The Dubai World Cup (G1) may be the showpiece of dirt racing on Saturday at Meydan, but there’s also a Kentucky Derby qualifier, a Group 1 sprint and a Group 2 mile. Horses from around the globe are taking part in the undercard races on dirt, including a host of American chances.
UAE Derby (G2) – Race 5 (10:10 a.m. ET)
One of the most international Derby races in the world, the $1 million UAE Derby this year features horses from the United States, Japan, Russia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Dubai. There’s a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby going for the winner and, potentially, the runner-up, if they are eligible, with a points structure of 100-40-20-10.
Four runners are definitely not eligible: the three Southern Hemisphere-breds and Pinehurst, whose trainer Bob Baffert has been suspended by Churchill Downs. All four, however, are not without a chance.
Pinehurst, the Del Mar Futurity (G1) winner, could start favorite after his victory in the Saudi Derby (G3). He only just beat Japanese runner Sekifu, who opposes him again here, but has the benefit of a better gate.
The South American-breds are Kiefer, Quality Boone, and Irwin. Kiefer finished sixth in the Saudi Derby, two weeks after finishing second in the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3). Quality Boone finished third in the UAE 2000 Guineas, and backed up with a nice victory in the listed Al Bastakiya over former British galloper Withering, who also contests the UAE Derby from the Dubai stable of Fawzi Nass.
Irwin tackles the UAE Derby first-up but he should not be taken lightly; his four victories are all either at Grade 1 or Grade 2 level, and he demolished his opponents in the about 1 9/16-mile Gran Premio Nacional (Argentine Derby, G1) by nine lengths at his last start.
American horseman Bill Mott saddles up Gilded Age, whose third-place finish in the Withers S. (G3) at Aqueduct Feb. 5 looks better after runner-up Un Ojo won the Rebel S. (G2) at Oaklawn Park. The third American trainee is Doug O’Neill’s Get Back Goldie, a winner at Meydan Feb. 4 before finishing a well-beaten sixth in the Al Bastakiya.
Japan’s challenge for the race is four-strong. In addition to the aforementioned Sekifu there is Reiwa Homare, unraced since finishing second to Sekifu at Hanshin Oct. 24; Crown Pride, a two-time winner who was sixth in the listed Hyacinth S. Feb. 20; and the Hyacinth winner Combustion, who looks like being Godolphin’s main challenger in the race. All the Japanese runners bar Combustion hold Triple Crown nominations.
The star dirt three-year-old of the Dubai carnival has unusually been a United States-bred Russian horse. Azure Coast arrived in Dubai having won his only local race, at Moscow Sept. 19; he then won a conditions race at Meydan Dec. 16 and then the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3). In each of his Dubai races he tailed off a long last early before unleashing a stunning rally. He should not be underestimated.
The field is rounded out by four Dubai-trained runners: UAE 2000 Guineas fourth placegetter Bendoog, UAE Oaks (G3) runner-up Arabian Gazelles, recent conditions winner Summer Is Tomorrow, and Godolphin’s Island Falcon, a Triple Crown-nominated Meydan winner Jan. 21 who was well beaten in the Saudi Derby.
Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) – Race 6 (10:45 a.m. ET)
Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) runner-up Dr. Schivel heads a quartet of sprinters seeking to maintain the strong record of United States sprinters in this $2 million dash over 1,200 meters (about six furlongs).
Dr. Schivel is this highest-rated horse in the field. He has won five of his nine races and was only just nosed out of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint victory by Aloha West. He then disappointed in the Malibu S. (G1) over seven furlongs, but the dual Grade 1 winner has been freshened and should appreciate the return to six furlongs.
Another U.S Grade 1 winner targeting the race is the Saffie Joseph-trained Drain the Clock. The Woody Stephens (G1) winner has been in fine form at Gulfstream Park over winter, winning an allowance and then finishing second in the Gulfstream Sprint S.
The other U.S. starters don’t have the same performance level, but they are useful horses nonetheless. Brittany Russell has brought over the Munnings gelding Wondrwherecraigis, the Bold Ruler H. (G3) winner Oct. 31 who showed his fitness for this by winning the Fire Plug S. at Laurel Park Jan. 29. America’s challenge is rounded off by Strongconstitution, who has run two solid races at Group 3 level over a mile in Dubai this year.
Another horse Americans may remember that contests the Golden Shaheen is Everfast. Runner-up in the 2019 Preakness (G1), Everfast lost form after that and was subsequently sent to Dubai trainer Doug Watson. Since arriving he has won a conditions race and finished third in two rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge, Round 2 (G2) and Round 3 (G1). He drops a long way back in distance from 1 1/4 miles for this race.
Japan’s challenge is twofold. Red Le Zele has the higher rating and finished a good second in this race last year. The other Japanese runner is Chain of Love, who finished third in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) Feb. 26.
Heading the Dubai defence is Meraas. A five-year-old formerly trained in Britain, he has won both his Dubai starts impressively, the most recent being the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3). Al Tariq, who finished third that day, will re-oppose him in the Golden Shaheen.
Other Dubai challengers are the March 5 Mahab al Shimaal (G3) winner Eastern World, the Jan. 1 Al Garhoud Sprint winner Switzerland, and the former English and Bahraini galloper Mobaadel.
France is represented by Manjeer, second in the Mahab al Shimaal, while English hopes lie with Riyadh Dirt Sprint runner-up Good Effort.
Godolphin Mile (G2) – Race 2 (8:20 a.m. ET)
Dubai World Cup hope Midnight Bourbon won’t be U.S. trainer Steve Asmussen’s only interest at Meydan, as he is also double-handed in the $1 million Godolphin Mile (G2).
Asmussen lines up Bankit and Snapper Sinclair in the first Thoroughbred feature of the night, and both look to be reasonable chances.
Bankit, third in the Monmouth Cup (G3) July 17 two back, was fifth in a Feb. 19 allowance in his reappearance at Oaklawn Park. He’s shown useful form in the past, most notably when finishing second in the Razorback H. (G3) at Oaklawn in 2020.
Snapper Sinclair has been a good servant to Asmussen since 2017, winning twice at listed level, the most recent being at Kentucky Downs Sept. 8. He finished fourth in this race last year behind Secret Ambition and Golden Goal, both of whom are back again this year.
Secret Ambition should be well supported, but favoritism may go with his stablemate Al Nefud. He was the only horse to make a race of it with Hot Rod Charlie in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2), finishing a 5 1/4-length second while beating the rest by more than seven lengths. He doesn’t have anything of Hot Rod Charlie’s class to beat here.
Bhupat Seemar, who trains Secret Ambition and Al Nefud, also starts Tuz, who has finished third at Group 3 level over a mile at his last two starts.
Japan has three Godolphin Mile challengers. Soliste Thunder is arguably the most accomplished of them, finishing fourth to Cafe Pharoah in the February S. (G1) Feb. 20. Two starts prior to that he won the Musashino S. (G3). Full Flat looked to have potential when beating Mishriff in the 2020 Saudi Derby, but he hasn’t raced since June of that year. The other Japanese runner, Bathrat Leon, won the New Zealand Trophy (G2) April 10 but has done little since and hasn’t achieved much on dirt.
Former French horse Algiers is an interesting runner; at his most recent start he won the Jebel Ali Mile (G3), beating Remorse, who contests the Dubai World Cup later in the day. English runner Pogo contests the race after finishing fourth in the 1351 Sprint (G3) on Saudi Cup day. He has shown useful form at Group 2 level in England but hasn’t raced on dirt before.
Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor starts two horses here. The most favored will likely be Storm Damage, winner of his two most recent starts at Meydan, admittedly both on turf. His other contender will be Dubai Icon, whose form has fallen away since beating Remorse in a conditions race Jan. 21.
Saudi runner Great Scot brings interesting formlines to the event. Third in last year’s Saudi Cup behind Mishriff, his most recent start was a second-place finish in the King Faisal Cup at Riyadh behind Emblem Road, the subsequent 2022 Saudi Cup winner.
The field is completed by the two Dubai-trained runners Desert Wisdom and Mubakker, the first two home in the Burj Nahaar (G3) at Meydan March 5.