has a connection to Japan. His sire, Genuine, is a Japanese classic-winning son of the ubiquitous Sunday Silence. The lightly raced Pompeii Ruler has made great strides this season. In October, the chestnut gelding very nearly poached the Cox Plate (Aus-G1) before being nabbed late and settling for third. In February, he captured the nine-furlong St. George S. (Aus-G2), and earlier this month, he scored his biggest win so far in the 1 1/4-mile Australian Cup S. (Aus-G1). Pompeii Ruler turned in an excellent work before leaving home, has shipped well and is sending all the right signals in his training at Nad al Sheba. A highly progressive type who should track the pace before delivering a lethal burst, he could well upset the apple cart at a handsome price.
Team Valor's IRRIDESCENCE (Caesour) was one of the top contenders in last year's Duty Free, but the South African champion never got the chance to compete after she impaled herself on a railing in the paddock and injured her stifle. Reappearing the following month in Hong Kong, she masterminded a front-running upset of Ouija Board (GB) in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (HK-G1). Irridescence failed to reproduce that form during a limited European campaign for another trainer. Now back with her longtime conditioner Mike de Kock, she returned with an encouraging third in the Jebel Hatta (UAE-G2) versus males and has been training sharply. Irridescence looks primed to deliver a top effort in the Duty Free, at probably higher odds than were available last year.
Japan's second contender is ADMIRE MOON (End Sweep). Third to Daiwa Major in the Tenno Sho Autumn, he closed with a rush in the 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup (HK-G1) and just failed to nip the redoubtable Pride. Making his four-year-old debut in the 1 3/8-mile Kyoto Kinen (Jpn-G2), Admire Moon showed a a new dimension by stalking the pace and moving earlier to take control in the stretch and hold on by a neck at the line. My main concerns are the shorter distance in the Duty Free, especially since he has been racing over longer trips for the past year, and his poor break last time out. If Admire Moon is able to lie closer here, he would help his chances. If he returns to off-the-pace tactics, he will be flying late, but against a razor-sharp group, he could run out of real estate.
BEST NAME (King's Best), a new recruit for Godolphin, could also find the trip a bit short. His best results last season came at 10 furlongs -- a score in the Prix du Prince d'Orange (Fr-G3) and a runner-up effort in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (Fr-G1) -- and he finished a decent fifth in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1). I think he'll be very successful in the royal blue this year, and he could move forward off his fourth in the Jebel Hatta, but he would probably prefer a little more ground. FORMAL DECREE (Diktat) is an able second stringer for Godolphin. Successful in the Cambridgeshire last fall and the Al Rashidiya (UAE-G3), he is coming off a runner-up performance in the Jebel Hatta.
A Dubai Carnival contestant with stronger claims is LINNGARI (Indian Ridge), who successfully defended his title in the Al Fahidi Fort (UAE-G2) in his seasonal debut. On that occasion, he slammed subsequent Jebel Hatta winner SEIHALI (Alzao) by 3 1/4 lengths. In France last fall, Linngari dead-heated for second in a blanket finish to the Prix de la Foret (Fr-G1), defeating STORMY RIVER (Verglas [Ire]).
Although Stormy River figures to attract support as a French Group 1 winner with several high-level placings to his credit, I've never really been a fan of his. His Prix Jean Prat (Fr-G1) victory came at the expense of a weak group, and he kept coming up short versus solid Group 1 rivals. Trainer Nicolas Clement reportedly was pleased with his final major work in France, so maybe he'll overturn my harsh assessment.
$5 million DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC (UAE-G1) -- 1 1/2 miles on the turf
This event has lured a stellar cast featuring the winners of the 2006 Epsom Derby (Eng-G1), Breeders' Cup Turf (G1), Hong Kong Vase (HK-G1), Preis von Europa (Ger-G1) and Gran Premio del Jockey Club (Ity-G1), as well as horses who placed in the Irish Derby (Ire-G1) and Melbourne Cup (Aus-G1).
POP ROCK (Helissio) has run three straight heroic races without winning, but I expect him to shake off his seconditis here. He came agonizingly close in the two-mile Melbourne Cup, chased Deep Impact home while beating Daiwa Major and everyone else in the Arima Kinen, and in his 2007 bow in the aforementioned Kyoto Kinen, roared home late and came up a neck short of catching Duty Free threat Admire Moon. Pop Rock will relish having the extra furlong to work with at Nad al Sheba.
I've always been partial to Hong Kong superstar VENGEANCE OF RAIN (Zabeel), a high-class galloper who loves a dogfight. Last time out, he turned in a superb effort in the 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Gold Cup. By reeling off his final quarter in a dazzling :21 3/5, he defeated a deep field including World Cup entrant Bullish Luck. Vengeance of Rain has proven himself time and again in top company. After scoring in the 2005 Hong Kong Derby (HK-G1), Queen Elizabeth II Cup and Champions and Chater Cup (HK-G1), he wrapped up the World Racing Series title with a gritty victory over Pride in the Hong Kong Cup (HK-G1). Vengeance of Rain developed an irregular heartbeat early in 2006 and was sent to his native New Zealand for rest and recreation. Back in Hong Kong last fall, the gelding took time to return to his best form, but he hinted that the old embers were still aflame when finishing third in the Hong Kong Cup in December, two lengths adrift of Pride and Admire Moon. He's clearly back to his best now, and he will love the distance.
In several of last year's International Diaries, I kept tabbing RED ROCKS (Ire) (Galileo [Ire]) as a horse to follow, but when it came time to make Breeders' Cup selections, I rated him third, preferring two older Europeans who disappointed. Did he ever make me regret it! In the Turf, Red Rocks adopted different tactics, unleashing a terrific charge from far back to garner his first victory at 1 1/2 miles. It will be fascinating to see what he does on Saturday: revert to his forwardly placed style, or engineer another late rally? Trainer Brian Meehan reports that Red Rocks has trained brilliantly in advance of his four-year-old debut.
YOUMZAIN (Sinndar) is likely to be overlooked in the wagering, but he has even better credentials than Red Rocks did going into the Turf. In the Great Voltigeur S. (Eng-G2), Youmzain defeated Red Rocks, and next time out in the Prix Niel (Fr-G2), he went down by just a half-length to subsequent Arc hero RAIL LINK (Dansili [GB]). He concluded his campaign by conquering a decent group of older horses in the Preis von Europa. Had Youmzain gone to the Breeders' Cup, he might have given Red Rocks a tough time.
The resolute grinder COLLIER HILL (GB) (Dr. Devious [Ire]), now all of nine years old, is an expert in waging wars of attrition, as his nail-biting victories in the 2006 Canadian International S. (Can-G1) and Hong Kong Vase prove. The ex-hurdler has placed in the last two runnings of the Sheema, and it would be no surprise if he slogs his way into the frame again.
QUIJANO (Acatenango) has been an absolute star on the turf during this Carnival. The German-bred has gone from strength to strength, passing each class test along the way, culminating in a tally in the Dubai City of Gold (UAE-G3). The Sheema is a steeper hurdle, but who can find fault with a horse who has won 10 races in a row?
Epsom Derby victor SIR PERCY (Mark of Esteem [Ire]) is vastly better than his poor seventh in the Champion S. (Eng-G1) last October, and he has been pleasing trainer Marcus Tregoning in his gallops. Unfortunately, his Derby form may not mean a great deal, considering the substantial improvement of a couple of Derby runners thereafter. Also, if an inexperienced rival hadn't thrown away his chance by swerving right, Sir Percy probably wouldn't have taken the Blue Riband. I could be selling him short, but he needs to prove himself among the likes of these.
Godolphin's two hopes don't look terribly formidable. York S. (Eng-G2) victor BEST ALIBI (King's Best), a distant third in the Irish Derby, was only sixth in the Dubai City of Gold in his reappearance. LAVEROCK (Octagonal) won the 2006 Prix d'Ispahan (Fr-G1) and Gran Premio del Jockey Club, but he has been beaten twice this Carnival, and Frankie Dettori has chosen to ride Best Alibi.
$2 million DUBAI GOLDEN SHAHEEN (UAE-G1) -- six furlongs on the dirt
Last year, American speedsters swept the top five placings in this sprint down the straight, and on Saturday, the five-strong American contingent could pull off the same feat. That's not even including a pair of ex-Americans, champion THOR'S ECHO (Swiss Yodeler) and multiple stakes victor TERRIFIC CHALLENGE (Royal Academy), who are coming off the Mahab al Shimaal (UAE-G3), the last local prep for this event. While Terrific Challenge strode out a convincing winner, Thor's Echo was a non-threatening sixth.
The most dangerous international candidate could be NATIONAL COLOUR (National Assembly), a three-time Group 1 queen in her native South Africa. She handled the dirt beautifully in her Nad al Sheba debut, gathering herself after a slow start to grab the lead and power clear by 1 3/4 lengths, clocking :58.13 for five furlongs. Underscoring the merits of the race, the runner-up came back to finish second to Terrific Challenge in the Mahab al Shimaal. National Colour will face a much tougher bunch here, but she's been flying under the radar so far and will likely outperform her odds.
Of Japan's two hopefuls, AGNES JEDI (Agnes World) is the more interesting. In the 2006 Shaheen, without the benefit of a prep race over the track, he fared the best of the non-Americans in sixth. This time around, Agnes Jedi shipped early to take part in the Mahab al Shimaal and checked in fifth. Trainer Hideyuki Mori is forecasting improvement in the Shaheen, and Yutaka Take will be in the irons. Mori will also saddle SEEKING THE BEST (Ire) (Seeking the Gold), who has creditable form himself, but possibly not quite the pure speed of his stablemate.
MARCHAND D'OR (Marchand de Sable), winner of the Prix Maurice de Gheest (Fr-G1) at Deauville last August, could be all at sea in this mad dash on the main track.
$2 million U.A.E. DERBY (UAE-G2) -- 1 1/8 miles on the dirt
This classic lies at the mercy of the ultra-impressive ASIATIC BOY (Not for Sale), who has thrashed his opponents in three straight races at Nad al Sheba. After romping in a conditions race, he smothered the field in the U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas (UAE-G3) and most recently cantered home in the Al Bastakiya, the final prep. De Kock rates Asiatic Boy better than Victory Moon, who completed the Guineas/Derby double at Nad al Sheba in 2003 and went on to place third in the 2004 World Cup. As a further measure of his esteem, he's nominated to the April 29 Champions Mile (HK-G1) at Sha Tin, where he would face top older horses on the turf.
The primary threat to the Argentinean-bred is EU TAMBEM (Wild Event), a multiple Group 2 winner in his native Brazil who also garnered the Gran Premio Nacional in Argentina. In his Dubai debut, he scored by five lengths versus his elders in the Maktoum Challenge Round III (UAE-G2). That earned him serious consideration for the World Cup, until he was transferred to Godolphin and redirected to the Derby. On paper, Eu Tambem ranked as the best arrow in Godolphin's quiver, and that verdict was confirmed when Dettori was named to ride.
Also newly added to the Godolphin juggernaut is the filly FOLK (Quiet American). After breaking her maiden by 10 1/4 lengths at Aqueduct for Tom Albertrani, she was sent to trainer Ismail Mohammed in Dubai, and within days of leaving quarantine, she captured the U.A.E. One Thousand Guineas in dominating fashion. Folk likewise hacked up in the U.A.E. Oaks, earning her a crack against males here in her first start under the Godolphin umbrella. Although this is a sizeable step up in class, note that her times for both classics are comparable to those posted by Asiatic Boy.
Nashua S. (G3) winner DAY PASS (Five Star Day), who was promoted to join Godolphin last fall, disappointed in his sophomore bow when finishing fourth to Asiatic Boy in the Al Bastakiya. The gray is eligible to show more in his second attempt at nine furlongs, especially if he doesn't try to pressure Asiatic Boy early. Still, the principals look super tough, and if Godolphin had much faith in him, would they have added Eu Tambem and Folk to the roster to challenge Asiatic Boy? Garrett Gomez picks up the mount.
VICTORY TETSUNI (Gone West), the Japanese colt, closed well late to earn second in the Al Bastakiya and could prove a useful exotics player.
Prince Tirki, the new owner of Storm Mayor, also bought Argentinean Group 1 heroine BARTOLA (Roy) for the Derby. While she is clearly talented and versatile, she reportedly did not travel well, and that looms as a big negative as she approaches the test of her life.
$1 million GODOLPHIN MILE (UAE-G2) -- one mile on the dirt
This event has no world beaters, and many have drawbacks. Notable international entrants include FUSAICHI RICHARD (Kurofune), Japan's champion two-year-colt of 2005 who went one-for-nine last year; Godolphin's pair of KILLYBEGS (Orpen), who has smart form on the turf but has never raced on dirt, and Group 1 winner COURT MASTERPIECE (Polish Precedent), a questionable dirt candidate whose turf form has tailed off; GOLD FOR SALE (Not for Sale), last year's U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas victor who's trying to rebound from a poor effort; Jebel Ali Mile winner PAROLE BOARD (Dynaformer), an inconsistent sort; BOSTON LODGE (Grand Lodge), who capped a busy Carnival with a score in the Burj Nahaar (UAE-G3) but is likely to be found out in better company; and MERLERAULT (Royal Academy), an ordinary handicapper who's exiting a four-length victory in a stakes on the all weather at Cagnes-sur-Mer.
The royally bred MULLINS BAY (Machiavellian) is the most reliable international horse in the field, with back class as a Group 3 winner as well as encouraging recent efforts. After showing flashes of real ability for Aidan O'Brien in 2005, he was sidelined for one year. He ran once for John Hammond in November, finishing a distant second to the classy Ramonti (Martino Alonso) in the Premio Ribot (Ity-G2). Mullins Bay reappeared with de Kock in February and was again runner-up, this time to World Cup contender Kandidate in Round II of the Maktoum Challenge. He suffered a setback after that race, which prompted de Kock to target the Mile rather than the World Cup. I'm expecting a strong performance.
Finally, a reminder that entries for the Godolphin Seven Stars contest close on Friday. Although I've never come close to winning any prizes, it's a fantastic way to learn about the Godolphin horses, especially the unraced three-year-olds. I'm hoping that the new format which allows one to choose 14 horses will improve my chances this year. The details are available at godolphin.com. Good luck to all!
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