Dubai World Cup A Truly International Gathering

Ushba Tesoro is going for a Dubai World Cup two-peat | Dubai Racing Club/Liesl King

by Alan Carasso, Heather Anderson, Jill Williams & Adam Houghton

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — Meydan Racecourse is the centre of the racing universe Saturday, as it stages the 28th renewal of the G1 Dubai World Cup. The dozen horses that have been entered represent ownership interests from Japan, America, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan and even Libya, putting the 'World' in World Cup.

Ushba Tesoro (Jpn) (Orfevre {Jpn}) is back to defend the title he grabbed in 2023 and will attempt to join Thunder Snow (Ire) (Helmet {Aus}) as two-time World Cup winners. The 7-year-old has made a tremendous impression as one of the first horses to grace the Meydan dirt track each morning, his bright yellow tack announcing his arrival. The only difference between this year and last is that he is a known commodity this time around.

He was mugged on the wire by Senor Buscador (Mineshaft) in last month's G1 Saudi Cup, but Saturday's two-turn configuration in addition to the added distance could tip the scales in his favour. He will sit a trip worse than midfield and will come after them late beneath Yuga Kawada.

“The gate doesn't matter for him as he will race from behind anyway,” said trainer Noboru Takagi. “He has recovered well from the Saudi Cup and is in good form.”

Senor Buscador is the main American chance as he tries to become the first to complete the Saudi Cup/World Cup double. A hard-charging second in the GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January prior to his Saudi Cup surprise, the 6-year-old will also save his best for last and hope there is ample pace up ahead. Senor Buscador breaks from gate 10 with Junior Alvarado back in the saddle.

“Very happy,” said owner Joe Peacock Jnr after Wednesday's barrier draw. “We wanted outside and we got outside.”

Kazakh-owned Kabirkhan is the spitting image of his sire California Chrome, who won this in 2016, and has been the story in world horse racing in 2024. Eight for nine at home and subsequently in Russia, the $12,000 Keeneland September yearling dominated his rivals in two starts at the Carnival, including the G1 Al Maktoum Challenge Jan. 26.

“He's got to step it up, but we think he can,” said trainer Doug Watson. “He has shown that he likes the track. He stays the trip, but he has the pace to keep him competitive in the race early and hopefully he can finish it off.”

Last year's G2 UAE Derby winner Derma Sotogake (Jpn), a son of dual G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen hero Mind Your Biscuits, was runner-up in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic off a five-month absence, but got a World Cup tightener when a sound fifth in the Saudi Cup. Look for him to be positively ridden by Christophe Lemaire and in position to get the first crack at them when push comes to shove.

Two sons of the mighty Into Mischief line up for the World Cup. GI Santa Anita H. winner Newgate can give both trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Frankie Dettori their fifth World Cups, while towering last-out G3 Burj Nahaar (1600m) winner Laurel River will see how far he can carry his speed from gate 12 in this first go at the 2000 metres. –Alan Carasso

Stars Align For Dubai Sheema Classic

The $6-million G1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic was undoubtedly one of the strongest races run on the international stage in 2023. Not only did it produce an outstanding winner in Equinox (Jpn) (Kitasan Black {Jpn})–later named the Longines World's Best Racehorse–but those who chased the Japanese champion home were a decorated bunch in their own right, including Juddmonte's G1 Irish Derby winner Westover (GB) (Frankel {GB}) and Shadwell's Mostahdaf (GB) (Frankel), who later won the G1 Prince Of Wales's S. and G1 Juddmonte International back on home soil.

Among those finished down the field were the 2022 hero Shahryar (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) and Godolphin's 2022 GI Breeders' Cup Turf winner Rebel's Romance (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}), both of whom are back for more on Saturday. However, if their connections were hoping for a soft touch this year, then they're likely to be disappointed as the Dubai Sheema Classic has once again brought together a collection of the finest thoroughbreds on the planet, featuring no fewer than 10 individual top-level winners.

Hideaki Fujiwara's Shahryar is one of four Japanese-trained runners in the field, with the others including last year's Triple Tiara heroine Liberty Island (Jpn) (Duramente {Jpn}), who was last seen filling the runner-up spot behind Equinox in the G1 Japan Cup at Tokyo in November. Like Shahryar, Liberty Island sports the familiar colours of Sunday Racing Co. Ltd., the ownership group which memorably won this race with Gentildonna (Jpn) (Deep Impact) in 2014.

Japanese champion jockey Yuga Kawada, who takes the mount on Liberty Island, said of Mitsumasa Nakauchida's filly, “This is her first time travelling internationally and all has gone well so far. It is an honour to represent Japan with a filly like her and I hope she can show fans all over the world just how good she is.”

Stars On Earth (Jpn) (Duramente {Jpn}) and Justin Palace (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) complete the Japanese contingent as they return after finishing second and fourth, respectively, behind G1 Dubai Turf contender Do Deuce (Jpn) (Heart's Cry {Jpn}) in the G1 Arima Kinen at Nakayama in December. Stars On Earth had previously won the first two legs of the Triple Tiara in 2022 and finished just a length behind Liberty Island when third in the latest running of the Japan Cup, while Justin Palace gained the sole Group 1 success of his career thus far when winning the Tenno Sho (Spring) at Kyoto last April.

“We believe that the flat track at Meydan will suit him,” said Justin Palace's trainer Haruki Sugiyama. “Hopefully, this might be the first step on a journey around the world this year.”

Rebel's Romance is as well travelled as any horse in the field and he had three runners from the Far East immediately behind him when winning last month's $2.5-million G3 H.H. The Amir Trophy in Qatar.

However, perhaps the biggest threat to the Japanese team in this contest is the horse who claimed Rebel's Romance's Breeders' Cup Turf crown at Santa Anita in November, namely Auguste Rodin (Ire) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), the blue-blooded colt from Ballydoyle who also won the G1 Derby, G1 Irish Derby and G1 Irish Champion S. in an exceptional three-year-old campaign. Incidentally, this will be the first time that two winners of the Breeders' Cup Turf have clashed since Highland Reel (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and Talismanic (GB) (Medaglia d'Oro) both ran in the G1 Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin in 2017.

Trainer Aidan O'Brien said of Auguste Rodin, “We feel he has matured well from three to four and it goes without saying that we are very excited to get him going again. The horse did all his own talking on the track last year, but we really do think that he is a very important horse for the thoroughbred breed. It is a huge thrill to have him back and we can't wait to see him race.”

Andre Fabre's Junko (GB) (Intello {Ger}) won the latest edition of the Hong Kong Vase in December and is better judged on that form having been beaten at short odds in a conditions event on the all-weather at Chantilly last time, while British raiders Emily Upjohn (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) and Spirit Dancer (GB) (Frankel {GB}) both merit consideration, too.

G2 Bahrain International Trophy and G2 Neom Turf Cup winner Spirit Dancer has race fitness on his side following a productive winter in the Middle East for Richard Fahey and owner/breeder Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager. Emily Upjohn, on the other hand, has an eight-month absence to contend with, but she's in good hands with John and Thady Gosden and her class isn't in question if she returns in the same sort of form she was in when winning last year's G1 Coronation Cup at Epsom.

The first two from the G1 Grosser Preis von Berlin at Hoppegarten last August, Simca Mille (Ire) (Tamayuz {GB}) and Sisfahan (Fr) (Isfahan {Ger}), complete the field together with Auguste Rodin's stablemate Point Lonsdale (Ire) (Australia {GB}). Former Stephane Wattel trainee Simca Mille is now based in Qatar with Alban de Mieulle and was last seen finishing sixth in the H.H. The Amir Trophy where Point Lonsdale was last of the 11 runners. –Adam Houghton

Shahryar | Horsephotos

Lord North Goes for Historic Four-Peat, but Plenty of Obstacles in His Path

Remarkably, the three-time defending winner of the $5-million G1 Dubai Turf–the venerable Lord North (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire})–is not the sole story going in to the 1800-metre event this year. In a testament to the quality attracted by this race and Dubai's World Cup card overall, the John and Thady Gosden trainee is one of several who will fetch the attention of punters the world over in the Turf. The 8-year-old bay gelding has annually made the trip to Dubai, enjoyed the spoils of the desert, and returned to England with mixed results back home. Between his 2021 and 2022 Turf wins, Lord North had only one start–a runner-up finish in the G3 Winter Derby over Lingfield's all-weather surface, a pattern he has repeated to the letter coming in to Saturday's race: a 2023 Dubai Turf win and a second in the Feb. 24 Winter Derby, this time at Southwell. A win in any race four years running is nearly unheard of; if Lord North is able to do it in this storied Group 1 event, he will surely go down in racing's annuls as a legend. His usual Meydan partner Frankie Dettori will be aboard.

“After his win in the race last year we decided to give him a proper break, so he went to Godolphin and had a lovely time in a paddock,” said John Gosden. “He's training well and we're confident he'll put up a very bold show.”

However, Lord North does not have an easy task, starting with his own barn. Three-time Group 1 winner and 'TDN Rising Star' Nashwa (GB) (Frankel {GB}) has given her own gender all they could handle and has switched to facing the boys, where she held her own against the likes of superstar Auguste Rodin (Ire) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), in her last three starts to close out 2023. She gets a five-pound break in the weights here.

Japanese horses, so often in starring roles internationally over the last few years, will be tough here, led by last-out G1 Arima Kinen Grand Prix victor Do Deuce (Jpn) (Heart's Cry {Jpn}). Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi thinks enough of his charge–who defeated the aforementioned Equinox in the G1 Japanese Derby two years back–that they tackled the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 2022 only to run into soft ground, a handicap that won't be a risk in Dubai.

Charlie Appleby sends five-for-six Measured Time (GB) (Frankel {GB}), a half-brother to Breeders' Cup winner Rebel's Romance (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) who has been part of his Meydan string over the winter and flourished with wins over this surface including the G1 Jebel Hatta Jan. 26, while American conditioner Michael Stidham has shipped over last-out GI Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational third Catnip (Kitten's Joy), a longshot here who has caught the eye during morning training. Hong Kong is also well represented with two-back G1 Stewards' Cup winner Voyage Bubble (Aus) (Deep Field {Aus}), a Sha Tin specialist who has honed his talent against the best in that locality. –Jill Williams

Sibelius Follows Tried And True Path To Shaheen

Jun Park and Delia Nash's Sibelius (Not This Time) has looked very much at home at Meydan this week, and the popular chestnut has charted the identical course into the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen as he did when sneaking through at the fence to score in 2023.

The chestnut went off form after returning home last summer, but it appears that it is at this time of the year that he comes good. Like last year, Sibelius won the GIII Mr. Prospector S. at Gulfstream Park in December and followed that up with a hard-fought and wide-trip victory in the Feb. 10 Pelican S. at Tampa Bay Downs. Ryan Moore has the call once again.

“If anything, I'm more confident coming in this year as we know he handles things here,” said trainer Jerry O'Dwyer. “We've tried to keep things like last year as much as possible.”

Remake (Jpn) is another of Saturday's entrants produced by a World Cup night-winning stallion, in this case the 2016 G2 UAE Derby scorer Lani. A homebred for the Maeda family's North Hills Farm, the chestnut was a slow-starting, but fast-finishing fifth in this last year and bounced back from a defeat at the hooves of Igniter (Jpn) (Espoir City {Jpn}) in the Listed JBC Sprint in November to take out last month's G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint with a fair bit of authority. Successful though they have been at this meeting and in Saudi, Japan has never gone home with the Golden Shaheen hardware.

American-based sprinters number five in this year's Golden Shaheen, and Run Classic (Runhappy) is in with longshot claims. A three-time winner from 11 starts for trainer Bret Calhoun, the $475,000 OBS March breezer was first-up for over nine months in the Feb. 24 Gulfstream Park Sprint and he produced a terrific late kick down the centre of the track to win in his first run for trainer Jose D'Angelo. Also representing the U.S. are Hopkins (Quality Road), a pacesetting fourth last year; and Nakatomi (Firing Line), third in the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint before finishing a troubled third in the Pelican.

The local challenge includes G3 Al Shindagha Sprint romper Mouheeb (Flatter) and Leading Spirit (Ire) (Exceed and Excel {Aus}), who beat Freedom Fighter (Violence) in the G3 Mahab al Shimaal on Super Saturday. —Alan Carasso

Hong Kong's Spangle To Add Al Quoz To Haul?

Versatile sprinters are not a rare commodity in Hong Kong, and California Spangle (Ire) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}) is aiming to become the first winner of the $1.5-million 1200-metre G1 Al Quoz Sprint from that locality since Amber Sky (Aus) (Exceed And Excel {Aus}) set a still-standing record of :56.21 when the Al Quoz Sprint was held over the minimum trip back in 2014.

Trained by Tony Cruz, the gelding proved triumphant in the G1 Hong Kong Mile back in 2022, and doubled his top-level tally with a one-length win in the G1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at Sha Tin earlier this month.

“I believe this horse is a sprinter-miler, I believe he can run the 1200 metres,” said Cruz of California Spangle, who will break from stall five. “We've been lucky at a mile many times, because that's where the big races are in Hong Kong, but I think with a strong pace he can do the 1200 metres here.”

American Hall of Famer Bill Mott will saddle four-time Grade I winner Casa Creed (Jimmy Creed), who is also cutting back in trip after a third in the 2024 GI Breeders' Cup Mile. A two-time winner of the GI Jaipur S. over this trip, the 7-year-old entire will be ridden by Luis Saez and leave from gate six in the 12-horse field.

No horse has ever won the Al Quoz twice, regardless of the distance, and the 2023 victor, Danyah (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}), shocked the field at 33-1, with Sight Success (Aus) (Magnus {Aus}) fourth. Now seven, the Shadwell gelding has been specially prepared with this race in mind and enters off a third-place finish in the G2 Al Fahidi Fort over 1400 metres on Jan. 26.

“This has been the aim all season and we have brought him on slowly with this in mind,” trainer Musabbeh Al Mheiri said. “He surprised everyone last season and I think he has a good chance of repeating last year's success.”

A pair of 3-year-old fillies take on males and receive a 13-pound pull in the weights in Abdulla Al Mansoori's Frost At Dawn (Frosted), successful with a record-breaking effort in the G3 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint over 1000 metres on Super Saturday, and her Turf Sprint runner-up, Godolphin's Star Of Mystery (GB) (Kodiac {GB}). The latter, who was second in the G2 Duchess Of Cambridge S. last July, won the G2 Blue Point Sprint, defeating Czechoslovakian Horse of the Year Ponntos (Ire) (Power {GB}), for trainer Charlie Appleby in January.

William Knight, who trains Frost At Dawn, said, “To go into a Group 1 with a real chance is quite exciting. Her win on Super Saturday was no fluke and that she broke the track record gives me a bit of confidence. Mickael [Barzalona] is going to ride her, which is great, as they obviously get on well.” –Heather Anderson

California Spangle | HKJC

Japan's Forever Young the Horse to Beat in UAE Derby

The lone GI Kentucky Derby prep race off U.S. shores worth 100 points to the winner–essentially guaranteeing a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May–the G2 UAE Derby has an overwhelming favorite this year in Susumu Fujita's Forever Young (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}). All eyes will be on the undefeated Yoshito Yahagi trainee, who blew through three Japanese dirt starts by open daylight last fall before bursting onto the world stage with a dramatic last-stride head win over Book 'em Danno (Bucchero) in the G3 Saudi Derby on Feb. 24 in his sophomore debut. Yahagi indicated after the Saudi Derby that the Kentucky Derby was very much on the 2022 JRHA yearling sale graduate's dance card. On a race day loaded with top Japanese threats, Forever Young–on paper, anyway–looks to have the easiest assignment of his countrymen.

Forever Young will have to get by America's Pandagate (Arrogate), who shipped to Dubai after a blowout win against New York-breds Feb. 25 in Aqueduct's Gander S. The grey has turned heads this week as the spitting image of his sire, whose own performance in Dubai in 2017 remains the stuff of legends. Christophe Clement aims to become only the second U.S-based trainer to use a Meydan win for an American horse's launching pad to Kentucky following Brendan Walsh's victory with Plus Que Parfait (Point of Entry) in 2019.

Mendelssohn Bay (Mendelssohn) from the Bhupat Seemar barn has to rank as the top local hope with a keen win in the G3 UAE 2000 Guineas over this surface Jan. 26, while his stablemate Guns And Glory (Gun Runner) may not yet be as accomplished, but is in sharp form with a geared-down 12-length blowout Mar. 8 over this surface.

Earlier this week, Seemar called Guns And Glory “a bit of a playboy, [but] he is a very-high class horse.” He also said the two months since Mendelssohn Bay's last start has benefitted that runner.

“I think it was a very good decision to miss Super Saturday and come directly to the Derby. He has filled out and he looks different with a nice coat on him. He has got plenty of stamina in his pedigree. We don't know how good he is but we'll find out on Saturday.”

Aidan O'Brien looks to win the UAE Derby for the fourth time since 2012 and brings Irish Group 3 winner Henry Adams (Ire) (No Nay Never), who will be making his first start since October and will have his first go on the dirt.

“Henry Adams is a lovely, big, uncomplicated horse,” said O'Brien. “He's a No Nay Never horse so he could be interesting on the dirt. We will be guided by how he goes there in Dubai as to what he does afterwards.”

O'Brien will also saddle Navy Seal (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}). –Jill Williams

Saudi Crown Clashes with Isolate in Godolphin Mile

A pair of 2024 G1 Saudi Cup runners will lock horns once again in the $1-million G2 Godolphin Mile to kickstart the Thoroughbred action at Meydan on Saturday. FMQ Stables' Saudi Crown (Always Dreaming), just got caught in the final few jumps when third after setting the pace in that February affair over 1800 metres in Riyadh, and will be cutting back to the metric mile for the first time since running second in the GIII Dwyer S. in July of 2023. He leaves from stall nine and Florent Geroux is at the controls.

“He's doing very well, he arrived on Feb. 26, settled in, and he's had three works over the track,” said trainer Brad Cox of the grey. “He ran well [in Saudi], but I love the way he's bounced out of it and he continues to improve.”

Defending champion and G2 Al Maktoum Mile winner Isolate (Mark Valeski) is one of five 2023 winners returning to attempt and retain their DWC crowns, and UAE multiple champion trainer Doug Watson has the 6-year-old primed for this assignment. Sixth in the Saudi Cup to G1 Dubai World Cup entrant Senor Buscador (Mineshaft), he is paired with Luis Saez and they will leave from gate 11.

“He came off the track on his hind legs this morning, so we were all excited about that,” said Watson. “The draw isn't great but Saudi Crown is stall nine and they're the true speed in the race. The others might try to go but I think from out there it will be those two vying for the lead. He's in great form and he loves this track.”

Rabbah Racing's Swing Vote (GB) (Shamardal), who landed the G3 Jebel Ali Mile on Feb. 10, is booked in gate five. The gelding turned in a strong piece of work on Tuesday, and was last seen running fifth to Laurel River (Into Mischief) and Qareeb (Speightstown) in the G3 Burj Nahaar on Super Saturday.

“He's doing well. He looked great on the track and Ross [Atkinson, work rider] was very happy with him,” said co-trainer Ed Crisford. “That should put him spot on for Saturday.”

–Heather Anderson

Saudi Crown | Dubai Racing Club/Liesl King

Riyadh Rematch In Dubai Gold Cup

The $1-million G2 Dubai Gold Cup Sponsored By Al Tayer Motors is the first of four races run on the turf track on World Cup night and it features a rematch between the three horses who dominated last month's G3 Red Sea Turf H. in Riyadh.

Tower Of London (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) was the narrow victor on that occasion, staying on strongly under a never-say-die ride from Ryan Moore to beat Enemy (GB) (Muhaarar {GB}) by a head, with Giavellotto (Ire) (Mastercraftsman {Ire})–who was conceding weight to that pair–not far behind in third. The British-based trainers of the placed horses, Ian Williams and Marco Botti, respectively, will be optimistic of reversing the form with the winner, though the four-year-old Tower Of London remains relatively unexposed at the 3200-metre distance and could have more to offer for Aidan O'Brien.

Trawlerman (Ire) (Golden Horn {GB}), who took the scalp of O'Brien's star stayer Kyprios (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) when winning the G2 British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October, is another leading contender from Britain for John and Thady Gosden. He carries the first colours of Godolphin, with the white cap being sported by Charlie Appleby's Siskany (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), last year's runner-up who won the G3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy for the second year in succession on his most recent outing.

The Andrew Balding-trained Coltrane (Ire) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}) finished down the field behind Trawlerman when making his final start of last season in the Long Distance Cup, but he'd been a model of consistency prior to that with wins in the G3 Sagaro S. and G2 Lonsdale Cup–plus a runner-up finish in the G1 Gold Cup–to show for his efforts. A below-par seventh in the Gold Cup was Eldar Eldarov (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), but he bounced back later in the campaign when landing the G1 Irish St Leger at the Curragh, his second Classic success having also won the English equivalent in 2022.

Further international interest is provided by three runners from France and two from Japan. Multiple Group 2 winner Sober (Fr) (Camelot {GB}) leads a two-pronged attack for Andre Fabre, while Japanese raider Libyan Glass (Jpn) (Kizuna {Jpn}) represents the Yoshito Yahagi stable that won this race with Stay Foolish (Jpn) (Stay Gold {Jpn}) in 2022. –Adam Houghton

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