They’ve come from every continent in the world, and this Saturday at Nad Al Sheba many of the top thoroughbreds in the world will compete in a series of 6 graded stakes races, culminating with the $6 million Dubai World Cup. At this moment last year, I was nervously waiting out the final night before Curlin’s date with international destiny. Now here we stand one full year later, and once again we cast our attention to the East and the lure of riches, fame, and glory. While there is no Curlin in the World Cup this year, the lineup for the day in Dubai is beyond impressive. It might as well be a mini Breeders’ Cup festival. This, my friends, is the type of day that horse racing fans and handicappers the world over long for.
Race 2: The $1,000,000 Godolphin Mile (Grade 2) – 1 Mile
#6 Kalahari Gold 8/1
#4 Two Step Salsa 3/1*
#13 Gayego 7/2
We kick things off in the 2nd race of the day in the $1 million Godolphin Mile. One of my early favorites from last year, Gayego, looms as a huge threat, but has drawn an outside post. He’s also going to be stretching out to a mile again after romping in the Mahab Al Shimaal (G3) last out. Two Step Salsa looks like his main competition on paper having picked up the services of jockey L. Dettori. Another horse I thin has a big shot in here is Kalahari Gold for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashin Al Maktoum. Dijeer, on the the extreme outside, and Art of War also deserve consideration. I’m going to make Kalahari Gold my top choice at 8/1 in a bit of an upset, but Id cover Gayego and Two Step Salsa as well if you’re wading into the pick 6 waters.
Race 3: The $2,000,000 UAE Derby (Grade 2) – 1 1/8 Miles
- #5 Desert Party 1/1*
- #11 Soy Libriano 10/1
- #1 Regal Ransom 4/1
The UAE Derby provides the “prep fix” for us Kentucky Derby junkies, being the lone race on the card exclusive to three-year-olds (as well as possible grade 2 points in the Road to the Roses challenge). Desert Party is the obvious choice here having toyed with competition last time out. A win puts him firmly on the Derby trail, while a loss will likely cause his connections to think twice before shipping half way around the globe. I don’t think there’s anyone in here who can beat him, but if an upset were to occur a likely candidate might be Soy Libriano from the outside. He’s the lone entry in the field with a win at the 1 1/8 mile distance of the UAE Derby. That’s got to count for something, right? Regal Ransom play underneath in the exacta and trifecta wagering, along with Redding Colliery as they have both finished behind Desert Party in their last two races.
Race 4: The $2,000,000 Dubai Golden Shaheen (Grade 2) – 6 Furlongs
- #12 Indian Blessing 3/1*
- #2 Big City Man 5/1
- #7 Merchand d’Or 9/2
The Golden Shaheen is a tricky race to handicap for many U.S. players as it’s a 6 furlong sprint on a straight track. That means we’ve no tricky turns to negotiate. For that reason I expect the class of Indian Blessing to shine through. I firmly beleive that 6 furlongs might be her best distance. Ever since she lost the Acorn to Zaftig last year, I’ve been convinced that she was born to sprint, and so far she’s lived up to that billing. This one should be quick, as there seems to be quite a bit of speed signed on. Big City Man owns 4 victories at the 6 furlong distance and has run well at Nad Al Sheba giving him a bit of a “horse for the course” angle to consider. He seems to always show up and run a big race and I see no reason to expect a change this weekend. Marchand d’Or intrigues me a bit despite having not run well the last time he tried the turf to dirt angle. He seemingly woke up the second half of last year and may have been entering this race on a 4 for 4 run had he not encountered a bit of trouble in the Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin last out. Diabolocal, Force Freeze, and Lucky Quality all look useful underneath in the exotics.
Race 5: The $5,000,000 Dubai Duty Free (Grade 1) – 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
- #10 Archipenko 4/1*
- #3 Vodka 10/1
- #8 Balius 8/1
This might be the deepest field we’ll see all year. One could make a case for virtually every runner in this field, and numerous longshots rate big chances to hit the board. Needless to say, if you’re playing the Pick 6 this looks like the race to spread the deepest. Ultimately I’m taking a stand against the morning line favorite, Kip Deville, as I’m not sure this is his best distance. Yes, I know he’s exiting a victory going the same distance last out at Gulfstream against the likes of Court Vision, but I prefer him going a mile. Archipenko is a horse I still cannot believe lost the Arlington Million last year. He’s a better hrose than that, and proved as much by winning the Zabeel Mile over Vertigineux and Kalahari Gold (keep that in mind if my longshot wins the Godolphin Mile). Vodka is not the only female in the race, but she sure looks the best of them. She had a horrible trip against Balius and Jay Peg in the Jebel Hatta (G2) last out and could turn the tables on them with a bit more racing luck. Balius looks like a tough competitor in here with a big shot at long odds. Like I said, deep field, so either go with your instincts here or spread deep. Hell, if you can afford to, press the “All” button and hope for a bomber. It could well happen here. It’s actually tougher to come up with reasons why most of these runners can’t win than it is to come up with reasons why they can.
Race 6: The $5,000,000 Dubai Sheema Classic (Grade 1) – 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
- #6 Youmzain 4/1
- #1 Front House 6/1
- #7 Purple Moon 6/1
We stay on the turf for the Dubai Sheema Classic, only we stretch out to a mile and a half this time. Youmzain has amassed over $1 million more than any of the other competitors at the longer 1 1/2 mile distance. This will mark his third attempt to reach the winner’s circle at Nad Al Sheba. He’s been off for quite some time, but note that he did run second to Zarkava in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Grade 1) last October at Longchamp. Zarkava woud likely crush this field, so a repeat performance puts him right in the hunt. He’s also battled heads with the likes of Dylan Thomas and Duke of Marmalade, so he’s a proven commodity to say the least. I’m not fond of his odds at 4/1, but he’s the top choice. Front House and Russian Sage form a formiddable battery for South African based trainer Mike de Kock. Front House is the more proven of the two at this distane. It’s hard to believe you can get a horse like Red Rocks, who defeated Curlin in the Man O’ War last year at Belmont, at odds of 10/1, but he hasn’t looked nearly as good since that race.
Race 7: The $6,000,000 Dubai World Cup (Grade 1) – 1 1/4 Miles
- #4 Asiatic Boy 5/2
- #10 Albertus Maximus 2/1*
- #8 Casino Drive 6/1
I can’t help but get the feeling that Jess Jackson ought to drag Curlin out of retirement, even now just hours before the race, and send him to Dubai to show this field what a real champion looks like. Oh wait, hang on a second. Curlin basically did that already having defeated many of these same faces last year in his record setting 7 3/4 length win. No world beaters like that look entered here today, which oddly enough means we have ourselves a stronger betting race. I’m seeing this one as a three horse race between the above mentioned contenders. I give Asiatic Boy the slight nod, but to be honest I could easily see Casino Drive pulling the upset. I’m a bit worried about the fact that Asiatic Boy doesn’t string consecuritve victories together, meaning he might be due for a defeat. One other thing to keep in mind: At one point last year, Asiatic Boy was a perfect 5 for 5 at Nad Al Sheba. Since then he’s gone 1 for 4. Albertus Maximus is my U.S. play, hoping to keep a victory streak going here for the “red, white, and blue corner!” My Indy and Well Armed deserve some consideration if they look good going to post.