Now that Cheltenham is well and truly behind us we can start to look forward again. Though not too far. Only to this Saturday. Dubai World Cup Day. The big one on the other side of the planet.
For the moment I only want to focus on the Dubai Sheema Classic though – the Group 1 on turf over 2.400m, now worth a staggering US$ 6 million!
Why am I so keen to get this race “out of the way” this early? Well, it’s because I feel the market does not reflect the true chances of one major contender. That is Highland Reel.
The Aiden O’Brien trained five year old started his stellar four year old campaign in this very same race last season, followed by brilliant victories in the King George and Breeders Cup Turf.
At this point it probably makes sense to check out last years running of the Sheema Classic, a race won by Postponed:
On that evidence – at least visually – Postponed won fair and square, in fact he was quite impressive the way he sprinted away from his rivals in the closing stages.
But that is only half the truth. Do you see how nicely Postponed is covered up throughout, getting an energy saving, inch perfect ride by Andrea Atzeni? Compare that to Highland Reel, the leader pretty much from the start. Hassled along from a draw less than ideal, the Ballydoyle inmate set decent fractions, leading the field nearly until the final furlong, where eventually he faded away, finishing 4th.
Aiden O’Brien has a dismal record in Dubai and sometimes his horses turn out there under cooked. This was clearly not the reason why Highland Reel faded so badly in the end. Evidence is to be found in the sectionals that do underpin the visual impression:
Highland Reel did more than other horse in the race – probably a bit too much too soon – burning vital energy. The pace he went was not sustainable in the end against high class opposition. Maybe in hindsight Ryan Moore would ride the race slightly different.
That’s the past. What’s the future? Postponed will try to defend his crown. He had a decent prep run, though he was overturned at short odds. I don’t read too much into it. He’ll be near as good as ever I would imagine.
And so will Highland Reel, presumably. On ratings there is a mere pound between the two. Though it’s true Postponed had the the upper hand on two occasions. First here in the Sheema and then in last years Juddmonte International.
Third time lucky? Yes, I do think so! With ground and trip certainly to suit Highland Reel, and possibly with a slightly more energy saving ride, there is every chance that he’ll be able to beat Postponed.
Granted, it’s not all about these two, though its’ likely to be a small field with not an awful lot of top class horses in the line-up, which again will suit Highland Reel probably the little bit more.
Former Derby runner-up Jack Hobbs is an intended runner. He made a pleasing comeback in the British Champion Stakes last season. He’s a danger, no doubt. But only two runs since his third in the 2015 BCS – he has not only a bit too find on the ratings, but also can’t be trusted to be fully ready on his seasonal re-appearance.
The Japanese Satano Crown, who beat Highland Reel in Hong Kong in a tight finish back in December, is unlikely to line up. And if he’d be here I’d fancy HR to turn it around, given how agonisingly close he came in the Vase, doing it yet again the hard way. Prize Money, who beat Postponed in his comeback will probably find it tough to repeat this feast.
Irish and Yorkshire Oaks heroine Seventh Heaven is probably the second runner for team Ballydoyle. An intriguing one, who can easily be a big player.I fear her most, because she is a somewhat unknown quantity, given she is still lightly raced enough with potential improvement to come now as a four year old.
Summary: Highland Reel was unlucky not go closer in the Sheema Classic last year. On ratings there is very little between himself and favourite Postponed. A small field where Highland Reel can dominate will be an ideal scenario. At 5/1 he looks overpriced and I’m rather sure he’ll be half the price on Saturday.
10pts win – Highland Reel @ 5/1 Betfair SB