Runner-up to all-conquering Enable in last October’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), Godolphin’s Cloth of Stars can claim the most glittering formline going into Saturday’s $6 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1). But the Andre Fabre charge will need to produce his best at Meydan to repel a three-pronged Japanese challenge as well as Sir Michael Stoute’s well-regarded Poet’s Word.
While Cloth of Stars was useful enough in his younger days, capturing a couple of French classic trials and placing third in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1), he hit new heights at four last campaign. The Sea the Stars colt started off with a hat trick featuring a course-record victory in the Prix d’Harcourt (G2) and a Group 1 breakthrough in the Prix Ganay (G1). Those early-season results portend well for Saturday, when he’s likely to move forward off his prep second to stablemate Talismanic in a Chantilly conditions race. Cloth of Stars didn’t have the finishing speed going about 1 3/16 miles on all-weather against the World Cup (G1) contender, but he’ll be in his element back up to about 1 1/2 miles on turf.
Godolphin’s other two entrants, Hawkbill and Best Solution, represent trainers Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor respectively. Hawkbill, whose biggest score remains the 2016 Eclipse (G1), tuned up with a course-and-distance win in the Dubai City of Gold (G2) on Super Saturday. Best Solution did not put his best foot forward that day in ninth after being hung out wide. If he’s entitled to a more characteristic effort with a sensible trip, the multiple Group 3 victor is a more logical place chance.
Japan, thrice successful in the Sheema, has dispatched three of its high-profile campaigners. Satono Crown owns the most eye-catching results, having mugged Highland Reel in the 2016 Hong Kong Vase (G1) and added last summer’s Takarazuka Kinen (G1). The son of Marju was a hard-trying second to two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Kitasan Black in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1), but that effort on bottomless ground apparently emptied him ahead of his ensuing starts. Now fresh for Noriyuki Hori, Satono Crown returns a prime player at his optimal trip and reunites with his Hong Kong partner, Joao Moreira.
Last year’s Japanese champion three-year-old colt, Rey de Oro, and Mozu Katchan, the runner-up in the balloting for the three-year-old filly title, are making their first starts outside their homeland. Rey de Oro launched a long, sustained move to lift the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1), and exuded class in his fall kickoff in the Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2). A fine second in the Japan Cup (G1) in his first start versus older foes, beating a subpar Kitasan Black, the King Kamehameha colt was a ring-rusty third in his Kyoto Kinen (G2) reappearance. Mozu Katchan came back in the same prep, delivering a robust kick before fitness may have told and she was swamped late in fourth. Sure to keep progressing with age like sire Harbinger, Mozu Katchan placed in two fillies’ classics, the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1) and Shuka Sho (G1), and defeated elders in her 2017 finale in Kyoto’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1).
Poet’s Word could be sitting on a breakout season for Stoute, a master at bringing older horses to their peak. Returning to likely his best distance for the first time since taking the Glorious (G3) at Goodwood, the son of recently deceased Poet’s Voice did well to finish second in both the Irish Champion (G1) and Champion (G1) at 1 1/4 miles. An unfavorable passage in the December 10 Hong Kong Cup (G1) contributed to his sixth-place effort, so that result shouldn’t be held against him. New pilot Frankie Dettori figures to have him well placed.
Idaho hasn’t emulated older brother Highland Reel’s penchant for international success, so it’s significant that trainer Aidan O’Brien told the Dubai notes team he’s changed the travel routine. Having consistently run below his European form abroad, Idaho was a better fifth in the Japan Cup last time out. Perhaps the wizard of Ballydoyle has found the right adjustments in his case. Yet with his career high being the Hardwicke (G2) at Royal Ascot, the Group 1 bridesmaid still needs to find a bit more at this level. It’s possible that Idaho has some room for improvement, but perhaps not as much scope as Poet’s Word.
King Edward VII (G2) runner-up Khalidi likely has a big race in him at some point for new trainer Clive Cox, if in a softer spot. David Simcock’s Group 3 scorer Desert Encounter, best known for grabbing third in the Eclipse at 50-1, probably doesn’t have any loftier ambitions here.
Here’s the complete field after Wednesday’s draw: