The only filly to win the UAE Derby (G2) so far, Khawlah (2011), sported the Godolphin colors, and Divine Image will be well backed to emulate her in Saturday’s $2.5 million renewal on the Dubai World Cup card.
Much has changed in the interim – Meydan’s transition from Tapeta to dirt, the advent of Charlie Appleby as a Godolphin trainer, and the Kentucky Derby (G1) points system that awards 100 points to the UAE Derby winner – but Divine Image does have elements in common with Khawlah. Both are UAE Oaks (G3) winners who came along during Carnivals that lacked a standout among the locally-based three-year-old males.
Unlike Khawlah, Divine Image ran only once at two, romping in a Chelmsford novice in December, and needed the Carnival to hone her racing wits. The Appleby pupil did well to recover from a disastrous start to finish second in the UAE 1000 Guineas. She absorbed the lesson to break better in the UAE Oaks, but still looked a little green before getting up in time.
Hence instead of training up to the Derby as Khawlah did after her more emphatic Oaks display, Divine Image wheeled back to face the boys in the Al Bastakiya over this same about 1 3/16-mile trip. The proverbial light bulb had switched on, for she dusted a big field including Superior and Al Bastakiya Trial winner Manguzi.
Divine Image’s 7 1/4-length smasher on Super Saturday does prompt the question of whether she can duplicate that on three weeks’ rest, and in her fourth start of the Carnival. Appleby had indicated that the Kentucky Oaks (G1) could be in play as well before committing her to World Cup night. At least one variable is removed from the equation: the daughter of Scat Daddy landed a fine post 6 in the 14-horse field. She also gets a five-pound weight break from the boys.
Khawlah won her UAE Derby by denying Aidan O’Brien’s Master of Hounds in a photo. O’Brien has since won three runnings of the UAE Derby, most recently with last year’s track record-breaker Mendelssohn, and returns with Van Beethoven. By Scat Daddy like both Mendelssohn and Divine Image, Van Beethoven doesn’t bring the same sort of resume. Winless since last summer’s Railway (G2), he’s gone unplaced in four straight. Yet there’s a suspicion that the Triple Crown nominee is a fair bit better than we’ve seen. His even fourth in the March 6 Patton under top weight, the same European Road race that launched Mendelssohn, should bring him on a lot. Less encouraging is his post 11.
Another hopping over from the European Road is Sheikh Hamdan’s Jahbath, who extended his winning streak to four in the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions race at Kempton. The William Haggas trainee steps out from the confines of the British all-weather circuit for a bigger test on the international stage. His immediate pedigree suggests he’ll handle the stretch-out from a mile, but it doesn’t scream dirt. Not an early Triple Crown nominee, Jahbath is engaged in the Derby (G1) at Epsom, and it would be no surprise if turf classics have more appeal. Still, he’s well drawn in post 2, and sire Mukhadram led a long way in the 2014 World Cup (on Tapeta) before settling for second.
Arriving via the Japan Road is Derma Louvre, a Triple Crown nominee coming off back-to-back placings in points races at home. After a near-miss in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki in December, the Pyro colt was an underwhelming third in the February 17 Hyacinth S. at Tokyo. Perhaps Derma Louvre needed the prep since he had looked potentially smart during a three-race winning spree last fall. And Lani (2016), the only Japan-based winner of this race, stepped up from a modest effort in the Hyacinth. Post 5 is also a plus for Derma Louvre with regular pilot Christophe Lemaire.
No U.S. shipper has captured the UAE Derby, with the top Kentucky Derby hopefuls remaining stateside, but the trio of Plus Que Parfait, Gray Magician, and Stubbins aim to buck that stat. The form of Plus Que Parfait’s neck second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) has taken its lumps in the interim. While his fifth in the Lecomte (G3) could be excused on account of a troubled passage, his 13th in the Risen Star (G2) called for going back to the drawing board. Trainer Brendan Walsh prescribes the dramatic change in venue, as well as the addition of blinkers and Jose Ortiz, and he’s gotten a plum post 4.
Gray Magician, the lone router in trainer Peter Miller’s sprint-oriented party, takes the blinkers off after chasing home Maryland kingpin Alwaysmining in the Miracle Wood. Previously fourth to Gunmetal Gray in the Sham (G3), Gray Magician is joined by fellow California-based Stubbins, who aired in the off-the-turf Pasadena. Both have stamina questions, and the speedy Stubbins has a tough task from post 12.
Despite the lack of clarity among the Dubai-based colts, trainer Ahmad bin Harmash has a real shot with his entrants for the Phoenix Ladies Syndicate. Walking Thunder shaped as the next big thing earlier in the Carnival when hacking up in three straight, only to lose his luster with a second to Estihdaaf in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3). The Triple Crown nominee didn’t have the best of trips that day, but drawing the rail here, and picking up Frankie Dettori, signal rebound candidate.
Stablemate Golden Jaguar turned heads in a terrific debut at Jebel Ali, and again on the switch to turf at Meydan, but lost his perfect mark narrowly in the Meydan Classic Trial. The son of Animal Kingdom has massive upside, and a great post 3 with Oisin Murphy, if he doesn’t cost himself by repeating rookie mistakes. He’s the only of the Phoenix Ladies trio not nominated to the Triple Crown, but he was given an entry in the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket. The aforementioned Superior, best of the rest behind Divine Image in the Al Bastakiya, adds cheekpieces and keeps stable rider Connor Beasley.
Manguzi, no match for Walking Thunder in their lone clash, has been hampered by wide draws in every Carnival start except his trial score. The French-bred has found a way to place regardless, but his consistency will be tested from the far outside post 14 Saturday.
The remaining contenders are all fillies trying to turn the tables on Divine Image. Godolphin’s Saeed bin Suroor, who trained Khawlah, sends out UAE Oaks runner-up Swift Rose. Post 13 implies she has her work cut out to get that close again. Of greater interest is the UAE Oaks third, Razeena, who was positively heroic throughout a wide trip. Trained by dirt maestro Doug Watson, Razeena could engineer a better passage this time, albeit from post 9. Al Hayette has the biggest mountain to climb after a well-beaten fifth in the Oaks and fourth in the Al Bastakiya.
Note that Razeena and Al Hayette were not on the list of probables released last week. There were also two defections from the projected field, Estihdaaf and Grecko.
In addition to the 100-point windfall to the winner, the UAE Derby offers 40 Derby points to the runner-up, 20 to third, and 10 to fourth.
Monday’s draw from emiratesracing.com: