When Cigar won the inaugural Dubai World Cup in 1996, few would have imagined there would come a year with four times as many Japanese runners as there were North American.
However, that’s precisely what’s happening in 2023. A staggering eight of the 15 runners are from the land of the rising sun, while just two represent North American stables – and one of those is a recent South American import.
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The single all-North American runner, however, may well start favorite. Country Grammer loves 1 1/4 miles, as he showed when winning this race last year. And as in 2022, the Bob Baffert trainee arrives at Meydan after finishing second in the 1 1/8-mile Saudi Cup (G1).
Though the result was the same, Country Grammer’s Saudi Cup effort in 2023 was a contrast to last year. In 2022, he reached the lead but was run down at the end; this year, he lacked mid-race speed and only started to get near his opponents in the last half-furlong.
If anything, it was a run which pointed even more firmly to a horse wanting 1 1/4 miles.
“It took him a while to get going, but once he got in gear he was flying in the stretch,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said.
“We came up a little short but with a mile and a quarter distance here, it should suit him fine.
“Twelve months ago I thought he was a little bit behind just by not racing. This year he’s had more racing so he should be in fine shape.”
The other “American” in the race is the well-traveled Super Corinto. Bred in Argentina and initially trained in Peru, he went to Chile last year to run second in the Gran Premio Latinoamericano (G1) to O’Connor before turning the tables on that horse in the Gran Premio Hipodromo Chile (G1). He then moved to the U.S. stable of Amador Merei Sanchez, where he raced twice in Gulfstream Park allowances late last year for a win and a second – good runs, but not those of an obvious Dubai World Cup winner.
Japan has won the Dubai World Cup just once, with Victoire Pisa (on the old all-weather surface) in 2011, but it’s never had the numerical strength of this year.
Five Japanese horses that figured strongly in the Saudi Cup are in Dubai: the winner Panthalassa, along with Cafe Pharoah (third), Geoglyph (fourth), Crown Pride (fifth), and Jun Light Bolt (seventh). All deserve to be considered, but they each have question marks over them.
Panthalassa and Cafe Pharoah have previously been better at less than 1 1/4 miles at the highest level, while there will be form doubts over Geoglyph, Crown Pride, and Jun Light Bolt. Crown Pride, however, does at least have form at Meydan, having won last year’s UAE Derby (G2).
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Two of the remaining Japanese runners look strong contenders: Ushba Tesoro and T O Keynes, first and second in the recent Kawasaki Kinen. T O Keynes is a Grade 1 winner in Japan, while Ushba Tesoro has won five of his six starts since being switched from dirt to turf a year ago.
The other Japanese runner has the highest international rating. However, Japan Cup (G1) winner Vela Azul has taken the opposite path to Ushba Tesoro; he showed limited class on dirt before proving top-class when switched to turf last year. Whether his new confidence can spark improved dirt form in him must be questionable.
Panthalassa won’t be the only Saudi Cup winner in the field, as the 2022 winner Emblem Road will be present. The Saudi-trained son of Quality Road, who didn’t come to Dubai last year, was sixth after missing the start badly in this year’s Saudi Cup and isn’t without prospects.
The remaining four runners have done their lead-up racing in Dubai, but there’s a clear standout.
Algiers, from the English stable of Simon and Ed Crisford, was a useful horse this time last year, winning the Jebel Ali Mile (G3), but he was a disappointing eighth in the Godolphin Mile (G2) on this day last year. Shortly after he was gelded, and the results since then have been stunning.
After three nice runs in Britain – two on turf and one on an all-weather track – Algiers returned to Meydan a much better horse. He raced in the first two rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge (G2) – Round 1 at one mile and Round 2 at 1 3/16 miles – and won both easily. None of the three Dubai-trained runners starting in the World Cup – Bendoog, Remorse, and Salute the Soldier – got within six lengths of him.
The fact that Remorse was a length closer to Panthalassa in the Saudi Cup than he was to Algiers in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 suggests Algiers has every chance here.