Preview: Dubai World Cup

The richest race on the planet is just around the corner – the $10 million Dubai World Cup! We could debate all day long if this race deserves its status and the incredible amount of prize money that is on offer – but let’s concentrate on the sport for the moment.

We have a field of eight runners going to post this Saturday. The controversial switch to a Dirt surface at the Meydan racetrack has certainly helped to attract at least two top class runners from the US – but not only that – it is a good international line-up this year, with two classy horses from Japan, as well as last years World Cup champion African Story. But let’s take a closer look:

California Chrome:

Last years Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes hero California Chrome made the trip over to Dubai and has been installed as the red hot favourite. Chrome proved himself a versatile horse, with Group 1 successes on Dirt and Turf alike. He came close to win the Triple Crown last season and it would have been easy to retire him to stud after such a great year, so one has to applaud connections for their brave decision to keep him in training for another season. Can he add to his impressive tally of victories?

Possibly. Chrome started the new year with a very good effort in the San Antonio Stakes. Only beaten by Shared Belief that day, this prep run should bring him along nicely for the big day. One of the few concerns is the Meydan Dirt. Seemingly different to what he knows from the US, we will have to find out on the day itself how he handles it. There are positive vibes, though, following good workouts since his arrival in Dubai.

The 2.000m trip won’t be a problem at all. He won the Derby over this distance and finished a gallant third in the Breeders Cup Classic. Usually aggressively ridden, he should be helped by the way the new Meydan Dirt track has worked out so far over the course of the season.

Lea:

A multiple Stakes winner in the US, he broke the track record at Gulfstream Park in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap over 1 1/8 mile last year. He had a long lay-off afterwards but was probably near his best when reappearing in January, winning a Grade 3 over a mile. He followed up with a nice runner-up effort in the 2015 Donn Handicap. That all sets him up nicely for a crack at the Dubai World Cup and he rates a big chance.

The main question is the trip. He never tried 10f before, albeit there aren’t that many opportunities in the US to do so. He’s got a chance on pedigree, but the way the Meydan Dirt rides and the possibility of a very quick race, this is a potent concern in my mind.

African Story: 

Last years impressive World Cup winner, although back then on Tapeta, has put concerns to bed about his ability to translate his class to Dirt. A fair effort on his seasonal reappearance, followed by a very gutsy success in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3, proved that he is capable of running well on the Dirt. He hated the kick-back on his first run, but was much closer ridden to the pace the last time and that proved the deal breaker.

African Story isn’t getting any younger but his most recent run was clearly promising and over the years he has excelled under the Dubai sun. Naturally he has to be one of the main contenders, given the fact that he is proven over the course, surface and trip. He also showed guts and the right mental attitude to compete with the best on Dirt.

Prince Bishop:

A versatile and talented horse, albeit also a quirky character, Prince Bishop has been a close runner-up in two starts on the Meydan Dirt this season. He has developed a habit of starting poorly as well as racing lazily in the early parts of a race and that caught him out the last two times. He stayed on very impressively on both occasions, but the risk is there that he loses the race at the start and any ground he’d give away early on would be difficult if not probably impossible to make up in the World Cup this time.

Epiphaneia:

The 2014 Japan Cup winner is a top class horse and exciting addition to this race. If he can translate his class to the Dirt, he must be a big runner. But there is the big question mark: He’s never tried this surface On pedigree there is a possibility that he can adapt to it. But first time out here in a big race like the World Cup may prove quite a difficult task. He is a former St. Leger winner, so one has to be slightly concerned about the sharp 10f trip, particularly as early speed is so important on Dirt. It could be all happening a bit too quickly for Epiphaneia.

Hokko Tarumae

Another high class individual from Japan is trying his luck in the World Cup. Hokko Tarumae was a long way beaten in the very same race last year, but the change of surface should make a big difference to his chances. He is the reigning Japan Dirt Cup winner, in addition to a long list of other big Grade 1’s on Dirt in his home country.

Hokko Tarumae likes to be ridden close to the pace and he showed himself in good nick lately. If he travelled well over and can adapt to the Meydan Dirt surface, he should be a big chance to go really close in the Dubai World Cup this time.

Candy Boy: 

The four year old was thought to be one of the more fancied Kentucky Derby contenders last year but disappointed in the race itself and was a long way beaten by California Chrome that day. He ran out some creditable placed efforts in some big Stakes races, however was more than five lengths beaten in the Breeders Cup Classic. He looks up against it here, particularly with the trip not sure to suit.

Side Glance: 

He has been running really well in Group 1’s all over the world last season and was only half a lengths beaten in the Cox Plate when seen the last time. He was fourth in the 2013 Dubai World but has never raced on Dirt and that is an obvious concern. Worth a try with him here, but hard to fancy him against top class opposition.

Verdict: The 2015 Dubai World Cup looks an open enough renewal. The Meydan Dirt surface is a question mark for many runners, but it can be assumed that the US horses have enough class to take to it. If that is the case, then Lea but probably even more so California Chrome have to be strong contenders to land the richest race on the planet. However it would be a mistake to underestimate the local runners.

I feel that African Story in particular doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He is a proven top class performer, defending his crown, and has seemingly adapted to the new surface as his most recent success proved. He showed good gate speed that day, and if he can get a good break this time again, he’ll have a big chance to go really close. At 8/1 he looks a huge price.

The other international horses have to be respected as well. Japan’s top Dirt performer Hokko Tarumae should play a big role this time I feel. He wasn’t suited to Tapeta at all last year, but should be really suited by the test on Saturday. It is sometimes hard to know how this Japanese form translates to the international stage, though my perception is that Hokko Tarumae would be a classy Dirt performer anywhere in the world. Widely available at 12/1, he is overpriced and together with African Story I select him as a value bet against the two market leaders California Chrome and Lea.

African Story @ 8/1 Betfred – 5pts win
Hokko Tarumae @ 12/1 Paddy Power – 5pts win

A wind of change?

Wind operations certainly have been a big topic at Cheltenham last week after a couple of horses produced some dramatic improvement of form at the Festival following this type of surgery. Most prominent example was World Hurdle winner Cole Harden, who gamely stormed up the hill at the end of a three mile race, when before he would probably have stopped at the final furlong marker.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Improved performance and well-being of the horse is the intention of such a surgical intervention. However there is a question of how horse racing fans and punters are informed about it. The logic says, since a wind operation can have a drastic effect on a horses performance, it’ll be clearly stated in the race card or at least somewhere in the profile of the horse on the official BHA website.

Guess what, that is not the case. Of course not. We know that. Therefore many people were stunned about one or another performance last week. Right now you have to read carefully through trainer quotes in all the different publications in order to find this kind of information. Sometimes it is more widely known, because it is a bigger race and connections made it public. Sometimes it is not so well known and only becomes public in the aftermath.

Same applies to gelding operations. Not so relevant in jump racing, but very much on the flat. A gelding operation can have a dramatic effect on the performance of a horse. It can influence temperament and attitude. We know that. Many racing jurisdictions worldwide make the date of gelding available in racecards. For example here in South Africa:

gelding

The same sort of detail is not available in British Racing at the moment. And that despite – one would think so at least – racing in the UK is much more advanced if it comes to data and the availability of data. But if it comes to such important things as the gelding date…. well it is just not there.

Now, the recent incidents from the Cheltenham Festival made me curious to find out what the BHA actually has to say about this. Well, judge for yourself – this is what they replied to my questions about the availability of either wind op and gelding date – BHA Response:

[…] “I’m afraid due to a technical fault the sex of the horses on the BHA website is missing, the IT team are working to get his corrected as quickly as possible. However you can see that status on the Racing Post’s profiles (http://www.racingpost.com/ ).
I’m afraid at this stage we are not able to include the date of a gelding on the horse profile page.

I can confirm that the British Horseracing Authority has been considering the proposal to make public wind operations. After initial consultation it is clear this development is not going to be straightforward and wider consultation is required.

We are progressing this with trainers, Weatherbys and BHA’s Veterinary Committee with a view to developing a mechanism for effective and meaningful information sharing on the matter.

I’m afraid at this point we can give no clearer detail or timeframe, until the consultation is further down the line”. […]

Good to hear that they consider changes – but if I’m not completely wrong, then this wasn’t the first time that this kind of thing was brought up. It looks to me though, much more like a lack of willingness to make changes actually happen. In my mind it’s hard to understand why other racing jurisdictions can provide this vital information, but in a powerful racing nation as the UK or even Ireland, it is just not there. Why is it so difficult to import gelding dates to a data base? if you want it, you can do it.

Of course it is understandable that not every racing nation can offer such an enormous data base like Singapore or Hong Kong usually do (check it out, it’s amazing. every workout, every medical treatment, absolutely everything is stated there!) – but key details, like gelding date or wind operation, should simply be part of the standard package.

East Cape Sprint stepping stone for Copper Parade

Copper Parade is a proper Grade 1 horse running at Listed level today. There are reasons for that, as he can be bit temperamental in times and hasn’t been seen since January. Bigger targets are on the mind of connections with the big Grade 1 sprints looming. He is the top rated sprinter in the country due to his success in the Premier G1 Computaform Sprint last year and a subsequent runner-up effort in the G1 Mercury Sprint.

He’s been a bit up and down in the next three, but dropping big time in class today, he is clearly the one the others have to beat. That says he is a slightly better horse over 1.000m but has won over further in the past, so 1.200m should be okay and class should prevail. On official ratings he is well in today.

Main opponent should be the only filly in the race, Yoshie. A multiple winner of sprint races at listed level, she is well in the weights compared with most rivals and should run a very big race. However she has loads to find on the ratings with Copper Parade. In-form horse Unannounced won four on the bounce and should be competitive, but as most in this field, has mainly been running in handicaps.

If things go normal, Copper Parade can’t get beaten here. A 115 rated individual against 100 rated horses and lower. This discrepancy is not offset by weight allowances at all, so if he runs to his ability, it should be game over at 200m post.

2.10 Fairview: East Cape Sprint Cup (Listed)
Copper Parade @ 5/4 Sportingbet – 10pts win

Happy Birthday “King” Kauto Star

Kauto Star

Happy Birthday KAUTO STAR – a true racing legend! A winner of 5 King George’s and 2 Cheltenham Gold Cup’s, he is a horse for the ages! I only saw him once in flesh, which was last year at the Festival when he took part in a parade.

Personally I’m not entirely sure if the dressage thing is really what he wants, but on the other hand it is great to see him having a fulfilled post-racing-life with purpose and exercise.

Enlance dangerous on All-Weather debut

Godolphin is red hot on the All-Weather and for that simple reason you have to respect the favourite Hollie Point who finally got off the mark on the ninth attempt over course and distance when fitted with blinkers for the first time a fortnight ago. An opening mark of 80 looks fair and she may well has more to offer, but for all of that, she hasn’t beaten much the last time and looks a very short price.

Dark War looks a solid enough gelding and has fair form to offer, though more is required here and there might not be too much more to come. Jaganory doesn’t look good enough to land this, while Caltra Colleen is an interesting filly with potential, but she has been off the track for a very long time and the drift in the market is a worry.

Mark Johnston has his string in excellent form lately and does particularly well with three year olds. That gives confidence in the chance of Enlace, who has her first start this season. She die very well in the early days of her career when she followed up on her fine debut win with a strong runner-up effort in a hot Newmarket Nursery. She was unable to confirm that form subsequently, but a break may have done her well and on pedigree it looks likely that she can progress with age as well as the step up to 7f should suit. As a Shamardal daughter she should take well to the All-Weather.

In my eyes Enlace is the value against the favourite in this field where on merit it should be between the first two in the market. Money is floating in for the Johnston filly and 11/4 looks a very good price here.

8.15 Kempton: Class 4 Handicap, 7f
Enlace @ 11/4 William Hill – 10pts win

Strydom value on Leeuloop Jet at Vaal

The betting market suggests that this a widen open race with plenty of chances, and indeed, that is the case. Though I can drill down the field to a handful of runners with realistic chances to go close. Favourite Orchestrated will be one of them. He won over course and distance last month and had a couple of runners in this field behind him. A swing in the weights and a five pound higher mark make life tougher though. He found 2.450m too far subsequently, dropping back to 1.700m will surely suit. He’s a fair favourite and a fair price.

The only three year old in the race, Kingmambos Legacy has a very light weight and that must give him a chance, as well as you always have to respect De Kock’s runners. But he hasn’t shown anything in six starts that suggests he is up to this standard. He also has been campaigned over further and may find this trip too sharp. Tee Jay Ar finished 3rd behind Orchestrated the last time. A 2.5kg swing in the weights can help to get closer, but the trip is a worry. His best is over shorter and he may find this too far once again.

Talented Eurakilon loves this track and has fair form in the book. But his problem is that he gets going way too late on too many occasions. He has an obvious chance if he can produce his finish earlier, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Lightly raced Thatho Magetique is an interesting horse. He has fair form to offer and may be able to improve a bit. A light weight gives him a chance but it remains to be seen how he fares for the step up in class against much stronger rivals.

Exposed Noble Star has plenty to find on ratings, however a very light weight of 52kg gives him a chance to be in with a shout. He’s been consistent lately in lower grades but hasn’t won in ages. He shouldn’t be good enough, though the weight is in his favour. Zanzibar Man goes well at this track and wasn’t too far beaten by Orchestrated last month, swing in the weights with this rival gives him a competitive chance, though he has hit the crossbar a bit too often and his last win dated back almost a year in lower class.

Dark horse could be Leeuloop Jet. A good deal beaten by Orchestrated the last time, he usually loves track and trip as he is 2 from 3 over course and distance. He’s coming down in the weights and rated to be competitive today with conditions very much to suit. He was only a lengths beaten on his penultimate run by a lightweight, a repeat of that form should see him going close. Interestingly top jockey Piere Strydom gets the leg up, which must mean that a strong run is expected. Strydom has a 24% strike rate with trainer Moffatt and steered Leeuloop Jet to two wins last season. So to see him up again is a confidence boost. Leeuloop Jet is a 9/1 chance which looks too big and the value in this field.
2.35 Vaal: MR 92 Handicap, 1.700m
Leeuloop Jet @ 9/1 Bet365 – 5pts win

Jockeys’ Championship – Does It Still Matter?

By now you may have heard about the changes made in terms of the British Flat Jockeys’ Championship. The general perception is rather negative, though I don’t want to get caught up in the discussion whether these changes make sense or not. My question is rather: Does it still matter? I mean does anyone really care about this championship these days?

No. 

Simple answer from my side. I’m sure not anyone does agree with me, and that is fine. But let me explain: Flat racing has developed very much into a global sport. Opportunities are near and far these days – for horses, trainers, owners and jockeys alike. Be it Hong Kong, Australia or the US – the big ride in a prestigious Group race is just one flight away.

Yes, I’m sure to win the title meant allot to Richard Hughes or Paul Hanagan in recent years. And yes, it is still some achievement to ride thousand races a year and lift the trophy at the end of the season for being ‘the best’. But what is it really worth?

The broader context to this is that the best (or most talented) British jockeys simply aren’t competing for the title these days. Much the opposite. They are frequently on the hunt for opportunities elsewhere. Because of the internationalisation of the sport, the best jockeys have now more than ever the opportunities to ride in big races anywhere in the world. And indeed, that is what they do! The Buick’s, Moore’s and Doyle’s are happy enough to miss a whole day in the office at Pontefract or Windsor, for one single ride in the big Grade 1 at Arlington.

And here’s my point: If the best British jockeys deliberately don’t compete for the title, where is the merit of this championship? Yes, someone will win it in the end, because that is the nature of competition. Someone will have the most winners on the plate at the end of the season. But someone is not the best. And shouldn’t the best compete for a jockey’s championship?

Imagine Bayern Munich wouldn’t compete in the Bundesliga anymore because the big games in the Champions League are so much more important. Yes, someone would still win the Bundesliga. But what would it be worth, without competing against the best? I know, this comparison is quite  simplistic (and, admittedly, unrealistic). Jockeys still compete throughout the season in the UK, even if they don’t go all out for the title. But still, it illustrates my point, doesn’t it?

Long story short: The jockeys’ championship is becoming a pointless competition, it lost its appeal and value. Why? Because the currency of modern flat racing is big wins – and those aren’t necessarily the class 5 Handicaps on a Wednesday evening around Kempton…

Horse Racing Around The Globe

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