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.