A robust Godolphin team captained by defending Dubai World Cup (G1) champion Thunder Snow, a deep American squad led by sprint stars Roy H and Stormy Liberal, and Japanese sensation Almond Eye loom prominently in a global cast assembling for Meydan’s $35 million blockbuster program March 30.
Here are the projected fields released Tuesday by the Dubai Racing Club:
$12 million Dubai World Cup
Thunder Snow must overcome a stiff challenge if he’s to make history as the first two-time World Cup hero. Among his American-based rivals are Seeking the Soul, Audible, and Gunnevera – the respective runner-up, fifth, and sixth in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) – as well as Yoshida, who switches surfaces following a sixth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), and California shipper Pavel. Rounding out the international squad is Japan’s K T Brave, a nine-time listed stakes winner still looking for a Grade 1 breakthrough.
Three of the World Cup probables aim to improve on last year’s effort. Pavel was fourth, Gunnevera eighth while sustaining a significant foot injury, and Dubai Carnival star North America was a toss-out last after blowing the break. North America has since conquered the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2) and Round 2 (G2) and promises to atone this time.
Others are emerging from the March 9 Super Saturday card. The massively improved Capezzano spoiled Thunder Snow’s comeback in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (G1), where South Korea’s Dolkong was a fast-finishing third, New Trails fourth, and Gronkowski a useful fifth in his debut on the circuit. Axelrod, representing the same connections as “Gronk,” was a forgettable 10th in the Burj Nahaar (G3) and hopes for better second up.
$6 million Dubai Turf (G1)
Japan’s unanimous Horse of the Year Almond Eye, last seen scorching to a record-breaker in the Japan Cup (G1), kicks off her four-year-old campaign that hopefully will include the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). But she’ll meet a horse-for-the-course (and distance) in Godolphin’s Dream Castle, who completed a sweep of the Carnival’s about nine-furlong features in the Jebel Hatta (G1).
Almond Eye’s compatriot Vivlos, the 2017 Dubai Turf winner, was runner-up last year to Benbatl, with yet another Japanese filly, Deirdre, third. Aidan O’Brien dispatches I Can Fly, best known for nearly shocking Roaring Lion in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day, while Lord Glitters was last seen sixth in the same race. John Gosden’s Without Parole looks to recapture his old form from last summer’s St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot. Hong Kong’s Southern Legend warrants respect after chasing Beauty Generation around Sha Tin, and South African Group 1 victor Yulong Prince (formerly known as Surcharge) makes his Dubai debut for Mike de Kock.
Dream Castle is the Carnival standout, but not to be overlooked is Jebel Hatta runner-up Wootton. Century Dream and Majestic Mambo must move forward off Jebel Hatta losses, and Mountain Hunter takes a class hike off back-to-back handicap scores.
$6 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1)
Another Japan versus Godolphin match-up is brewing over the classic distance of about 1 1/2 miles, with O’Brien’s Magic Wand, the Pegasus Turf runner-up, and Hunting Horn in the mix as well. Former Japanese champion Rey de Oro, fourth in last year’s Sheema, is joined by Grade 1-winning compatriots Suave Richard and Cheval Grand, respectively third and fourth (the latter as the defending champion) to Almond Eye in the Japan Cup.
Godolphin’s Old Persian overcame a troubled trip to capture the local prep, the Dubai City of Gold (G2), at the expense of veteran Racing History, while Melbourne Cup (G1)-winning stablemate Cross Counter has added this option alongside the Dubai Gold Cup (G2) (see below). Canadian International (G1) hero Desert Encounter was a solid third in the City of Gold off the bench.
$2.5 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1)
Two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) champion Roy H, not seen to best effect when third here last year, is arguably the one to beat in a race where American dirt speed figures to carry the day. X Y Jet, twice suffering heartbreaks in this spot, hopes the third time’s the charm, while Promises Fulfilled will also be winging it early. Imperial Hint, withdrawn from the 2017 Shaheen after getting sick, tries again albeit not in the same progressive form. Japan’s Matera Sky was a creditable fifth last year, but Hong Kong’s Fight Hero looks in tough.
The leading local hope, the Doug Watson-trained Drafted, roared from well off the pace to land back-to-back preps, most recently the Mahab al Shimaal (G3) over Nine Below Zero, Tato Key, and Steve Asmussen’s Switzerland, who just hasn’t clicked in his three Carnival tries.
$2.5 million UAE Derby (G2)
Worth 100 points to the winner on the main Kentucky Derby (G1) leaderboard, the UAE Derby is shaping up as a summit attracting sophomores from far-flung circuits. Godolphin’s star filly Divine Image thrashed the boys in the track-and-trip Al Bastakiya; the streaking Jahbath and O’Brien’s Van Beethoven arrive via the European Road to the Derby; Derma Louvre ships in from the Japan Road; and Americans Plus Que Parfait, Gray Magician, and Stubbins opt to try their luck here instead of points opportunities closer to home.
The Dubai-based males have been a mixed bag so far, largely dependent upon their trips from race to race. Nevertheless, Godolphin’s Estihdaaf can return to his UAE 2000 Guineas (G3) form with a decent post; Phoenix Ladies’ Walking Thunder, Golden Jaguar, and Superior are capable; Manguzi has been admirably reliable if not quite a celebrity; and Ken McPeek’s Grecko looks to bounce back after a disappointment second out. Godolphin filly Swift Rose was beaten only a neck by Divine Image two back in the UAE Oaks (G3), but the margin probably shouldn’t be taken to heart.
$2 million Al Quoz Sprint (G1)
Godolphin’s Blue Point, a gate scratch as the favorite last March, promises to be favored again after a pair of emphatic victories in the Meydan Sprint (G2) and Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3), beating the smart Ekhtiyaar in the latter. Last year’s runner-up, Stormy Liberal, returns with a higher profile as U.S. champion turf male, but has been overturned twice since his repeat in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). The in-form Caribou Club was responsible for one of those unceremonious upsets, and fellow Californian Belvoir Bay likewise enters in winning mood.
Two-time Australian Group 1 winner Brave Smash exits a close third in the Newmarket H. (G1) down the Flemington straight. Viddora beat him in Moonee Valley’s Moir (G1) last September to earn her second Group 1 laurel, but has a question to answer on a straight track. Fellow Aussie Illustrious Lad, fifth here last year, needs to step up on the known form. So does Mazzini after a distant third on Super Saturday. Although Hong Kong’s Wishful Thinker is untested at this level, he’s marching up the ratings on one of the world’s toughest sprint circuits.
France’s The Right Man, who stunned the 2017 Al Quoz on a rare yielding course, missed last year’s running. The top European shipper, Sands of Mali, scored a career high in the British Champions Sprint (G1), and O’Brien’s Lost Treasure still has upside despite a seventh behind Stormy Liberal at Churchill Downs.
$1.5 million Dubai Gold Cup (G2)
Three-time champion Vazirabad needs a bit more time to tune up after sustaining an injury at Royal Ascot, but the turf marathon isn’t otherwise lacking star power. The Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter and third-placer Prince of Arran join Freddie Head’s Call the Wind, the Prix du Cadran (G1) winner, and Gosden’s Weekender. Hong Kong’s Gold Mount, who might be crying out for this step up in trip, adds further intrigue. Platinum Warrior is the lone U.S. invader in this spot, with back class from Ireland.
Cross Counter’s stablemate Ispolini trounced fellow Godolphin runner Red Galileo in the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3), making himself the story of the Carnival among the long-distance set. South Africa’s Marinaresco, gradually improving through the Carnival, could enjoy the stronger stamina test, and Sharpalo and Team Talk likewise stretch out after unplaced efforts in the City of Gold.
$1.5 million Godolphin Mile (G2)
Watson’s Muntazah is the clear divisional leader after drubbing his foes in his past two, highlighted by a 10-length, track record-smasher in the Burj Nahaar. Now the peaking six-year-old will try to see off Todd Pletcher’s Coal Front and Kiaran McLaughlin’s True Timber. Japan’s Nonkono Yume has back class from home, yet the deep closer hasn’t hit the board since landing the 2018 February S. (G1).
Defending Godolphin Mile champion Heavy Metal was a heroic fourth in the Burj Nahaar after missing the start; although the nine-year-old would have had a tall order against Muntazah, he probably would have beaten placegetters Good Curry and Musawaat with an alert break. Secret Ambition also did not deliver his best effort in sixth, nor did Ibn Malik in seventh, and the honest Kimbear was scratched from that final prep. African Ride is on the upswing after a good-looking handicap victory, and recent winner Major Partnership goes turf-to-dirt to give Godolphin a runner in the eponymous race. Argentine Group 1 winner Logrado showed little in his local bow in Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge.
The festivities begin with the $1 million Dubai Kahayla Classic, featuring defending champion Tallaab al Khalediya.