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