May 25, 2024

Past two Dubai Turf champions aim to give Japan three-peat

Vivlos leads the Japanese team (c) Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins

No horse has won two runnings of the Dubai Turf (G1), a stat that defending champion Vivlos and 2016 winner Real Steel aim to erase in Saturday’s $6 million renewal at Meydan. Their Japanese compatriots Neorealism, Deirdre, and Crocosmia will also try to extend the nation’s hot hand in the about nine-furlong affair, while Godolphin’s Benbatl bids to revive the fortunes of the home team, and Lancaster Bomber tops the European invaders.

Real Steel was on the premises to defend his title in 2017, only to experience a bleeding episode and had to be withdrawn. Trainer Yoshito Yahagi is confident that the son of Deep Impact is back on song, and he once again arrives with top form from Japan. Among the leading sophomores of 2015, Real Steel was classic-placed to Duramente and Kitasan Black, and he chased Maurice in the 2016 Tenno Sho Autumn (G1). After missing World Cup night, Real Steel returned triumphant in the October 8 Mainichi Okan (G2). In his only subsequent start, he boxed on for fourth to Kitasan Black (and Sheema Classic [G1] contender Satono Crown) in a boggy Tenno Sho Autumn. Given how hard a race that was on the principals, and his history of bleeding, it was a wise move to spell him ahead of another Dubai tilt. Mickael Barzalona has picked up the plum ride.

Vivlos sprang the upset here a year ago, sprinting home best of all on the rain-softened ground. The 2016 Shuka Sho (G1) heroine won’t have those conditions here, but connections believe she’s in great heart. Although winless in the interim, Vivlos was an unlucky victim of traffic when just missing to Crocosmia in the Fuchu Himba (G2), not disgraced in fifth at a trip beyond her ideal in Kyoto’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1), and an adequate eighth in her Nakayama Kinen (G2) tightener. That result isn’t far off her prep in the same race ahead of last year’s Dubai Turf.

Jockey Joao Moreira, however, has chosen to partner Neorealism this time rather than rekindle the magic with Vivlos. Moreira expertly guided Neorealism to his signature victory in Sha Tin’s QE II Cup (G1), but reportedly blamed himself for his third-place effort over the same course and distance in the December 10 Hong Kong Cup (G1). The son of Neo Universe first attracted international attention when upending Maurice in the 2016 Sapporo Kinen (G2), and he added the 2017 Nakayama Kinen over a field including Vivlos. If not the most consistent, he’s plenty capable on his day for trainer Noriyuki Hori.

Deirdre and Crocosmia enter with more uncertainty about their prospects on the international stage. Like Vivlos the prior year, Deirdre captured the 2017 Shuka Sho, rolling in deep stretch to get up in time. The Harbinger filly had progressed since her efforts in the first two fillies’ classics, a sixth in the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1) and a fourth in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1). But she’s gone unplaced in two subsequent starts. Crocosmia is a specialist at this trip, with the aforementioned Fuchu Himba score at Vivlos’ expense as well as a course record at Hakodate.

Benbatl has the profile to thwart the Japanese, offering an attractive combination of high-class European form and affinity for Meydan. The Saeed bin Suroor pupil performed creditably in a series of major events last season, from a victory in Royal Ascot’s Hampton Court (G3) to fifths in both the Derby (G1) at Epsom and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1). As a Dubawi colt, Benbatl promised to improve with maturity, and the Carnival was his first pledge of fulfillment. His power-packed displays in the course-and-distance Singspiel (G3) and Al Rashidiya (G2) made him a heavy favorite in the Super Saturday prep, the Jebel Hatta (G1), but a tough trip from post 10 led to his upset by Godolphin confrere Blair House. That Charlie Appleby runner got the dream run on the inside in his stakes debut. Runner-up in last summer’s Royal Hunt Cup heritage handicap, Blair House was a dynamic handicap winner at the Carnival at this distance, so he’s now two-for-two at about nine furlongs.

Bin Suroor has two additional chances with the genuine mare Promising Run, who turned the Carnival’s Cape Verdi (G2)/Balanchine (G2) double en route to a fourth in the Jebel Hatta, and Leshlaa, dominant over Blair House in an about 10-furlong handicap, and just denied by classy Folkswood in the Dubai Millennium (G3), before a too-bad-to-be-true last in the Jebel Hatta.

Mike de Kock’s Janoobi, a gutsy third in the Jebel Hatta, earned the right to try his luck despite this trip being his upper limit. A multiple Group 2 winner at home in South Africa, Janoobi has had a productive Carnival with a Zabeel Mile (G2) score and a close second to Al Quoz (G1) threat Jungle Cat in the Al Fahidi Fort (G2). Locally based Championship would have been a contender in this race last year, on the back of romps in the Al Fahidi Fort and Zabeel Mile, but he was sidelined by an ill-timed stress fracture. His sharp second in his Zabeel Mile title defense, in his second start back, hints that the bold front runner might be peaking third off the layoff.

Although American turf champion World Approval ended up skipping Dubai, his form is represented by Aidan O’Brien’s Lancaster Bomber, runner-up in both the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) and Woodbine Mile (G1). Those are just two of his five silver medals, and the War Front half-brother to Excelebration is overdue to win one. Whether he can do so straight off the bench is another question. Stablemate and fellow War Front son War Decree has promised more than he’s delivered so far, but the addition of blinkers could help.

The other half of the European quartet, Trais Fluors and Monarchs Glen, have similar profiles as unexposed Group 3-winning four-year-olds with massive upside. The Andre Fabre-trained Trais Fluors was a sneakily-good second to the thief Thunder Snow in the Prix Jean Prat (G1), and the soft ground may have gone against him when fourth in the Prix Jacques Le Marois (G1). Juddmonte homebred Monarchs Glen, a son of Frankel and Mirabilis, was underachieving until he was gelded last summer. The John Gosden trainee was a reformed character thereafter, concluding 2017 with scores in the Foundation S. at Goodwood (where Promising Run was fourth) and the Darley (G3) at Newmarket.

Here’s the complete field after Wednesday’s post position draw, via