Will Eight Be Enough For Japan In Dubai World Cup?

Panthalassa | Erika Rasmussen


DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — My, oh my, how times have changed.

When the G1 Dubai World Cup was introduced at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse back in 1996, its $4 million in prize-money equaled that on offer for that year's GI Breeders' Cup Classic and an American clean sweep of the top three placings–won by the legendary Cigar after an unforgettable final-furlong battle with compatriot Soul of the Matter–really and truly put the race on the map.

The locally owned Halling, one of four in the race for a trainer named Saeed bin Suroor and ridden by a certain Lanfranco Dettori, was meant to play the role of spoiler, this time on his home 'turf' after being beaten comprehensively–despite the stogie-crushing theatrics on American television of the late John McCririck–in the Classic at Belmont Park some five months prior.

Perhaps since forgotten is the fact that Japan was among the nations represented in that first World Cup by a horse called Lively Mount (Jpn), a paternal grandson of Lyphard and a three-time stakes winner on the dirt at home, including the 1995 February S. He finished a distant sixth that Wednesday evening in the desert and was never the same.

It isn't that Japan does not already own a World Cup trophy. Mirco Demuro had lots to do with that when putting arguably the greatest steer in World Cup history on Victoire Pisa (Jpn) (Neo Universe {Jpn}) over the old Tapeta track at Meydan in 2011, accounting for countrymate Transcend (Jpn) (Wild Rush) just 20 days after a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused unimaginable death and destruction. Still, the nation craves a victory in this race perhaps more than any other not named the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and the table appears set for such a celebration this weekend.

As the wondrous and sprawling Meydan Racecourse gets set to host its 13th World Cup–the 27th renewal overall owing to the 11th-hour COVID cancellation in 2020–yes, some things are a bit different. The World Cup prize-money has now trebled from its inaugural running, American horses are outnumbered by a count of eight-to-one by their Japanese counterparts this weekend and bin Suroor–by a desert the winningest trainer in the history of the World Cup with nine–hasn't a single entrant in the big race.

Diabolical Draws For Chief Protagonists

Panthalassa (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) is one of a remarkable seven returning winners from last year's World Cup programme, having dead-heated with Lord North (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) in the G1 Dubai Turf. But he tries the grand prize this time around for the always-enterprising Yoshito Yahagi and earned his World Cup ticket with a front-running defeat of the reopposing Country Grammer (Tonalist) not far from here at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh four weeks ago.

It was never going to be a straight-forward task to begin with, but things got dicier when he drew 15 of 15 Wednesday. The strategy is clear–jump and run, pedal to the metal, you choose–but the margin for error is razor thin.

“Even if he misses the break, we have one tactic and that is to roll forward,” said Yahagi. “We considered going towards the Dubai Turf again but, given his win in Saudi Arabia, we thought why not have a go at the Dubai World Cup. He deserves his chance.”

With wins literally all over the world, some against all odds, it would be folly to doubt a guy as masterful as Yahagi has been, but that isn't stopping 14 others from trying. Country Grammer looked off the bridle in the Saudi Cup, similar to the way he did in this race last year before grinding it out, and he was gaining on Panthalassa last time, but the wire came a few strides too soon.

The 6-year-old is the final World Cup ride for Dettori, whose win last year was his record-equaling fourth, but first since Electrocutionist (Red Ransom) in 2006. He is taking nothing for granted, but neither would he change places with anyone.

“One thing for sure with Country Grammer is that he's all about leaving everything on the track. You know he's going to run until the end so I couldn't ask for a better companion,” the Italian said. “It's not going to be easy and stall 14 is not ideal. I spoke to [part-owner] Amr Zedan last night and just said that it is what it is. We can't change it now so let's get on with it and see how the race unfolds.”

Back for a second crack at World Cup night glory is 2022 G2 UAE Derby hero Crown Pride (Jpn) (Reach the Crown {Jpn}), who once again has the services of Damian Lane, but others of the Japanese contingent are already proven at the Group 1 level. Cafe Pharoah (American Pharoah), a very good third in Saudi, is a two-time winner of the February S., while between them, T O Keynes (Jpn) (Sinister Minister) and  Jun Light Bolt (Jpn) (King Kamehameha {Jpn}) have won the last two runnings of the Champions Cup. Vela Azul (Jpn) (Eishin Flash {Jpn}), slashing winner of the G1 Japan Cup, and Geoglyph (Jpn) (Drefong), last year's G1 Satsuki Sho victor and fourth in the Saudi Cup when trying the dirt for the first time, earned their stripes on the turf and can't be discounted.

Given the domination he displayed in the first two rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge series, Algiers (Ire) (Shamardal) is a serious contender for Simon and Ed Crisford, even if he is also drawn awkwardly in barrier 13.

“The horse has transformed for racing on this surface,” said the elder Crisford, a longtime advisor to Sheikh Mohammed and his team before branching out. “He was a rock-solid horse on turf but since he's been running on the Meydan dirt, which really plays to his strengths, he's stepped up to another level. He's the best local horse in the race and if he can run the same sort of race as he's done in the lead-ups, he'll be right in the mix.”

Crisford was also part of a quasi-steering committee that led to the creation of the World Cup and the 2023 iteration embodies his comments.

“The winners of this race have been the best horses in the world and I think what the race set out to achieve has been achieved in absolute international spades,” he said.

Country Grammer | Dubai Racing Club

Appleby Puts Faith In Romance

Charlie Appleby has nominated $6-million G1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic hope Rebel's Romance (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) as the horse he is most looking forward to running on Dubai World Cup Night.

Japanese Horse of the Year Equinox (Jpn) (Kitasan Black {Jpn}) may be a short-priced favourite for the race but Appleby, who runs six horses in total on World Cup Night at Meydan, holds no fears with Rebel's Romance.

He said of the 2022 GI Breeders' Cup Turf victor, “Rebel's Romance is the one I am most looking forward to. He is unbeaten in five starts over a mile and a half on turf, three of those at Group 1 level, including a Breeders' Cup. You can't really ask for much more than that.”

The Dubawi gelding already has a victory at this meeting on his record–successful in the UAE Derby in 2021–and hopes are clearly high for another with the trainer undeterred by Rebel's Romance missing his intended start on Super Saturday owing to a minor inflammation.

“Ideally, he would have had a race start leading into the big night, but he did a racecourse gallop 10 days ago and we were delighted with that,” he said.

“It's a race of real strength in depth with formlines all over the world coming together, but he's a terrific horse who has done nothing but improve as he has got older.”

Fellow Godolphin standardbearer Botanik (Ire) (Golden Horn {GB}) offers some international form lines, as the gelding was only 1 1/2 lengths second to Win Marilyn (Jpn) (Screen Hero {Jpn}) in Sha Tin's G1 Hong Kong Vase over this trip in December for trainer Andre Fabre. He exits a third-place run in a Chantilly synthetic affair on Mar. 4 and is likely to improve.

The Sheema Classic also sees last year's victor Shahryar (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) defend his title for Sunday Racing and Hideaki Fujiwara from stall seven under Cristian Demuro. Although winless in three starts since his desert triumph, he has faced both Ascot and the intense crucible of the JRA circuit, and was second to Dubai World Cup entrant Vela Azul in the G1 Japan Cup in November. No horse has yet managed to claim more than one Sheema in the history of the race.

Juddmonte's G1 Irish Derby hero Westover (GB) (Frankel {GB}) makes his 4-year-old bow for Ralph Beckett after finishing midfield in the Arc from gate one and Ryan Moore has the call. Mostahdaf (Ire) (Frankel {GB}), one of the most visually impressive winners on the Saudi Cup card when romping by seven lengths in the G3 Neom Turf Cup in February, exits post eight for Shadwell and the Gosdens and Jim Crowley is at the controls.

Rebel's Romance | Coady Photography

Can Lord North Make Further History?

In dead-heating with Panthalassa in last year's G1 Dubai Turf Sponsored By DP World, Lord North (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) became the first horse to clinch back-to-back runnings of the race.

John and Thady Gosden's charge will bid for a record-extending third win in the 1800-metre $5-million race on Saturday and the gelding is reported to be in rude health ahead of the assignment.

“The horses seem happy and well and the humidity has dropped, which is very important,” said the elder Gosden. “When I arrived at the airport at midnight it was steaming like a sauna, but the humidity has dropped off which is great. They've had a nice routine canter on this excellent training track and all three of our horses seem happy.”

A trio of Godolphin runners will do their best to derail the Gosdens and Frankie Dettori, who is seeking to extend his record for the most wins in the race from three to four, his first coming with Tamayaz (Gone West) back in 1997. In the vanguard is Real World (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}), a three-time group winner, who was second in both the G1 Lockinge S. and G1 Queen Anne S. last term. He was only 10th to Shadwell's Alfareeq (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) in the G1 Jebel Hatta on Super Saturday.

G1 Racing Company's Serifos (Jpn) (Daiwa Major {Jpn}) could spoil Lord North's party, after taking the G2 Fuji S. and G1 Mile Championship in successive starts in the autumn.

Strength In Numbers For US In Golden Shaheen

American-based horses have a better-than 50% strike rate (14-26) in the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored By Nakheel and field five of Saturday's 14 runners.

Winchell Thoroughbreds' Gunite (Gun Runner), whose sire was responsible for the topper at Tuesday's Goffs Dubai Breeze-Up Sale, is the most accomplished of the group, having landed the GI Hopeful S. as a 2-year-old in 2021 before adding last term's age-restricted GII Amsterdam S. Fourth in the GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in November, he resumed with a sharp success in the Listed King Cotton S. and exits a runner-up effort to US champion sprinter Elite Power (Curlin) in the G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint on Saudi Cup day.

“He's doing really well since arriving from Saudi Arabia,” said Amanda Olds, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. “He's quieted down and the track plays a little faster than Saudi Arabia which he seems to really enjoy.”

Switzerland (Speightstown) made history as the oldest winner of this event at eight last year and looks to become the third horse to put them back-to-back, joining Caller One and Mind Your Biscuits. A Grade III winner in the States after transferring from Chad Brown to Asmussen in 2018, he has won his only 9-year-old start, the G3 Dubawi S. on opening night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival Jan. 6. for trainer Bhupat Seemar. His is one of two former Brown inmates in the Shaheen, alongside recent G3 Mahab al Shimaal winner Sound Money (Flatter).

“He's moving like a gazelle out there,” said his top local jockey Tadhg O'Shea. “He is coming into this race equally as good as he went into last year.”

The pace looks very much on Saturday, and providing that a leaders' bias does not materialize, that could help set things up for a stormer. Japan has four chances to win the Golden Shaheen for the first time, the sneakiest of which may be Remake (Jpn), whose enigmatic sire Lani won the UAE Derby here in 2016. The Maeda family homebred was an eyecatching winner of Nakayama's G3 Capella S. on Dec. 11, producing a final 600-metre clocking of an exceptionally strong and race-fastest :35.1. He was third last time in the Riyadh Sprint, two lengths in back of Gunite, over a surface that may not have completely suited his style on the day. Red le Zele (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) is no stranger to this race, having finished second the last two years and he was last seen closing off nicely to fill the same spot behind Lemon Pop (Lemon Drop Kid) in the G1 February S. over a mile Feb. 19. The latter fits on figures, but Saturday's trip is acknowledged to be a legitimate question mark, even by his own connections. The Golden Shaheen is the only World Cup night event yet to be won by the hosts.

All Hail The King In The Al Quoz?

The 1200-metre $1.5-million G1 Al Quoz Sprint Sponsored by AZIZI Developments looms one of the most wide-open races of the nine-race card on Saturday, and Godolphin's Al Suhail (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) is top of the heap on ratings.

Although the Charlie Appleby charge ran third in the 1800-metre G1 Jebel Hatta back in 2021, he has yet to take a top-level race outright. In his favour is his penchant for the Meydan sod, and, leaving from stall two under William Buick, he is sitting pretty after back-to-back wins in the G2 Al Fahidi Fort on Jan. 6 and in a conditions race on Super Saturday. The only question mark is the distance, as, although he has won at seven furlongs and a mile, he has yet to grace the winner's circle at six furlongs.

As chronicled here in Friday's TDN, trainer George Boughey is looking for a big run out of his 3-year-old Al Dasim (Ire) (Harry Angel {Ire}), who enters the race riding a five-race winning streak. His latest win was a 2 1/4-length drubbing of Miqyaas (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}) in the G3 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint on Mar. 4. The only 3-year-old signed on, Sheikh Abdullah Almalek Alsabah's chestnut will be ridden by Mickael Barzalona from stall eight.

“He has obviously adapted very well here throughout the winter,” Boughey said. “It was nice to get a good draw with the pace seemingly on the right side so he's in great shape.”

Practically every major racing nation is represented in the Al Quoz, and the McMurray Family's Happy Romance (Ire) (Dandy Man {Ire}) is aiming to improve from a fourth in the G3 1351 Turf Sprint in the wake of G2 Godolphin Mile starter Bathrat Leon (Jpn) (Kizuna {Jpn}) in Riyadh on Saudi Cup Day and take her first Group 1 sprint. Second fiddle to A Case Of You (Ire) (Hot Streak {Ire}) in the 2022 edition, the 5-year-old mare drew the dreaded one post.

North America's GII Nearctic S. hero and 'TDN Rising Star' Cazadero (Street Sense), who races for Qatar Racing, Marc Detampel, Fergus Galvin and Bary Clohessy, is aiming to bounce back after trailing in the GI Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint in November and leaves from stall three. Australian lone World Cup night challenger The Astrologist (Aus) (Zoustar {Aus}) is booked for gate six and will attempt to become the second top-flight winner for his sire in the Northern Hemisphere. He took the G3 Gold Rush S. sprinting over seven furlongs down under in December and was sixth two starts later in the G1 Newmarket H. on Mar. 11. Damian Lane retains the ride for trainer Troy Corstens.

Fresh Water At A Premium In UAE Derby

Typical of almost every Thoroughbred race on Dubai World Cup night, the Japanese have a strong presence in the 1900-metre $1.5-million G2 UAE Derby Sponsored By Atlantis The Royal on Saturday with five entered. The best of Japan will test their mettle against rivals who have already proved themselves over the Meydan dirt, and new shooters from farther afield. The race is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby, with a points breakdown of 100-40-30-20-10 to the top five finishers.

Yuji Hasegawa's Perriere (Jpn) (Henny Hughes) has won three of his four starts for trainer Yoichi Kuroiwa, including the Listed Hyacinth S. at Tokyo, a GI Kentucky Derby qualifier worth 30 points to the winner. His only blip was a third to Derma Sotogake (Jpn) (Mind Your Biscuits) in a fellow points race in Japan–the Listed Zennippon Nisai Yushun (20-8-6-4-2), held in mid-December. Hiroyuki Asanuma owns the latter, who earned a group placing in the G3 Saudi Derby going a mile on the $20-million G1 Saudi Cup undercard at the end of February.

“The horse is in extremely good condition,” said Derma Sotogake's pilot Christophe Lemaire who rode him on Wednesday morning. “He ran very well in third last time. He will be competitive.”

A third Japanese starter, the Lion Race Horse Co., Ltd.-owned Continuar (Jpn) (Drefong) could become his sire's second Classic winner after Geoglyph (Jpn)'s tally in the 2022 G1 Japanese 2000 Guineas. He, too, claimed a points contest, making his mark in the first qualifier of the year, the Cattleya S. (10-4-3-2-1) at Tokyo on Nov. 26. G1 Hopeful S. hero Dura Erede (Jpn) (Duramente {Jpn}) represents Three H Racing Co. Ltd., but he's been off since that top-tier score in late December.

Perriere, Derma Sotogake and Continuar aren't the only horses already sporting qualifying points for the Run for the Roses, as the Coolmore partners' Cairo (Quality Road) triumphed in the Listed Patton S. (20-8-6-4-2) over the Dundalk all-weather on Mar. 3. The G3 Killavullan S. went his way at Leopardstown in October, and his trainer Aidan O'Brien has already saddled three winners of the event, the latest being Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy) in 2018. Ryan Moore again as the call, and the Englishman will be aiming for a hat trick from stall five in the 13-horse field.

Speaking of that Coolmore sire, Mendelssohn's Ah Jeez ran away and hid from his foes in a conditions stakes over seven furlongs here in late February for Doug O'Neill, who is also responsible for Calumet Farm's G3 UAE 2000 Guineas hero Tall Boy (Lookin At Lucky). The duo will leave from gates four and 10, respectively. While fellow American Bob Baffert sends out the Avengers' GIII Robert B. Lewis S. third Worcester (Empire Maker).

Victorious's Go Soldier Go (Tapiture) sports a victory over Mr Raj (Bolt d'Oro) when branding his name on the Listed Al Bastakiya honour roll over this course and distance on Super Saturday for Fawzi Nass.

Perriere | Horsephotos

Bathrat Leon Back To Dirt In Godolphin Mile

Bathrat Leon (Jpn) (Kizuna {Jpn}) is one of the aforementioned seven winners from last year, having caused a front-running surprise over Desert Wisdom (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) in the G2 Godolphin Mile Sponsored By One Zaabeel, and looks to repeat the dose here for Ryusei Sakai and Yahagi.

A pacesetting fourth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Baaeed (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) in the G1 Sussex S. and subsequently unplaced in the G1 Prix Jacques le Marois, he was a close third–one spot behind future G1 February S. winner and G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen entrant Lemon Pop (Lemon Drop Kid)–in the G3 Musashino S. over 1400 metres at Tokyo in November. A competitive fourth in the G3 Hanshin Cup back on the turf the following month, he made all the running last time to win the G3 1351 Turf Sprint on the Saudi Cup undercard last time.

“We saw last year how much he enjoyed the Meydan dirt and he has enjoyed it again since coming back,” Yahagi said. “I don't think the turf straight would suit as much as the turn on dirt, so that's why we are going for the Godolphin Mile again.

One of three entrants for Seemar, Discovery Island (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) has form through top World Cup chance Algiers, having finished closest to that rival in the G3 Al Maktoum Challenge R1 over the course and distance on Jan. 6. Slowly away in the G3 Firebreak S. three weeks hence over a rare rain-affected track, he never looked happy after a sluggish dispatch and was only sixth to Prince Eiji (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}), but atoned in no uncertain terms with a smart defeat of Raaeb (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) and stablemate Royal Mews (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}) in the G3 Burj Nahaar S. on Super Saturday Mar. 4.

“Discovery Island is doing really well and he won impressively on Super Saturday,” said the reigning UAE Champion Trainer. “We just need him to get a good break. James Doyle knows him well and keeps the ride.”

The performance here of Isolate (Mark Valeski) could bring the Golden Shaheen into some focus, as the 5-year-old was second to Tuz (Oxbow) in the G3 Al Shindagha Sprint Feb. 3 and behind Sound Money (Flatter) in the G3 Mahab al Shimaal on Super Saturday. He tries a mile for just the second time in his career. Leading US rider Tyler Gafflione gets a leg up from perennial leading trainer Doug Watson.

Subjectivist Going for Gold Again

Subjectivist (GB) (Teofilo {Ire}) last came to Meydan when sandwiching his G2 Dubai Gold Cup win between Group 1 strikes in the Prix Royal-Oak and Ascot Gold Cup. But that was two years ago and, following Royal Ascot, he wasn't seen on the track again for 618 days, when pulling hard and finishing down the field in the G3 Red Sea Turf H. in Riyadh on Feb. 25. He is clearly the best in the field on ratings, and if returning to anywhere near the level of form of his 2021 season he would be hard to beat.

Siskany (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), Ardakan (GB) (Reliable Man {GB}) and Al Nayyir (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) took the top three spots in the G3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy and offer solid recent form, while Global Storm (Ire) (Night Of Thunder {Ire}) posted a highly impressive victory on his Super Saturday comeback in the G2 Dubai City of Gold.

While the Marco Botti-trained Ardakan has been in Dubai all winter under the care of the trainer's wife Lucie, a recent arrival in Dubai from their Newmarket stable is Giavellotto (Ire) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}), a young stayer with an interesting profile, who was third in the G1 St Leger and narrowly beaten over that same trip when last seen in listed company at Ascot. He looks tailor-made to step up again in distance.

Giavellotto's conqueror at Ascot, Al Habeeb (Ire) (Al Rifai {Ire}), is another to keep an eye on in the Cup races this season.

Also of note is Enemy (Fr) (Muhaarar {GB}), for expert dual-purpose trainer Ian Williams. He was a good second in Riyadh after winning a 12-furlong race at Meydan in early January.

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