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Gentildonna launches international campaign in Sheema Classic

Gentildonna cut an imposing figure on the Meydan turf (Neville Hopwood/Dubai Racing Club)
Japanese Horse of the Year Gentildonna makes her debut on the international stage in Saturday's Group 1, $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan. Last seen edging Orfevre in the Grade 1 Japan Cup on November 25, the Deep Impact filly aims to extend her winning streak to six in the about 1 1/2-mile turf test.

Gentildonna, who also swept the Fillies' Triple Crown in her homeland last season, stands to become the third distaffer to win the Sheema Classic (following Sun Classique in 2008 and Dar Re Mi in 2010). She would likewise rank as the third Japanese winner of this race (preceded by Stay Gold in 2001 and Heart's Cry in 2006). Trained by Sei Ishizaka, the Sunday Racing Co. colorbearer kicks off a campaign geared toward the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October, where she could atone for her sire's loss.

Her leading rival is St Nicholas Abbey, hero of the 2011 Breeders' Cup Turf and the past two runnings of the Group 1 Coronation Cup. A near-miss runner-up to Cirrus des Aigles here last year, the Aidan O'Brien charge was most recently third in his title defense in the Turf at Santa Anita.

Japan's Trailblazer and the Aga Khan's Shareta had also competed in the Breeders' Cup Turf, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively. Trailblazer has run once in the interim, a disappointing 10th in the Group 1 Maktoum Challenge Round 3 on Tapeta, and reverts to turf in hopes of regrouping. Shareta was expected to retire after her trip to Santa Anita, but the Alain de Royer Dupre mare takes one last tilt at Group 1 glory here. Second in the 2011 Arc, Shareta reached her peak last summer with victories in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks and Group 1 Prix Vermeille, and warrants respect in this spot.

The globetrotting Dunaden is best known for his heart-stopping verdict in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup in 2011, just denying World Cup contender Red Cadeaux. The French-based stayer had no success in Europe last term, but he did score Down Under in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup at about this distance. Dunaden subsequently failed to defend his titles in the Melbourne Cup and in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase, and looks to bounce back in his 2013 debut for Mikel Delzangles.

St Nicholas Abbey just missed in last year's Sheema Classic (Breeders' Cup Ltd.)
The Mike de Kock-trained Await the Dawn comes off a solid second in the local prep, the Group 2 Dubai City of Gold, and two starts back, set a new course record for about 1 1/4 miles.

Godolphin relies on a pair from the Saeed bin Suroor yard, Prince Bishop and Sharestan. Prince Bishop has finished third in both World Cup preps on the Tapeta, the Maktoum Challenge Round 3 and the Group 2 Maktoum Challenge Round 2, and switches to the grass for the first time in 18 months. Sharestan, an impressive winner in his Carnival premiere, was a troubled third in the Group 2 Al Rashidiya and a lackluster seventh in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta, and takes a big step up in distance.

Royal Diamond, who scored a hard-fought victory in the Group 1 Irish St Leger in September, weakened to seventh in the Group 3 Nad al Sheba Trophy in his comeback. That was forgivable, since he was setting the pace under top weight at about 1 3/4 miles. Royal Diamond will strip fitter Saturday while trimming back in distance.

Very Nice Name, who wasn't highly tried in his native France, has been unbeatable in Qatar this winter while compiling a five-race winning skein. German shipper Girolamo ended 2012 on a high note when taking the Group 1 Preis von Europa, and returns from a six-month vacation here.

Cavalryman, a close third in the City of Gold, steps up to about two grassy miles for Saturday's Group 3, $1 million Dubai Gold Cup. Once a top three-year-old in France, the Godolphin runner prevailed in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris and Group 2 Prix Niel before finishing third to Sea the Stars in the 2009 Arc. Cavalryman reinvented himself as a stayer in 2012, winning a couple of English listed races, but the bin Suroor veteran didn't get involved from off the pace in the Melbourne Cup.

Stablemate Ahzeemah eked out a tight finish in the local prep, the Nad al Sheba Trophy, with de Kock's Star Empire in third. Mahmood al Zarooni's Tenenbaum was an eye-catching fourth, and the John Oxx-trained Saddler's Rock a useful fifth. Both are entitled to move forward in the main event, especially Saddler's Rock, a dual Group 2 hero who was third in last year's Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup.

Imperial Monarch, the reigning winner of the Grand Prix de Paris, was last seen reporting home sixth in the Grade 1 Canadian International. The O'Brien colt tries this marathon trip for the first time, but because he is a half-brother to the classy stayer Mount Athos, he could appreciate the added ground.

Other contenders include Group 3 Prix de Lutece heroine Verema, who capped 2012 with a fourth in the Group 1 Prix Royal Oak; multiple German Group 3 scorer Seismos; Averroes, fourth in this race a year ago; and Jutland, who wheels back from a win in the Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship March 17.

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