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Little Mike takes on the world in Duty Free
Breeders' Cup Turf star Little Mike looms a serious threat in the Group 1, $5
million Dubai Duty Free at Meydan on Saturday. The about nine-furlong test on
turf has attracted a deep and talented field from across the globe, including
New Zealand standout Ocean Park; France's Giofra and French Fifteen; the
streaking Sajjhaa; the Mike de Kock trio of The Apache, Igugu and Mushreq; and
David Simcock's Trade Storm and I'm a Dreamer.
|Little Mike figures to flash his early speed for new rider Gary Stevens
Little Mike was unfortunate to come along in the same year as Wise Dan, or he
might well have reigned as the 2012 champion turf horse and Horse of the Year.
The scrappy gelding swept three major titles -- the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve
Turf Classic at 1 1/8 miles, Grade 1 Arlington Million at 1 1/4 miles and
Breeders' Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles, the latter in a a stakes-record 2:22.83.
Trainer Dale Romans gave him an opportunity to book a World Cup ticket in the
Group 1 Maktoum Challenge Round 3, but Little Mike didn't put his best foot
forward on the Tapeta and checked in eighth. His tactical speed makes him
dangerous, especially back on his preferred surface, and he picks up Gary
Ocean Park recorded a Group 1 hat trick in Australia, landing the Underwood and
Caulfield before capturing the nation's premier weight-for-age event, the Cox
Plate, last October. The Gary Hennessy trainee already has two prep runs under
his belt this season, and proved that he was back on song with a powerful win in
the Group 1 New Zealand Stakes, his fifth success at the top level. Ocean Park is venturing to the Northern
Hemisphere to boost his stallion value, and a trip to Royal Ascot beckons
Giofra, winner of the Group 1 Falmouth versus distaffers in July, exits a
hard-charging second against males in the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup December 9. Her
compatriot French Fifteen, who nearly upset Camelot in last spring's Group 1 Two
Thousand Guineas, returned to action with a fine second in a Chantilly
conditions race on March 2.
Godolphin's Sajjhaa has been on a roll throughout the Carnival, and the
six-year-old mare is on the verge of a grand slam in the Duty Free. She is
three-for-three since Saeed bin Suroor fitted her with a hood, comprising the
Group 2 Cape Verdi, the Group 2 Balanchine in course-record time at this
distance, and the Group 1 Jebel Hatta versus males. Sajjhaa will try to emulate the
great mare Ipi Tombe, the only Jebel Hatta winner to follow up in the Duty Free.
The Apache has run two bang-up races so far for de Kock. After capturing the
Group 2 Al Rashidiya off a year-long layoff, the former South African champion
was just run down late by Sajjhaa in the Jebel Hatta. The same cannot be said
for his stablemate Igugu, who has run well below the form that saw her crowned
South Africa's Horse of the Year. Igugu set too hot a pace when tiring to third
in the Balanchine, but had no such excuse when a lifeless sixth in the Jebel
Hatta, and is running out of time to regain her old sparkle. Not to be
overlooked is de Kock's third hopeful, the progressive Mushreq, who burst to a 3
1/4-length tally in the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort.
|Sajjhaa, The Apache (left) and Igugu (behind on right) will renew rivalry
(Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club)
Another rapid improver at the Carnival is Trade Storm, a visually-stunning
last to first winner in his past two, including the Group 2 Zabeel Mile. Simcock will also be represented by I'm a Dreamer, the reigning Grade 1
Beverly D. heroine, who has not raced since her sixth in the Breeders' Cup Filly
& Mare Turf.
Godolphin's City Style, third in the 2012 Duty Free, has placed in both the
Al Rashidiya and Jebel Hatta this term. Fellow Mahmood al Zarooni pupil
Fulbright was third in the Zabeel Mile, while bin Suroor has Aesop's Fables,
last season's Group 1 Prix Jean Prat victor, who reverts to turf after flopping
Wigmore Hall will be competing in his third consecutive Duty Free. Third in
2011 and fourth in 2012, the Michael Bell trainee appears better suited to
longer trips at this stage of his career, as implied by his back-to-back wins in
the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf over 1 1/2 miles at Woodbine. Wigmore Hall had
prepped in the Jebel Hatta for the past two years, but this time, he makes his
seasonal reappearance in this spot.
The Group 1, $1 million Al Quoz Sprint, an about five-furlong dash down the
straight, likewise features a global cast.
South African supremo Shea Shea rates as the one to beat off his course
record-setting romp in the March 9 Meydan Sprint, in his second start off the
bench for de Kock. Placegetters Sole Power and Russian Soul, as well as
also-rans Russian Rock, Spirit Quartz, Medicean Man, Monsieur Joe and Invincible
Ash, have a mountain to climb to reverse form.
|Shea Shea tops a full field in the Al Quoz Sprint
(Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club)
American hopes rest in Varsity and Great Attack, the respective first and
third from the February 2 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint. The Christophe
Clement-trained Varsity will tackle top-level company for the first time, while
Great Attack has placed fourth and fifth in the past two Breeders' Cup Turf
Sprints for Wesley Ward.
The Aidan O'Brien-trained Starspangledbanner was a better-than-appears 10th
in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, free-wheeling on the front end before giving
way rapidly in the closing stages. The former Australian and European champion
hasn't been the same since returning from a failed stud career, but he could
have another mighty race left in him.
Hong Kong has a dynamic duo in Eagle Regiment, two-time winner of the Group 1
Centenary Sprint Cup, and the nine-year-old Joy and Fun, who won this race back
in 2010 and was a strong third last year. Singapore will be represented by Mr
Big, runner-up in last May's Group 1 KrisFlyer International Sprint.
Carnival regulars Dux Scholar and Ganas also deserve their chance on the big
night. Dux Scholar beat Russian Soul and Medicean Man under top weight in a
course-and-distance handicap, and Ganas has been showing plenty of dash, only to
tire on the Tapeta.
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