Godolphin has won the past two runnings of the $6 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on Dubai World Cup night, but Old Persian has to see off formidable opposition to extend the domination to a third year in a row. A three-pronged entry of Japanese Grade 1 heroes, led by two-time year-end champion Rey de Oro, as well as Aidan O’Brien’s high-class filly Magic Wand promise to make it a true test.
Rey de Oro, a disappointing fourth here to Hawkbill last March, is eligible to do himself justice another year older and wiser. So believes regular rider Christophe Lemaire, who could be in line for a double after guiding hot favorite Almond Eye in the Dubai Turf (G1). The Kazuo Fujisawa charge certainly has the talent.
Japan’s champion three-year-old colt of 2017 in light of his victory over Suave Richard in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) and runner-up effort to Cheval Grand in the Japan Cup (G1), Rey de Oro also reigned as champion older male in 2018. The blueblood son of King Kamehameha added another major title in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) and just missed in the coveted Arima Kinen (G1) December 23. Coming in fresh has been a winning strategy 11 times in the Sheema, including for Heart’s Cry (2006), who himself had been last seen foiling the great Deep Impact in the 2005 Arima Kinen.
Heart’s Cry seeks to become first Sheema winner to sire one, with both Suave Richard and Cheval Grand to represent him. Suave Richard earned his first Grade 1 in last spring’s Osaka Hai (G1), and displayed versatility to finish a close third in the prestigious Yasuda Kinen (G1) shortening up to a metric mile. Third to record-setting Almond Eye in the Japan Cup, Suave Richard resumed with a solid fourth in the Nakayama Kinen (G2) that should put him spot-on for new rider Joao Moreira.
Cheval Grand has gone winless since his marquee win in the 2017 Japan Cup, but often runs well at the top level. Only a neck short in the Tenno Sho Spring (G1) over two metric miles, he’s finished fourth to Almond Eye and third in the aforementioned Arima Kinen. Winx’s partner, Hugh Bowman, tends to get the best from Cheval Grand, whose half-sister Vivlos runs in the Dubai Turf.
O’Brien’s lone Sheema winner, St Nicholas Abbey (2013), prevailed at the expense of Japanese celebrity Gentildonna. If Magic Wand doesn’t exactly have the heft of ill-fated “St Nick,” she has the distaff angle. Four females have won in the past 11 years, and four have placed in that time frame, including Ballydoyle’s Seventh Heaven in 2017.
Magic Wand has yet to break through in a Group 1, but that’s partly a case of bad luck, at times compromised by rain-affected going or the effects of illness last summer. The imperious winner of the Ribblesdale (G2) at Royal Ascot, runner-up in the Prix Vermeille (G1) and Prix de l’Opera (G1), and better-than-appears fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), the Galileo filly was a closing second in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) in her first try versus males. Stablemate Hunting Horn is the second-stringer, mostly being found wanting since his Hampton Court (G3) score, and could be best employed as a tactical aide.
The Sheema might well be as much a cat-and-mouse affair as the Super Saturday stepping stone, the Dubai City of Gold (G2). It took a superb turn of foot from Old Persian to thwart Godolphin confrere Racing History’s near-theft of the about 1 1/2-mile prep. Indeed, Old Persian would have been a desperately unlucky loser, since he’d been full of run while buried behind horses until deep stretch.
The Charlie Appleby trainee stands to improve as a Dubawi four-year-old, and the multiple Group 2 hero likely has to progress off the bare form. His best piece of form was his victory in the Great Voltigeur (G2) at York, besting next-out Melbourne Cup (G1) winner Cross Counter and Kew Gardens. Old Persian was outstayed by Kew Gardens in their St Leger (G1) rematch, where he finished fifth, and reverting to this trip put him back in the winner’s circle. Yet now he faces a far stronger cast of elders than in the City of Gold.
While two of the past three City of Gold winners went on to turn the double in the Sheema, including Hawkbill for Appleby, no horse beaten in that prep has come back to win this race. Racing History, a full brother to European champion Farhh, has had a productive Carnival, placing in all four Group attempts over a range of trips, but Super Saturday was his best chance at a win. The ever-dangerous David Simcock’s Desert Encounter was a bang-up third in the City of Gold, his first start since his Canadian International (G1) coup. Although sure to come on for the run, these waters are a lot deeper, and he appears bound for a minor award at best. At least he’s guaranteed to do better than his slow-starting ninth last year.
Wednesday’s draw via emiratesracing.com: