Already a good spot for Japanese runners in recent years, now the $6 million Dubai Turf (G1) has attracted the nation’s most captivating performer in Almond Eye. Japan’s unanimous Horse of the Year makes her eagerly anticipated international debut here, the first step in a campaign expected to culminate in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), and a show-stopping effort on Saturday could upstage the Dubai World Cup (G1) itself.
Almond Eye brings a six-race winning streak crowned by her record-shattering victory over older males in last November’s Japan Cup (G1), where she clocked about 1 1/2 miles in 2:20.6. Although that would have made her a logical candidate for the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) over the same trip on the undercard, trainer Sakae Kunieda preferred to start her out at about nine furlongs in the Dubai Turf.
Considering how explosive Almond Eye was in last spring’s Oka Sho (G1), the Japanese equivalent of the 1000 Guineas over a metric mile, the rationale works. She also runs well fresh, as evidenced by her completing the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown sweep in the Shuka Sho (G1) off a nearly five-month holiday. Regular rider Christophe Lemaire was positively brimming with confidence in his interview with the Dubai Racing Club, and the draw smiled upon her too as she’s in post 7.
Japan scored its first Dubai Turf with Admire Moon (2007), dispatched Just a Way to scorch in record time (2014), and added back-to-back trophies courtesy of Real Steel (2016) and Vivlos (2017). The latter pair also filled the minors, along with compatriot Deirdre, behind Godolphin’s Benbatl in last year’s edition.
Godolphin’s 2019 version of Benbatl, Dream Castle, hopes to use home court advantage to thwart Almond Eye. Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, who owns the record of six wins in this race, Dream Castle is unbeaten since being gelded. The son of Frankel has marched through all three Carnival lead-ups over course and distance – the Singspiel (G3), Al Rashidiya (G2), and most recently the Jebel Hatta (G1) on Super Saturday. On the other hand, only two Jebel Hatta winners have followed up in the Dubai Turf, Ipi Tombe (2003) and Sajjhaa (2013), coincidentally both distaffers.
Vivlos, back for the third consecutive year, tries to become the first two-time Dubai Turf winner. Since garnering the 2016 Shuka Sho, the royally bred daughter of Deep Impact hasn’t done as well at home as she has abroad. Aside from her fine efforts at Meydan, Vivlos was best of the rest behind Hong Kong supremo Beauty Generation when last seen in the December 9 Hong Kong Mile (G1). She was due to retire to the broodmare life thereafter, but connections opted to give her another chance on World Cup night.
Deirdre is also a Shuka Sho heroine (2017), making the Dubai Turf a summit of the last three winners of the Japanese fillies’ classic. Like Vivlos, the Harbinger mare snared a placing during the Hong Kong International Races, rallying for second in the Hong Kong Cup (G1). Interestingly, Deirdre has used a better tightener on the way to Dubai. A year ago, she was sixth in the about 1 3/8-mile Kyoto Kinen (G2) before her dead-heat third with Real Steel here. This time, Deirdre prepped in the February 24 Nakayama Kinen (G2) at this trip, the launching pad for the past three Japanese winners of the Dubai Turf, and her sixth there is eligible to put a bit more zip in her legs. Note that she picks up Joao Moreira.
Hong Kong-based Southern Legend brings excellent form from home, as understudy to the stars. Third to Beauty Generation in last spring’s Champions Mile (G1), and filling the same spot behind him and Vivlos in the Hong Kong Mile, the Caspar Fownes charge comes off a second to Exultant at big odds in the Hong Kong Gold Cup (G1). Southern Legend is likely to get overlooked again, but proved he could take his game on the road when capturing the 2018 Kranji Mile, and rates a proper place chance with Zac Purton.
Aidan O’Brien has yet to factor from six previous runners in this race, but that stat doesn’t figure to apply to I Can Fly. Unlike five who had no prep, and another who had a tune-up along with class concerns, I Can Fly has the class and the benefit of a sparkling comeback. After beating older males in the Boomerang (G2) on Irish Champions Weekend, she almost upset Roaring Lion in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day at Ascot. I Can Fly ran some way below that level in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), winding up 12th, but rebounded by trouncing overmatched rivals at Dundalk March 6. The Fastnet Rock filly is bred to handle the added ground, and more improvement could be in the offing.
The John Gosden-trained Without Parole is something of a forgotten horse, having turned in three unplaced efforts since his signature win in the St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot. A homebred campaigned by Justify’s breeders, John Gunther and daughter Tanya, the Frankel colt is obviously better than his results over the second half of 2018. The Sussex (G1) was a tactical disaster, the Juddmonte International (G1) might have been too far at that stage, and he wasn’t much behind future Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Expert Eye when both dropped the Prix du Moulin (G1). A clue to his chances lies with Wootton, beaten in both of their European meetings last season and most recently runner-up to Dream Castle in the Jebel Hatta. Without Parole could have drawn better than post 12, but remains an intriguing comeback player.
Rounding out the new European shippers is Lord Glitters, whose lone stakes victory came in this vicinity in York’s Strensall (G3). Placed in the Queen Anne (G1) and Sussex during his breakout 2018 for David O’Meara, the closer didn’t get the right pace scenario when sixth in the Woodbine Mile (G1), and he wasn’t beaten far in that same spot in the QE II.
Of those wintering in Dubai, Wootton would be the next-best after Dream Castle. Trainer Charlie Appleby, who took over his handling this season, mentioned that he’s a more mature racer than he was at three. Wootton stuck to his task well as the Jebel Hatta runner-up, in his first try beyond a mile, only now he has to cope with the far outside post 13.
It’s more difficult to make cases for the other Jebel Hatta alumni. While Century Dream is a bona fide international Group 1 performer for Simon Crisford, as the QE II third, he overraced again early in the Jebel Hatta before wilting to fourth. Post 11 suggests he’ll be “punching the breeze” here with too much daylight unless Oisin Murphy can somehow get cover, or decides to let him roll and see how far he can take them. South African Majestic Mambo, second to Yulong Prince in last year’s Greyville 2000 (G1), is eligible to move forward off his comeback sixth for Mike de Kock, but how much is the question.
Yulong Prince, hitherto named Surcharge until his purchase by Yu Long, is now his stablemate, and lands in an awfully tough spot off the bench. Like de Kock, bin Suroor is double-handed with class climber Mountain Hunter joining the line-up. Although he earned his way in thanks to consecutive handicap scores over further, his tactical speed hints that he could be employed as a pacesetter for Dream Castle.
Wednesday’s draw via emiratesracing.com: