The Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) is but six weeks away, but it is already looking like the deepest and most competitive field ever assembled. A full field of 14 is most likely and the credentials of the 14 that do make it to the starting gate at Meydan will be as stellar as ever assembled.
Last year, we chronicled how the first three finishers of the World Cup competed from the opening night of the Dubai International Racing Carnival right through to the Cup itself. The horses that showed up on the night of the World Cup had a big disadvantage compared to the horses with multiple starts over the Tapeta main track.
The horses that had been racing throughout the Carnival had the advantage of the conditioning that racing over Tapeta gives them. Unlike many racetracks, horses that race on Tapeta come out of their race better than they went in so they can race more frequently and gain more conditioning without sacrificing soundness. Once World Cup night rolled around, the top three horses were dead fit and ready to go.
This year, more trainers seem to be adapting and brought their horses to Dubai earlier. In last week's second round of the Maktoum Challenge (UAE-G3), there were five Grade/Group 1 stakes winners in the field. Last year, Gitano Hernando (GB) (Hernando [Fr]) showed up the night of the World Cup, broke poorly, got a bad ride from Kieren Fallon and finished sixth, only beaten about two lengths.
This year trainer Marco Botti has had Gitano Hernando in Dubai for much of the winter and he made his seasonal in the Maktoum Challenge last week. He trailed early, made a big middle move around the far turn while racing wide, and weakened in the stretch. It was the perfect prep race for him to move forward with his new rider Weichong Marwing, who has won a lot of races in Dubai over the years.
The winner of last week's Maktoum Challenge was BOLD SILVANO (Silvano [Ger]) who was making his main track debut for Mike de Kock. He broke a bit slow but rushed up on the inside to take the lead through very slow early fractions. Rider Christophe Soumillon was able to take the lead and hold it for most of the race, rationing out his horse's energy as challenges were mounted. When the field bunched up and looked like they might go by, the class of the Group 1 stakes winner was evident as he spurted away to a convincing 1 1/2-length win over Spring of Fame (Grand Slam). It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to Argentine superstar Interaction (Easing Along). Right now, he is the early favorite with the British bookmakers for the World Cup. The next round of the Maktoum Challenge on March 3 should be spectacular as many horses continue to get fit and earn their way into the world's richest race.
At about 10 furlongs on the main track, the Meydan track only allows 14 starters and right now it looks like some good horses might not get in. The Dubai World Cup is an invitational event and there might be some attrition between now and when all the prep races are completed, but right now it looks like there will be a full field of top-class runners going for $10 million on March 26.
One horse that figures to make his mark in the World Cup is Musir (Redoute's Choice) who was entered in Thursday's Firebreak S. going a mile on the Tapeta main track. Breaking from post 13, he raced wide for most of the mile and then had some traffic problems in the deep stretch. When he was able to get to the rail, he ran on gamely to be second behind Godolphin's SKYSURFERS (E Dubai). What I liked in the stretch run was Soumillon let up a bit in the drive to the wire once he realized he wasn't going to catch Frankie Dettori aboard Skysurfers. It just gave me the impression that he wanted to leave some gas in the tank and save him for bigger things down the road.
Last year, Musir came to Dubai from South Africa off a win in a Group 1 stakes on the turf and dominated the three-year-old division on the Tapeta main track. He won a conditions race going seven furlongs, the U.A.E. Two Thousand Guineas (UAE-G3) going a mile and the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) going 1 3/16 miles when he beat his classy filly stablemate Raihana (Elusive Quality) and Godolphin's Mendip (Harlan's Holiday). Raihana beat a good field of male turfers on Thursday in track record time on the turf going nine furlongs (she'll be pointed for the $5 million Dubai Duty Free [UAE-G1] going nine furlongs on the turf) and Mendip won the first round of the Maktoum Challenge (UAE-G3), and we should see him again in Round 3 as he preps for the World Cup.
The jockey's room at this year's Dubai International Racing Carnival at Meydan might be the strongest I have ever seen. With big fields and big purses, there's a lot of business to go around and a collection of the world's great riders ply their trade there each week. Besides Dettori and Soumillon, you get to see, on a weekly basis, Fallon, John Murtagh, Ryan Moore, Olivier Peslier, Christophe Lemaire, Richard Hills, Ted Durcan, Kevin Shea, Ahmad Ajtebi, Mickael Barzalona, and Royston Ffrench. Young riding superstar William Buick will be back riding soon when he recovers from injuries from a spill last month here.
With all this riding talent, the races have been spectacular to watch as world-class riders have to take chances to beat other world-class riders. Soumillon has been brilliant all meet, especially on the Tapeta main track where he is able to time his late moves to perfection. He makes mistakes when he gets into traffic he can't get out of, but it's always fun to watch him in the bright yellow silks of Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum racing against the many Godolphin blue horses. Fallon and Moore have had sensational moments and with only about seven races each week, it's all in for the riders and a kick to watch.
Another rider that has been a kick to watch has been Rosie Napravnik down at the Fair Grounds. She is now the leading rider there on a circuit that has not always been receptive to outsiders. She was hot early with Sturges Ducoing and Eddie Johnston and is now in demand by just about everybody.
Early in the meet, she was winning races coming from behind up the rail but is so good right now that she can't be typecast. She wins on the dirt, short and long, and is about the only rider that can get a horse on the lead going two turns on the turf course and nurse it home to victory. She finishes as well as anyone and should widen her lead in the standings as the meet goes on as she gets more business from the better stables.
by Dick Powell
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