Top French stayer Vazirabad will have to overcome a full field of challengers to turn the three-peat in Saturday’s $1 million Dubai Gold Cup (G2). If the Aga Khan homebred can rise to the occasion in the contest over two metric miles on the Meydan turf, he would make history as the first to hit a World Cup night triple.
Vazirabad nailed Big Orange to earn his first Gold Cup in 2016, despite lacking a prep run and having an unpleasant plane ride to Dubai. Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre sent him out earlier for the 2017 Dubai Carnival, where he used a runner-up effort in the about 1 3/4-mile Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3) as his springboard to another Gold Cup. Vazirabad has kept to the same playbook this term, again placing second in the Nad al Sheba Trophy, and the deep closer should have a straightforward run from post 5.
But this time the Nad al Sheba Trophy winner, Godolphin’s Rare Rhythm, could prove a more resilient foe in the rematch. The sparingly raced Dubawi gelding has won three in a row, beginning in the Duke of Edinburgh at Royal Ascot, continuing in the John Smith’s Silver Cup at York, and put on hiatus as he was shelved again until the Carnival. Trainer Charlie Appleby could have gone forward with plans to ship for the Sydney Cup (G1) in Australia, so scrapping that idea – in favor of meeting Vazirabad again – reads as a significant clue. Rare Rhythm deserves better than drawing post 14 of 16, though, in his first attempt at this marathon trip.
Well-traveled nine-year-old Sheikhzayedroad, third to Vazirabad in the 2017 Gold Cup, was a distant third in the Nad al Sheba Trophy. Others coming off that prep are fourth-placer Natural Scenery, the Godolphin mare who tried a visor then but now reverts to her usual cheekpieces; her stablemate from the Saeed bin Suroor yard, fifth Red Galileo; and course-and-distance handicap winner Prince of Arran, eighth in his visor experiment and losing the headgear here.
Appleby’s Frontiersman stretches out off a bold second to stablemate Hawkbill in the Dubai City of Gold (G2) at about 1 1/2 miles on Super Saturday. The blueblood son of Dubawi and Ouija Board also took runner-up honors in last year’s Coronation Cup (G1) and Princess of Wales’s (G2). Before shipping to Dubai, he tried a 16 1/2-furlong conditions race January 15 at Wolverhampton, where he boxed on for third. The City of Gold also served as a stepping stone for bin Suroor’s progressive Gold Star (third) and Mike de Kock’s South African Group 1 star Al Sahem (fifth), both warranting a shot at the distance. Janszoon, 11th in the City of Gold after climbing the handicap ladder, came back a week later to finish second in the Abu Dhabi Championship (G3). Rounding out the Carnival participants is Los Barbados, who traded decisions with Prince of Arran in a pair of Carnival handicaps.
The World Cup night shippers are led by the aforementioned Big Orange. A brave winner of the Ascot Gold Cup (G1) while dethroning odds-on Order of St George, the Michael Bell trainee was overturned next time in his own title defense in the Goodwood Cup (G1), and tailed off behind Order of St George in the soft-ground British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2). Big Orange is making his third trip for this race, his fourth-place effort last year due to the unsuitably yielding ground. But he’s giving his fans cause for pause after planting himself and tying up Monday, and skipping training Tuesday, as documented by Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh.
Irish invader Torcedor likewise boasts a victory over Order of St George, albeit by taking advantage of the outstanding stayer’s lack of fitness in last April’s Vintage Crop (G3). The Jessica Harrington charge has deferred to him in his three subsequent starts, but nearly sprang the upset again in the British Champions Long Distance Cup last out at this trip. Torcedor rates a major factor here if he can use his tactical speed to negate post 15. The William Haggas-trained Dal Harraild, on the other hand, projects a box-seat trip from the rail. Judging by how he dominated future Ebor winner and Melbourne Cup (G1) fifth Nakeeta in last May’s Grand Cup at York, and hacked up in his March 10 prep at Chelmsford, the up-and-coming stayer belongs at this level.
Mike Maker’s Run Time deserves his chance after beating Canadian International (G1) shocker Bullards Alley in the H. Allen Jerkens at Gulfstream Park, especially given the lack of suitable opportunities over two miles back home. Parviz comes in from Germany for Waldemar Hickst, but his form doesn’t leap off the page. His second to Garlingari in his longest try so far, a 12 1/2-furlong listed race on heavy going at Cagnes-sur-Mer February 24, may imply he’d do better over this kind of trip. Still, he has class concerns among these.
Here’s the complete field with post positions, via emiratesracing.com: