On a day like this where our beloved sport produced its finest moments just to be followed by incredible tragedy, it’s comforting that we racing fans can drown our sorrow – at least for a moment – in excitement about the next big race.
It might be fickle, it might feel wrong but this is simply the circle of life in our game of horse racing. Greats come, Greats go, the next star’s just been borne… but that is racing also: legends are never forgotten.
And a legend we’ll never forget is the great Many Clouds, who sadly left us today, after a heroic win at Cheltenham. I had the privilege to see this almighty horse winning the Grand National in 2015 – a historic performance is was. What a warrior, what a star, a true Great of our game. RIP big fella….
But there it is, the next big race – its protagonists deserve our full attention. This big race is the inaugural Pegasus World Cup. World class prize money on offer, with a purse of $12 million it’s the richest race on earth! although it’s debatable whether the tag “World Cup” is justified, given it’s a race on dirt with no foreign raider in the 12-runner line-up and only two of them truly deserve to be called world class.
Nonetheless this is an intriguing contest like few others, purely because those two world class horses are no less than the recently crowned number one and two of the world rankings: Arrogate and California Chrome!
A single pound between the two in the ratings indicates what a close contest we might witness tonight – effectively a match-race, much like when these two met the first- and last time. That was in November, in the Breeders Cup Classic, a day when the three year old Arrogate prevailed by half a lengths after a thrilling finish down the home straight.
Arrogate won fair and square that day in my humble opinion. In fact he looks special, which became evident to me after his sensational performance in the Travers Stakes. It looked almost unreal the way he demolished his rivals in what was a top notch Grade 1!
However is he really better than California Chrome? The jury is still out, I feel. Let’s not forget Arrogate received a handy little weight for age allowance in the Breeders Cup Classic, and no doubt he endured a much less gruelling season leading up to the big race at Santa Anita than the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner certainly did.
Chrome in contrast travelled the world, ripped the Dubai World Cup field apart and went on to win two more Grade ones, making super mare Beholder look ordinary in the Pacific Classic. Whether he was still at 100% in November, when on go for so long, where one big race followed the next is hard to say.
What is easy to say: Chrome is not slowing down. He’s as good as ever, judged on an easy prep run at Los Alamitos in the middle of December. Arrogate in contrast didn’t have another race since the Breeders Cup. A disadvantage? I reckon it’s not. For all he’s still the younger horse, with fresher legs and upside.
Tactics will be interesting today. Arrogate is drawn on the inside, Chrome widest on the outside. Two tricky gates to start from. Chrome may need to work to get up with the pace where he usually wants to sit whereas Arrogate has to be careful not to get boxed in.
Nonetheless when it really comes down to it, these two will fight it out. Who’s going to win? Impossible to say. My gut feeling is that Chrome might have a little bit more going for himself here. The run under his belt last month, he meets Arrogate at level weights today and the not insignificant drop to nine furlongs could be more in his favour too.
After all, it’s probably fair to say that this is a coin flip. With that in mind I got to go with California Chrome. He’s a the value price. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets outstayed in thrilling finish by the extra special Arrogate. In less than two hours we’ll find out.
Touted as “the best ever”, the Pacific Classic didn’t turn into the thrilling three-way-battle everyone was hoping for. A let-down?
Nope. Certainly not! Well, at least not if you love to see great horses doing great things!
It wasn’t the supposed thriller because California Chrome demolished his classy rivals – brilliant mare Beholder and gutsy Dortmund – in quite sensational style. In fact Chrome fans were able to count their chickens early – the race was basically done and dusted already after the first couple of furlongs.
Why? Because the one big thing that could spell trouble for the reigning Dubai World Cup champion was pushed out of the way with ease. Drawn in barrier one can be tricky. But it doesn’t have to be.
From the inside gate, jockey Espinoza pressed on right from the moment the gates crashed open. Without much hassle he manoeuvred Chrome into the lead and let thimp settle into a nice rhythm.
And that was that. Case closed. No rival wanted to take him on for the lead; Chrome was allowed to dawdle along in front to set fractions that would suit him perfectly. Then from four furlongs out Espinoza started to go through the gears.
He was winding it up without any signs of trouble whatsoever. After an easy lead for the entire race, Chrome had still plenty in the tank and finished strongly despite being hand held, whereas his main rivals faded away.
What was thought to be a highly competitive race turned into a procession by a tactically smart rider and a classy equine superstar – which California Chrome undoubtedly is.
I’m not surprised and speculated beforehand that the draw would not be as big a deal as some made out of it. I also said California Chrome should be considered an odds-on chance in this field, despite all the hype around the depth of the field in “best ever Pacific Classic”.
Yes, it would have been interesting to see if either Dortmund or Beholder would have at least tried to make a race of it, if one would have pressed Chrome for the lead or would have made at least a big move at some point to apply some heat.
But then the five year old is simply in a different league to Beholder and Dortmund. He’s a battle hardened horse but more importantly a multiple Grade 1 winner on different surfaces at different continents. Breeders Cup Classic next?
What a race in prospect tonight: the clash of California Chrome vs. Beholder vs. Dortmund in the Pacific Classic! Should be an absolute cracker.
The mare Beholder tries to defend her crown, after romping home to an 8 lengths plus success in this race last year. It looks a tougher assignment this time, given main rivals Dortmund and California Chrome are sure to be primed.
Both locked horns in the San Diego Handicap most recently where they reappeared after a break. Despite giving weight away, California Chrome came out on top after a tough battle in the home straight.
Quite honestly it’s hard to see Dortmund turning the table today. I’m a big fan of this lad, he just such good looking boy! But he is not quite the class of Dubai World Cup winner California Chrome and is not necessarily appreciating the step up in trip.
No bother for Chrome, though. He has the stamina and class, however will have to overcome a tough draw on the inside – Espinoza has to make a tough call early on.
I believe he’ll keep it simple and will use Chrome’s early speed to make sure he’s not boxed in. And that will be that.
Beholder has tried this trip once before – when she turned last year’s Pacific Classic into a procession. However it was an odd race, with the leaders taking each other on and Bayern not performing on the day.
My feeling is that against tougher opposition, over this trip against a world class animal like California Chrome, who’s sure to stay every inch of the distance, she’s likely to fall short – despite a handy 5lb weight allowance.
Chrome is the class act and clearly the one to beat. He usually improves quite a bit from his first run after a break, so should be ready for a big performance today. In my book he is odds-on.
Flat racing’s really got into my mind by now – and reason for that is the Dubai World Cup is just around the corner! On Saturday it’s raining money and whether you like the meeting or not, it certainly has its place in the international racing calendar, attracts good horses every year and provides excellent racing.
So let’s have a look at some of the big races on the night. I’ve put some thoughts and selections together, however I leave most of the dirt races out since I don’t really get a handle on them. With one exception…
Dubai World Cup: The richest race on earth is also one of the strangest Group 1 races on earth. Touted as the “World Cup”, the prize money is clearly worthy of a world champion, yet the winner usually isn’t anywhere close to be a superstar.
That little fact aside, this years renewal looks compelling on paper. There is California Chrome of course, who – you could argue – wasn’t 100% when he finished runner-up behind Prince Bishop in this very same race twelve month ago.
He had a light campaign since then, with success coming easy in a Grade 2 at Santa Anita back in January after a good break; followed up with an impressive victory on his return to Meydan, however only in a Handicap.
Nonetheless California Chrome appears to be a different horse this time around, “five lengths better” so the words of his trainer. He’ll be big runner on Saturday despite having to deal with a desperately unkind draw I suspect.
Yes, he’s got to start in the car park and that isn’t easy given horses simply don’t win a World Cup from there, but this is no ordinary horse, this is. California Chrome. If there’s a horse able to overcome this hurdle then it could be him.
Most likely the biggest danger is his US mate Frosted. He chased after the almighty American Pharoah last year, but seems to have improved big time from three to four. He looked a monster on his Meydan debut in Round 2 of Al Maktoum Challenge when slaughtering a decent field.
Frosted has been allocated a poor draw too, though slightly better than California Chrome. He showed good early speed in the past, so did Chrome, which means I can see both being able to overcome this disadvantage, however at the expense of burning quite some fuel right at the start.
Given the very short price for California Chrome, and the fact that in essence we know what he is, I’d be rather against him, and would favour Frosted to do better, who in contrast may actually improve again – or let’s say is more likely to have significant improvement left in him.
I believe that despite the draw Frosted is the classiest horse and most likely winner of the Dubai World Cup – but at 5/2 is certainly a price where any possible improvement is already factored in times two. That begs the question – what else is in the race?
Mubtaahij! He’s been disappointing on two occasions this Carnival. Though valid excused can be made. In fact trainer Mike De Kock is unusually bullish. So you have to listen and think about it. De Kock’s bullishness is often warranted and not just a blow in the wind.
He’s adamant that with a more aggressive ride Mubtaahij will be a huge runner. And I think so too. But: he’s not going to stay the trip in a truly run race where he’s aggressive early on in an attempt to grab the lead. No way. I’m bullish about it myself! He’ll be a big runner until 250m out and than start to fade away.
What else? You have to take Special Fighter serious. Yes, there was a dramatic track bias when he romped home in the Maktoum Challange R3, but his finishing speed was still mightily impressive and faster than of sprinters on the same card.
If people want to ignore this particular form – fine. But it’s hard to ignore the facts. This lad, since switched to the dirt, has shown nothing but big time improvement. He’s thrived throughout the carnival on this Meydan dirt track. He’s an improving horse, with only six starts on this surface and a 50% strike rate to date.
Sure, he was well and truly beaten by Frosted in the Maktoum Challenge R2, but he had a bad draw that day, in contrast to Frosted, and travelled wide the whole time. You can make, if you want, excuses for that. This time Special Fighter has a better draw. He goes from box five, which gives him every chance to be up with the early speed, which is so vital.
The Hong Kong runner Gun Pit, who finished second behind Special Fighter the last time, is one with a lively chance too, if he gets home. He’s got an excellent draw and can’t be easily discounted.
The two other US runners, Hopertunity and Keen Ice are strange horses. Are they good enough? Maybe. Hoppertunity once finished a close runner-up in the Santa Anita Gold Cup. So the trip might not be beyond him. But he’s got to overcome a bad draw.
Keen Ice had excuses here on his Meydan debut and should come on for the run. But is he quick enough to be up with the pace? He doesn’t strike me as a particularly quick horse and let’s not forget he beat American Pharoah with a big challenge from off the pace, in what is to date his only graded success.
Recent Grade 1 scorer Mshawish makes more appeal. He’s taken well to the dirt but his stand out performance is a third place behind Sollow in last years Dubai Turf. He has a serious chance if he can get home over the 10f trip.
Verdict: Despite the draw Frosted appears to be the most likely winner. But nine of the eleven runners are rated within six pounds of each other, so there shouldn’t be an awful lot between the individuals. Nonetheless Special Fighter remains underappreciated. He may not be good enough in the end and flattered by his recent win, but his progressive profile is very likeable and from a decent draw he’s got every chance. He still can be backed at 14/1 which is tremendous value in my book.
Al Quoz Sprint: Can old boy Sole Power do it again? His recent return to action here at Meydan was certainly encouraging and he’s in with a good chance in this field. Though you wonder if some younger legs may eventually get the better of him.
If it comes to the winner of this particular race don’t look further than Ertijaal. The former All-Weather-Championship winner-now-turned-sprinter has thrived at Meydan since dropped to the minimum distance. Sure enough, racing against lower opposition in handicaps, but the way he did it is jaw dropping.
Off top weight, off marks 105 and 113 respectively the last two times, yet oh so easily – this lad looks the part, physically nicely developed into a real sprinter, with a lovely turn of foot who’s perfectly suited to the flat heavenly cushioned five furlong track at Meydan. He’s not only the most likely winner of the race, but also looks a big price at 10/3.
Dubai Turf: Can anything beat Tryster? Probably not. It’s going to be very hard. He’s produced twice at Meydan’s turf which seems to suit him perfectly well. His trademark turn of foot has seen him jump right at the head of the betting and it’s clear to see why.
Only one thing could beat him: having too much to do from off the pace turning for home. That’s always a worry with this type of horse, particularly at Meydan where in my mind you’re better of being not travelling too far off the pace.
The one horse I really like here is Mike De Kock’s Forries Waltz. He’s a bit the sexy contender, generally lightly raced, improving all the time, with further progress likely to come. He was really impressive in winning the Group 2 Al Rashidiya when last seen.
He has a good draw for the Dubai Turf which should enable him to get into a nice early position. I also feel he might be racing over his optimum trip at nine furlongs. Mike De Kock also really likes this fella, is full of praise and that in itself is a bonus.
Others to mention are obviously Intilaaq. Lightly raced and progressive last season, culminating in a Group 3 success, there is most likely more to come from him. Though the worry is not only a lack of recent run, but a lack of run at Meydan. Horses can overcome this, but you’ve better be a superstar to do that.
Euro Charline was 4th in this here last year. She could run a race for a price. Hard to know what to expect from the Japanese runner Real Steel. On paper certainly classy, but does he have the speed for this trip?
Another one I like and would consider as overpriced is Ertijaal, the South African Ertijaal, not the sprinter. He won the Cape Derby last year beating a really good horse in Act of War that day and was also placed in a huge 3yo Grade 1 the Daily News 2000. He’s done well over the winter here in Meydan, was placed behind stable mate Forries Waltz as well as a fine third behind Tryster the last time. He’s a bit to find but could finish in the money. At 33/1 he’s worth a chance.
But as the main selection I’ve got to go with the other De Kock’s horse Forries Waltz who is overpriced at 14/1. There is plenty to like about him and he’s got to go very close.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
It’s been a busy Saturday racing wise. Top class National Hunt in the UK, rounded up by excellent Graded action over in the US during the night – can a racing fan ask for more? Well, I don’t think so! But hey, let’s quickly reflect on the key points from yesterday…
Coneygree could win a Gold Cup – sooner or later!
You will have seen my preview of the Denman Chase (I hope!) – a really exciting renewal of this Grade 1 at Newbury yesterday. It shaped to be a cracker beforehand, and it turned out to be quite a noteworthy race in the end, indeed! However, none could have foreseen what really happened.
As I stated in my preview, I was extremely sweet on the chance of Novice Coneygree. Lightly raced, a smart hurdler, taking extremely well to fences. An exciting prospect, that is was he was and after yesterday certainly is. He was so impressive at Kempton, such a good, relentless galloper with big potential, when winning the Kauto Star Novice Chase. But yesterday, he brought it to another level. Taking on some really talented, tough & experienced chasers, he jumped off in front and literally ran them into the ground. Turning for home he had the whole bunch sitting in his neck. They were all poised to take him on. Waiting for him to tire and fade. It was the ultimate real test for his class. What would he have left to offer in the home straight? Well, an awful lot, it turned out! He prevailed. Easily. Jumping well, not slowing down, just galloping strongly to the line. It was a demolition job and resulted in a breathtaking seven lengths success in the end. Coneygree has the “WOW factor”! So question is now: Arkle or Gold Cup – what’s next?
Grugy’s return a jumping error
Staying with jump racing for the moment: Saturday was the day we saw last years Champion Chaser Sire De Grugy back after his long injury absence. He clearly didn’t look his old best unfortunately, his jumping wasn’t good, he blundered badly at the fourth last and jumped the third last even worse, eventually unseating jockey Jamie Moore. That says the Champion Chase is up for grabs now. Grugy disappointed, so did Sprinter Sacre on his respective seasonal debut. Will both improve towards Cheltenham? Sure, they will. Will they be ever as good and dominant as they used to be in the past? Unlikely. Un De Sceaux. it’s all yours – if you want…
Dortmund plays it well in California
Over to the US and a brilliant card at Santa Anita. Usually at this time of the year, we have to start talking about the Derby – the Kentucky Derby I mean! And I do really wonder: Have we seen the Derby winner at Santa Anita yesterday? Because there is this extremely good looking colt, called Dortmund (how appropriately named, knowing how poorly the once famous German football club of the same named town is playing in the Bundesliga at the moment), who started into his classic season the same way as he ended the last year: with a gutsy performance, landing the Robert B. Lewis Stakes with a late surge! This should be a stepping stone for him towards the Derby. Admittedly, I was already mightily impressed with his attitude, presence and long stride when getting up late in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity Stakes in December. A son of Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, he should have the right pedigree and the way he races suggests the Derby trip will suit. He’s currently trading as the 10/1 ante-post favourite….
Not quite #TheRematch
Shared Belief made it look easy in the end, when effectively eased down before crossing the line as the clear winner of what was branded as #TheRematch. He beat California Chrome by 1 1/2 lengths in the San Antonio Invitational. Shared Belief got a perfect start this time – unlike in the Breeders Cup Classic – tracked Chrome’s every move, and Mike Smith was probably rubbing his hands when Espinoza let Chrome lose – a bit too early I thought actually. That played into the hands of Shared Belief, who, once looming alongside Chrome in the home straight, went easily past him. Bob Baffert’s Hoppertunity ran a fine 3rd, but was never really able to challenge the two big guns. Reflecting on this race, I believe both, Shared Belief and California Chrome will come on for this run. Chrome is going to Dubai and will do well there. He has a chance to win the Dubai World Cup. But only if Shared Belief doesn’t go down the same route. Chrome could then be heading for Europe and some of the good turf races in England. Surly it would be interesting to see how he fares over here.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner
Oh before I forget: It’s nice to have a bit of punting success lately again. Coneygree went off a 15/8 favourite. If you followed me, you would have got 7/2, which turned out to be a huge price, as we know now. Also Shared Belief went off the evens favourite, I got him at 7/4 as advised. It wasn’t quite 3/3 yesterday. Ballista ran a cracker at Lingfield, made all, and would the winning post come a couple of yards earlier, he would have won. A narrowly denied third is what he ended up.
What’s on the tab today
Well, I could write a long essay about what all the great racing today. But I believe, sometimes an image can speak for thousand words. So just look at this below – I don’t think I need to say more!