March 3, 2021

Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter returns in Dubai Gold Cup

Ispolini and jockey Mickael Barzalona win the Nad Al Sheba Trophy (G3) at Meydan on February 28, 2019 (c) Dubai Racing Club/Erika Rasmussen

Still a relative newcomer to the Dubai World Cup festivities, the $1.5 million Dubai Gold Cup (G2) soon established itself as a target for world-class stayers, and the trend continues on Saturday. Melbourne Cup (G1) winner Cross Counter and the impressive Ispolini bid to revive Godolphin’s fortunes, while France looks to Call the Wind to retain its grip on the about two-mile marathon.

Godolphin was dominant in the early runnings, but the tide turned in 2014, and more recently, French superstar Vazirabad was unassailable in a three-peat (2016-18). With a Royal Ascot injury forcing that Aga Khan homebred to vacate the throne, and resurface later this spring at home, the rising generation of stayers has an opportunity to step up.

Cross Counter is favored on the strength of his Flemington heroics, albeit under a light 112-pound impost. The Charlie Appleby trainee maneuvered through a less than straightforward trip to defeat Marmelo and Prince of Arran and hand Godolphin its first-ever Melbourne Cup.

The Teofilo gelding is a short-head away from a four-race winning streak, just denied by stablemate Old Persian in last summer’s Great Voltigeur (G2) at York. Previously a course record-setter in the Gordon (G3) at Glorious Goodwood, and successful under top weight in an Ascot handicap, Cross Counter was under consideration to revert to about 1 1/2 miles in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) later on the card. That would have given him a rematch with Old Persian, but Appleby opted to stick to the same trip as the Melbourne Cup.

Stablemate Ispolini, a onetime classic hope last spring, has put it all together since being gelded and tackling a longer distance at the Carnival. The Dubawi blueblood is two-for-two at about 1 3/4 miles, taking a handicap on the way to a 10 1/2-length tour de force in the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3). Even allowing for the fact that odds-on stablemate Brundtland suffered a fatal breakdown, Ispolini laid down quite a benchmark both in terms of the time and the margin. Runner-up Red Galileo is a decent yardstick, as a five-length sixth to Vazirabad last year, and second this term in a Meydan handicap to Sydney Cup (G1) favorite Dubhe. Yet Ispolini galloped all over him in a manner suggesting he’ll handle the extra quarter-mile here.

If there’s a caveat about Appleby’s dynamic duo, it’s that four-year-olds don’t have as strong a record in this race as the more mature stayers. Only two have won, and Vazirabad is the lone four-year-old to win the trophy since its transfer to World Cup night. Of course, that relative disadvantage is also why their elders must concede six pounds, and these particular four-year-olds don’t look too worried about the stats.

Call the Wind training at Meydan (c) Dubai Racing Club/Erika Rasmussen

That said, the Freddy Head-trained Call the Wind checks the recent trends as a top-class European shipper, and he’s five. A well-related son of Frankel, the George Strawbridge Jr. homebred didn’t see a racecourse until he was four, but finished the year with a three-race winning spree capped by the Prix du Cadran (G1) in his stakes debut. That about 2 1/2-mile prize might have been thought a bit far for his pedigree. Indeed, Call the Wind returned to place an excellent second to Trais Fluors, a Group 1-placed miler, in his March 5 prep at about 1 3/16 miles over Chantilly’s Polytrack. Third-placer Soleil Marin has since come back to take the Prix Exbury (G3). This week, Head has commented that Call the Wind has the speed to be effective at less than a marathon trip, and his performance here will guide his plans.

Two classy shippers – Hong Kong’s multiple Group 1-placed Gold Mount and John Sadler’s Platinum Warrior – venture into terra incognita over two metric miles. Gold Mount, originally racing under the name of Primitivo in Great Britain, was exported after capturing the King George V handicap at Royal Ascot. Trainer Richard Gibson is convinced that Gold Mount is looking for longer distances that he simply can’t get in Hong Kong. If true, his losses to the likes of Highland Reel, Werther, Pakistan Star, and Exultant by a few lengths take on a more encouraging complexion. While his immediate pedigree doesn’t verify the suspicion, he does descend from the same family as the great if ill-fated stayer Kneller (and champion Northern Spur), so perhaps the matrilineal factor is coming into play. Ryan Moore agrees to ride him back.

Yu Long’s Platinum Warrior could have stayed home for arguably easy pickings in the San Luis Rey (G2) (assuming Santa Anita resumes Friday as planned), but the owner was interested in a Dubai tilt. During his Irish career, the gray beat future Irish Derby (G1) winner Latrobe in the Gallinule (G3), only to wind up ninth in their rematch in the Curragh classic. Platinum Warrior’s two best U.S. efforts likewise came at the Gallinule’s 1 1/4-mile trip, a fourth in last summer’s Secretariat (G1) and a breakthrough in his latest in the San Marcos (G2). This distance would appear to stretch him, but you can never be sure how much stamina his supersire Galileo might impart.

The aforementioned Prince of Arran was spotting Cross Counter five pounds in the Melbourne Cup, so he’s not helped by the weights here either. Yet his effort there was supreme given the ground was softer than he prefers, and he was wheeling back three days after his Lexus (G3) score. Charlie Fellowes’ honest and genuine runner may get closer to Cross Counter on a better surface. Also placed to The Queen’s Call to Mind in last year’s Belmont Gold Cup (G2) and to Aidan O’Brien’s Yucatan in the Herbert Power (G2) at Caulfield, Prince of Arran prepped with a sneakily-good fourth to Old Persian in the Dubai City of Gold.

Three other City of Gold also-rans are taking a stab at this distance for the first time. Of that trio, sixth Marinaresco is the most appealing, as a former South African champion who’s been rounding into form at the Carnival for Mike de Kock. City of Gold fifth Sharpalo and eighth-placer Team Talk, a stablemate of Red Galileo’s from the Saeed bin Suroor yard, face class as well as stamina questions on the stretch-out.

Monday’s draw via emiratesracing.com: