A total of 15 American-based contenders will line up during the blockbuster Dubai World Cup program at Meydan on March 31, according to the projected fields released by the Dubai Racing Club on Wednesday. Final declarations will be made on Monday.
$10 million Dubai World Cup (G1)
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert is double-handed in his pursuit of a fourth World Cup, with last year’s champion three-year-old male West Coast and Mubtaahij. West Coast, who’s placed to now-retired Horse of the Year Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and Pegasus World Cup (G1) in his last pair, is favored to emulate erstwhile stablemate Arrogate (2017), Captain Steve (2001), and Silver Charm (1998). Mubtaahij was second to California Chrome in 2016 and fourth here a year ago for former trainer Mike de Kock.
Adding plenty of intrigue to the World Cup is champion older mare Forever Unbridled, aiming to becoming the first female to prevail in the about 1 1/4-mile test. The Dallas Stewart veteran was last seen clinching an Eclipse Award in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). The other American hopes in the World Cup are $2.9 million-earner Gunnevera, third in the Pegasus World Cup for Antonio Sano, and Doug O’Neill’s Pavel.
Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero Talismanic seeks an unprecedented double in the World Cup, which marks his dirt debut for French maestro Andre Fabre. Although representing Godolphin, prolific on the World Cup honor roll with eight winners, the son of Medaglia d’Oro is trying to become the flagship operation’s first winner not trained by an Emirati.
Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor, responsible for seven of their World Cup trophies, relies on Thunder Snow. He could make history too as no UAE Derby (G2) winner has ever come back to take the World Cup. But Thunder Snow must improve from a distant second in the Super Saturday prep, the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), to World Cup rival North America from the Satish Seemar yard.
Likewise coming off Round 3 is third-placer Furia Cruzada, the former Chilean champion mare who was drubbed by Arrogate last year. The fifth-placer from 2017 is also back to try again – Awardee, better known as Lani’s half-brother, the lone Japanese hope in the World Cup.
$6 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1)
The about 1 1/2-mile turf feature could boil down to a Godolphin versus Japan show but the British cannot be overlooked.
Godolphin fields a strong team spearheaded by Fabre’s Cloth of Stars, last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) runner-up. Charlie Appleby’s Hawkbill just captured the Dubai City of Gold (G2) on Super Saturday, where bin Suroor’s Best Solution finished a subpar ninth.
The Japanese juggernaut comprises Rey de Oro, the reigning Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) winner who was second in the Japan Cup (G1); Satono Crown, who famously upset Highland Reel in the 2016 Hong Kong Vase (G1); and Kyoto’s QE II Cup (G1) heroine Mozu Katchan.
Great Britain sends a noteworthy trio as well. Sir Michael Stoute’s Poet’s Word brings a tantalizing profile as the second in last fall’s Champion (G1) and Irish Champion (G1); Eclipse (G1) third Desert Encounter has developed well for David Simcock; and the ex-John Gosden Khalidi has upside with new trainer Clive Cox. Irish wizard Aidan O’Brien calls upon Idaho, Highland Reel’s full brother who was fifth in the Japan Cup.
$6 million Dubai Turf (G1)
Japan might just have the about nine-furlong prize surrounded, not only with defending champion Vivlos and 2016 winner Real Steel, but Neorealism, who’s taken his game on the road before to conquer Sha Tin’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1); Shuka Sho (G1) vixen Deirdre; and Crocosmia, who missed narrowly to Sheema hopeful Mozu Katchan in Kyoto’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
O’Brien’s posse includes Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) runner-up Lancaster Bomber and Deauville. Fabre’s lightly raced Trais Fluors, an Haras de Saint Pair homebred who was second to Thunder Snow in last summer’s Prix Jean Prat (G1), has dark horse appeal. So does Juddmonte homebred and Gosden pupil Monarchs Glen, last seen posting a new career high in the Darley (G3).
Godolphin’s contingent has been out already at the Carnival. The rapidly improving Blair House upset a wide-trip Benbatl in the Jebel Hatta (G1) on Super Saturday, in which Promising Run was a hard-trying fourth and Leshlaa a slow-starting last. De Kock’s Janoobi, a gallant third in the Jebel Hatta, was stretching out a bit following his Zabeel Mile (G2) score over Championship from the Ahmad bin Harmash yard.
$2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1)
American sprinters should have a stranglehold on this about six-furlong dash on the dirt. Divisional champion and TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) star Roy H has won six of his last seven for Peter Miller; Mind Your Biscuits is back to defend his Shaheen crown; and X Y Jet, just denied here in 2016, has romped twice since his return from surgery.
Muarrab, who outdueled X Y Jet two years ago, and 12-year-old Reynaldothewizard, the 2013 Shaheen victor, have been freshened since resurfacing earlier in the UAE season. The other locals are exiting Super Saturday’s Mahab al Shimaal (G3), where upsetter Jordan Sport rode the inside speed bias to a resounding dirt debut. Doug Watson’s My Catch was a too-bad-to-be-true last, getting away slowly and later found to have bled.
Japan’s Matera Sky has won his past two on the dirt versus lesser at home, and locally based Shillong, winner of the Jebel Ali Sprint two back, gets the last-minute invitation after the surprising absences of Godolphin’s Comicas and Hong Kong’s D B Pin.
$1 million Al Quoz Sprint (G1)
American fans can look forward to a rematch between the top two from the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), the Miller duo of Stormy Liberal and Richard’s Boy. They’re joined by stablemate Conquest Tsunami, who earned his invitation by beating Stormy Liberal in the Daytona (G3) last out, and by Mark Casse’s Holding Gold, all hoping to break through as the first U.S.-based horse to win a turf race on World Cup night.
But the about six-furlong test down the Meydan straightaway promises to be a contentious scramble. Godolphin’s Blue Point, among the top British sprint sophomores last season, returned with a bang-up second to local kingpin Ertijaal in the Meydan Sprint (G2) over a panel shorter. Fellow Appleby trainee Jungle Cat then surprisingly dismissed Ertijaal in the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint on Super Saturday, casting an additional layer of vulnerability upon that hitherto formidable foe. Godolphin’s Baccarat was a better-than-appears fourth in the course-and-distance prep for Appleby, and Irish-based Hit the Bid, third to Ertijaal and Blue Point in his latest, had a productive Carnival himself.
Representing the top-class Australian sprint scene are Group 1-placed Faatinah, a handicap winner earlier in the Carnival; Group 1 veteran Music Magnate; and Illustrious Lad. Team Europe includes British Champions Sprint (G1) hero Librisa Breeze, O’Brien’s Washington DC (beaten only a couple of lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint after breaking a beat slow), and 11th-hour addition Magical Memory, a Group 2 veteran who was third to Blue Point in the Bengough (G3) at Ascot last fall.
$2 million UAE Derby (G2)
Kentucky Derby (G1) implications loom amid a Coolmore-Godolphin clash as O’Brien’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) hero Mendelssohn makes his eagerly-awaited dirt audition versus Appleby’s UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) romper Gold Town. With 100 points to the winner, and 40 to the runner-up, the UAE Derby could end up securing two starting spots at Churchill Downs.
Mendelssohn, Beholder’s $3 million half-brother by Scat Daddy, captured Dundalk’s Patton S. in his March 9 reappearance, netting 20 points on the European leaderboard. But he can put himself in the forefront of the main Derby leaderboard with the likely strong performance here. Stablemates Threeandfourpence and Seahenge, the respective second and third from the Patton, are once again supporting actors in the drama.
American shipper Reride comes off a Mine That Bird Derby win for Steve Asmussen, and principals from the Japan Road to the Derby are also involved. Taiki Ferveur and Ruggero, the respective second and third from the Hyacinth at Tokyo, renew rivalry. Ruggero, who had previously taken the Cattleya Sho as the first Japan scoring race, is a U.S. Triple Crown nominee.
If Gold Town has stamped himself as the leading local, another son of Street Cry, Seemar’s Yulong Warrior, entered the UAE Derby picture by crushing the Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday, and Watson’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) nominee Rayya earned her chance by upending Godolphin’s Winter Lightning in the UAE Oaks (G3) – both over the same track and about 1 3/16-mile trip.
$1 million Dubai Gold Cup (G2)
Two-time defending champion Vazirabad bids to become the first horse to three-peat on World Cup night, and the Aga Khan homebred warmed up a similar way to last year when second in the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3), this time to Appleby’s class-climbing Rare Rhythm. But the about two-mile marathon has other serious contenders, among them Ascot Gold Cup (G1) winner Big Orange for Michael Bell; Jessica Harrington’s Torcedor, who like Big Orange has traded decisions with Order of St George; the promising Dal Harraild from the William Haggas yard; and Simcock’s grand old veteran Sheikhzayedroad.
Mike Maker sends over Run Time, winner of Gulfstream’s H. Allen Jerkens two back in his only opportunity at the distance. Germany’s Parviz was most recently second to Garlingari at Cagnes-sur-Mer.
Four contenders are stepping up in trip off the City of Gold. Godolphin’s Frontiersman and progressive Gold Star were respectively second and third to Sheema contender Hawkbill, while last year’s S A Derby (G1) winner Al Sahem was fifth for de Kock. Janszoon, only 11th in the City of Gold, rebounded as the runner-up in the Abu Dhabi Championship (G3). Los Barbados has mixed it up with British shipper Prince of Arran during the Carnival. Godolphin mare Natural Scenery hasn’t quite lived up to bin Suroor’s hopes but gets another chance, and stablemate Red Galileo can do better than his distant fifth behind Rare Rhythm and Vazirabad in the prep.
$1 million Godolphin Mile (G2)
With the defection of last year’s beaten favorite Sharp Azteca due to a setback, the American raiding party is now single-handed with Economic Model. The Chad Brown pupil has won his last pair around a one-turn mile, notably the Hal’s Hope (G3).
But there are a couple of expatriates in contention, defending champion Second Summer and his stablemate from Watson’s yard, Kimbear, who upset Heavy Metal in Super Saturday’s Burj Nahaar (G3). Although Heavy Metal had a tough ask from post 13 that day, his weary fourth implies that he might have gone off the boil after a series of huge performances earlier in the UAE season. Also, it has yet to be announced who will take over his training from the embattled Salem bin Ghadayer.
Seemar’s Raven’s Corner, who’d beaten Kimbear recently, is a top threat if you ignore his excusable loss elsewhere on Super Saturday. A similar comment would apply to Special Fighter, well below form in Round 3, if he doesn’t find a metric mile too short. Burj Nahaar placegetters Secret Ambition and Musawatt face deeper waters this time, as do last-out Abu Dhabi stakes winner Muntazah and Jebel Ali Mile (G3) victor Shamaal Nibras. The latter two count as the lesser half of the Watson quartet.
Prix de Ris-Orangis (G3) scorer Rosa Imperial was initially aiming for the Al Quoz, but the Fabre/Godolphin tandem rerouted her to this spot in light of her dirt training in Dubai. Japanese shipper Adirato’s lone stakes credit was a close second to Epicharis in last spring’s Hyacinth, and Grade 3-placed compatriot Akito Crescent is likewise in need of a career best.
Pending Monday’s final declarations, here are the fields: