Vazirabad and Big Orange, separated by a neck in last year’s Dubai Gold Cup (G2), cross swords again in Saturday’s $1 million renewal on World Cup night at Meydan. But the rematch takes place amid a field with greater strength in depth.
The Aga Khan’s homebred Vazirabad justified favoritism here last year, and became the first four-year-old to win the about two-mile marathon, despite lacking a prep race and enduring a bad flight from France. Since then, the Alain de Royer-Dupre pupil has solidified his status as a premier stayer with wins in the Prix Vicomtesse Vigier (G2), Prix Gladiateur (G3), and a second straight victory in the Prix Royal-Oak. His two losses of 2016 came at either end of his distance spectrum – he failed on the cutback to 1 1/2 miles in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1), and got nailed by Quest for More in the Prix du Cadran (G1) over the extreme trip of about 2 9/16 miles.
For his return visit to Meydan, Vazirabad got here early in time to prep in the about 1 3/4-mile Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3). Although Godolphin’s classy mare Beautiful Romance beat him to the punch, and held him at bay, Vazirabad shaped as though the extra quarter-mile would see him in a different light on World Cup night. Defending champion Sheikhzayedroad was a ring-rusty third, but he too hints of better here as the reigning Doncaster Cup (G2) and British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) hero.
Beautiful Romance is one of three who competed in last November’s Melbourne Cup (G1), along with near-misser Heartbreak City and 10th Big Orange, who was compromised by the pace scenario. A better-than-appears seventh after a troubled start in Melbourne, Beautiful Romance next time outdueled Almoonqith and Big Orange in the Zipping Classic (G2) back down at about 1 1/2 miles. The Saeed bin Suroor mare also had the gears to take the about 1 5/16-mile Middleton (G2) at York last May, so it remains to be seen if this trip stretches her a bit. Still, she gets the five-pound allowance from the males. Stablemate Famous Kid stays but has something to prove at this level.
Heartbreak City has taken an unusual path to Dubai. The dual-discipline performer graduated straight from a Galway hurdle win to dominate the Ebor at York, came within a whisker of Melbourne Cup glory, and went back to hurdling at Leopardstown in January to warm up. He was beaten fewer than four lengths in eighth, but as an exercise, it surely brought him on. Now continuing his heartwarming, if unlikely odyssey, he renews his partnership with Hong Kong ace Joao Moreira.
Big Orange, a meritorious fifth in the 2015 Melbourne Cup, has won the past two editions of both the Princess of Wales’s (G2) at Newmarket and the Goodwood Cup (G2). The Michael Bell trainee didn’t respond well to a visor last time in the Hong Kong Vase (G1), where he rushed up after a botched start, and he goes back to his tried-and-true cheekpieces. Frankie Dettori picks up the mount on the gritty pace factor.
After Quest for More’s ninth in the 2015 Melbourne Cup, trainer Roger Charlton was determined not to send him Down Under again. He responded by reaching career-best form in the second half of 2016, wiring York’s Lonsdale Cup (G2), upstaging Vazirabad in the Prix Royal-Oak, and suffering two brutal beats by Sheikhzayedroad.
The top two from the 2015 Ascot Gold Cup, Trip to Paris and Kingfisher, were fourth and 19th respectively in that year’s Melbourne Cup. Both are in search of their old form. Trip to Paris has made just three starts back from an injury for Ed Dunlop, while Aidan O’Brien’s Kingfisher hasn’t been seen since Melbourne 16 months ago.
Hugo Palmer’s progressive Wall of Fire, who gets a six-pound weight break as a four-year-old, enters off back-to-back scores in last summer’s Melrose at York and Mallard at Doncaster. Those stamped him as a promising young stayer, and the winner of half of his eight lifetime starts is an intriguing fresh face.
Singapore champion Quechua has yet to try this kind of marathon trip, either in his native Argentina or his adopted country. Carnival regular Rembrandt Van Rijn steps up off a solid fourth in the Dubai City of Gold (G2), while Basateen was fourth behind Beautiful Romance and Vazirabad in the Nad al Sheba Trophy. Zamaam, sixth in that prep, earned a late invitation after capturing Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Championship (G3).
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