If the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) has attracted a small but quality field, Saturday’s $6 million Dubai Turf (G1) is a free-for-all with a host of serious win chances.
No horse has won the Dubai Turf twice, and Japan’s defending champion Real Steel doesn’t look sharp enough at present to make history. [Update: Real Steel was scratched Tuesday after bleeding from both nostrils.] Unlike last year, when he entered off a dual classic-placed campaign and a fine third in the Nakayama Kinen (G2), Real Steel has been hit-or-miss, and could do no better than eighth in the same prep. Compatriot filly Vivlos, also by Deep Impact, has more appeal as last fall’s Shuka Sho (G1) winner who was a useful fifth at Nakayama.
But high-level European form is plentiful too. Godolphin’s Ribchester improved for trainer Richard Fahey throughout 2016, posting a career high in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) and placing to O’Brien standout Minding in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) when last seen on Champions Day at Ascot. Godolphin has a second hope with bin Suroor’s multiple Group 2 victress Very Special, who aims to bounce back from a fifth to Opal Tiara in her Balanchine (G2) title defense.
Sheikh Hamdan’s Mutakayyef, brilliant in Ascot’s Summer Mile (G2), went on to finish a troubled third to Postponed and Highland Reel in the Juddmonte. Third to Tepin in the Woodbine Mile (G1), Mutakayyef missed his prep run with a foot abscess, but that may not bother a horse who’s historically run well off long layoffs. Note that trainer William Haggas makes an equipment change to cheekpieces.
The Aga Khan’s homebred Zarak, second to Almanzor in both the French Derby (G1) and Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (G2), appeared ready for prime time after hacking up in the February16 Dubai Millennium (G3) over this course. As a son of Dubawi and unbeaten Arc queen Zarkava, Zarak likely wants further than this, but Dubai Turf winners have historically been versatile trip-wise.
Also coming off a new top at Meydan is Decorated Knight, who got out of the pocket and unleashed a furious rally to get up in the Jebel Hatta (G1) at this distance. The Roger Charlton trainee brandishes a three-race winning streak that’s a nose away from being five in a row, and it’s a fascinating what-mght-have-been had he not been scratched from last summer’s Arlington Million (G1).
Arlington Million winner Mondialiste is also known to American fans as the 2015 Woodbine Mile (G1) winner and Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up to Tepin at Keeneland. But it’s been a long time since the David O’Meara charge has been a Group 1 factor outside of North America
O’Brien has a three-strong posse comprising Belmont Derby (G1) hero Deauville, unraced since his third to Mondialiste in the Arlington Million; Long Island Sound, just denied in the Secretariat (G1) but successful in last September’s Diamond (G3) on the Dundalk Polytrack; and well-traveled veteran Cougar Mountain, who tuned up with a second in Qatar. As you’d expect, Moore opts for Deauville.
Prix Eugene Adam (G2) winner Heshem was upset in his prep over Chantilly’s Polytrack, and reigning Singapore Horse of the Year Debt Collector was likewise toppled, under massive weight, last time at Kranji. Both would need to improve markedly on known form here.
With such a competitive field, trips may be the decisive factor, raising the stakes for Wednesday’s post position draw.
Wednesday update: The posts for the 13 remaining.