July 18, 2024

Equinox heads Sheema Classic, Lord North seeks three-peat on Dubai World Cup undercard

Equinox with jockey Christophe Lemaire wins the Arima Kinen (Photo by Tomoya Moriuchi/Horsephotos.com)

The $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) understandably gets the most attention on Meydan’s big night. But it’s easy to forget that the card includes three of the 10 richest races in the world, two of which are on turf.

More Dubai coverage: Spot Plays for World Cup Day turf races

Dubai Sheema Classic (G1)

The Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) and the Dubai Turf (G1), ranked equal-fifth and equal-ninth on the list of the world’s most valuable races, highlight a four-race turf bonanza worth a combined $13.5 million. As a result, some of the world’s finest gallopers are present.

It says something about international racing that the winner of the richest turf race in the United States can be going for his sixth consecutive victory yet still probably won’t start favorite in this, which at $6 million is the world’s richest race over the classic turf distance of 1 1/2 miles.

Rebel’s Romance capped off a spectacular season for Godolphin and Charlie Appleby with a comfortable victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) Nov. 5. However, he hasn’t raced since his Keeneland triumph, and he’s got history against him, as no Breeders’ Cup Turf winner has won the next edition of the Sheema Classic four months later.

Just as importantly, Rebel’s Romance has Japan’s Horse of the Year to beat. Equinox improved after playing bridesmaid in two Japanese classics in the middle of last year to score two major victories. First he beat subsequent Saudi Cup (G1) winner Panthalassa in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1), and he then easily won Japan’s equal-richest race, the Arima Kinen (G1). A repeat of that form will make him very hard to topple.

Two other runners from Japan face the starter: Shahryar, a true 1 1/2-mile horse whose best effort since winning this last year was a second-place finish in the Japan Cup (G1), and Win Marilyn, who put seven unsuccessful home Group 1 attempts behind her to win the Hong Kong Vase (G1) in December.

Hong Kong has two representatives here in the form of Russian Emperor and Senor Toba. Russian Emperor has the better form, having won the Amir Trophy in Qatar and finishing fifth in the Jebel Hatta (G1) over a 1 1/8-mile trip that was too short for him. Whether either is capable of emulating 2007 Hong Kong winner Vengeance of Rain is debatable.

France is also double-handed courtesy of Hong Kong Vase runner-up Botanik, who runs for Godolphin and French maestro Andre Fabre, and Dubai Millennium (G3) second Zagrey.

Two intriguing runners from Britain round off the field: Mostahdaf, who scored wide-margin Group 3 victories at Kempton and Riyadh on either side of failure in very wet conditions in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), and Westover, a winning chance if he replicates the form he showed in winning the Irish Derby (G1) last year.

Dubai Turf (G1)

Evergreen English seven-year-old Lord North seeks a third victory in this $5 million contest over about 1 1/8 miles. A three-length winner over Japan’s Vin De Garde in 2021, he was just a nose in front of the same horse in 2022 when dead-heating with Panthalassa. Lord North showed his fitness with an all-weather victory at Lingfield Feb. 25.

Vin De Garde, who hasn’t recaptured his 2022 Dubai Turf form in two subsequent starts, is one of four Japanese runners. Tokyo Yushun (G1) winner Do Deuce race for the first time at less than 1 1/4 miles since 2021, while Mile Championship (G1) winner Serifos runs past a mile for the first time. Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1) third Danon Beluga rounds out the high-quality quartet.

Adding to the Asian interest is Hong Kong’s Glorious Dragon; he was fifth in the Hong Kong International Cup (G1) and recently fourth to Golden Sixty and Romantic Warrior in the Hong Kong Gold Cup (G1); he may be at longer odds than he should be.

Canada will be represented by Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) runner-up Shirl’s Speight, who can be forgiven for his interim failure on dirt in Japan’s February S. (G1). From France comes the Prix Dollar (G2) runner-up Junko, while Ireland’s Order of Australia arrives after beating an international field in Qatar Feb. 18.

Godolphin is strongly represented with three runners. Saeed bin Suroor sends out the highly-capable Real World, whose only defeats on turf prior to this year were to superstar Baaeed, though his failure in the Jebel Hatta (G1) March 4 behind race-rival Alfareeq is concerning for potential backers. Appleby saddles the other Godolphin pair: Master of the Seas, runner-up in the 2000 Guineas (G1) in 2021 who has run well on the comeback trail in Meydan this year, and Saratoga Derby (G1) winner Nation’s Pride, winner of the Dubai Millennium Feb. 17.

British-trained runners El Drama and Shelir, second and seventh in the Jebel Hatta, and York S. (G2) victor Sir Busker complete the field.

Al Quoz Sprint (G1)

Northern Hemisphere three-year-olds don’t normally take on older horses in late March, but one of them is favorite for this $1.5 million straight six-furlong turf dash. English-trained Al Dasim is on a five-win streak for English trainer George Boughey, his latest victory being one over older horses in the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3) at Meydan March 4. A similar effort will see him go close here.

To do so he will need to beat an international field of 15 horses from seven countries.

The U.S. is represented by Cazadero for Brendan Walsh. He didn’t figure in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Keeneland but had won the Nearctic (G2) on the roomier Woodbine circuit and he may appreciate a straight track. On form he still has a bit to find, but Walsh won this with Extravagant Kid in 2021 so he knows what’s required.

No country produces better turf sprinters than Australia and they send The Astrologist. Form shows he’s a touch below the best at home, but his best efforts have been on Australia’s only major straight track, Flemington, so he will enjoy that here.

Australasian sprint breeding is also represented by two Hong Kong runners, both of whom are just below that country’s best sprinters Lucky Sweynesse and Wellington. Sight Success has recently finished second to both, and in between won the Bauhinia Sprint Trophy (G3), suggesting he’s right in this. Duke Wai was third in the Bauhinia and though he has a bit to make up on Sight Success, he is an each-way chance.

From Ireland comes #15 Ladies Church, a Grade 2 winner at home who was just touched off in the Blue Point Sprint (G2) at Meydan Feb. 10. Saudi Arabia also has a runner in the form of Raaed, third to Bathrat Leon in the 1351 Sprint (G3) at Riyadh Feb. 25.

In addition to Al Dasim, British stables account for a further four runners: Al Suhail, Flaming Rib, Happy Romance, and Pogo. Al Suhail has two strong Meydan victories this year, the latest in the Ras Al Khor March 4, but both were at his best distance of seven furlongs. Pogo has also been best at that trip, but he failed in the 1351 Sprint, in which Happy Romance was fourth. Commonwealth Cup (G1) runner-up Flaming Rib arrives after winning over six furlongs in Qatar Feb. 18.

Completing the field are a quartet from Dubai: Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint runner-up Miqyaas and third-place finisher Thunder of Niagara, Business Bay Challenge S. winner Danyah, and Ras Al Khor runner-up San Donato.

Dubai Gold Cup (G2)

Though only a Group 2 race, the two-mile Dubai Gold Cup is at $1 million one of the richest races in the world for stayers of all ages. At distances beyond 1 5/8 miles, the only richer races are the $5.18 million Melbourne Cup (G1), the $2.95 million Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1), the $2.59 million Red Sea Turf H. (G3), and the $1.33 million Sydney Cup (G1).

Surprisingly, after winning it last year, Japan isn’t sending any runners – not even last month’s Red Sea winner Silver Sonic. Instead the race is dominated by Britain, which provides 11 of the 15 runners.

The likely favorite is Godolphin’s Siskany, one of two runners for Charlie Appleby. He advertised his claims in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy (G3) with a two length victory. Ardakan (second) and Dubai-trained Al Nayyir (third) reoppose him from that race.

Appleby’s second runner is Global Storm, who looked in good form when winning the Dubai City of Gold (G2) March 4.

Though Silver Sonic is not making an appearance, several runners from the Red Sea are moving on to Dubai. They include Enemy (second in Riyadh), Get Shirty (third), German runner Sisfahan (sixth), Trawlerman (eighth), Al Qareem (11th), and Subjectivist (12th).

The latter is arguably the most interesting. He was Europe’s best stayer in 2021 after winning the Dubai Gold Cup and the Ascot Gold Cup (G1), but injury meant the Red Sea was his first run since his Ascot triumph. On ability he would be the best chance, but he’s probably still not at his best.

Another interesting runner is Aidan O’Brien’s Broome. Good enough to run second in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Turf, he didn’t fill a placing after winning the Hardwicke (G2) at Royal Ascot last year. He’s only run beyond 1 1/2 miles once, when tailing the field in the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) on soft going in 2020, but he may be better suited as an older horse.

Godolphin has four runners from three stables; along with Appleby’s Siskany and Global Storm and the Gosden stable’s Trawlerman is Passion And Glory, trained by Saeed Bin Suroor. He returned to form when winning in Bahrain March 10. Lonsdale Cup (G2) winner Quickthorn, St. Leger (G1) third-place finisher Giavellotto, and Noel Murless S. winner El Habeeb complete the field.