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Friday, 24 March 2017 16:24

Meydan Overview for 2017 Dubai World Cup

250X250The haters will always hate but even the professional whingers will surely struggle to criticise the quality on show in Dubai on Saturday evening.

Sand racing may not be for everyone, and it is arguable the dirt track at Meydan has proven to be even more one-dimensional than ever this season, but the best horse in the world, Arrogate, will be stepping on it at 12.45pm (ET) and for the credibility of the meeting, that was vital. Listening to Bob Baffert, you do get the feeling it was not exactly at the top of his wish list, and previous quotes such as “we bought the horse to race in America” back that up, but they are here with seemingly everything running smoothly, and it is hardly stating the obvious that he will be very difficult to beat. There is no point trying to oppose him, and I cannot even come up with anything worthwhile for place purposes, so on we go.

UK racing is still very much in jump mode, but such as Aidan O’Brien, John Gosden, Roger Charlton, Henry Candy and many more will be using Dubai as a springboard to their spring/summer campaigns. O’Brien sends over his biggest team of runners, nine to be exact. His son, Donnacha, describes the raid as being reflective of the strong team of older horses at their disposal this year.

As with any big meeting, rumours can spread like wildfire and a possible injury to Ertijaal seems the biggest non-story. Well, we assume and hope it was a non-story. The favourite for the Al Quoz has proven nigh-on unbeatable down the straight track, albeit over 5f, and the only question mark that hangs over him is his ability to be as effective over 6f. He was before but is undoubtedly quicker now. I think he will be. He fits the brief of many of the favourites on the card: solid but at a price that isn’t going to pay for the wife’s birthday, but perhaps one of the more vulnerable market leaders is Vazirabad in the Dubai Gold Cup.

He won the race last year, but a shallower version, and many in the field are closely matched through various pieces of form. He was also beaten in the trial and looking through his record, he has hitherto largely bypassed all the main staying contests, the Group Ones in France not comparing to those in England in my opinion. 

So with many of these on a par, where does the extra edge lie? Tactics are the obvious starting point and for that reason I am siding with Big Orange, who ran second to Vazirabad 12 months ago. He seems the only sure to go from the front with Frankie Dettori (his sole ride on the card) a master at the waiting ride in front. He was softened up a touch last year by Certerach, which left him vulnerable come the finish but hopefully that will not happen again and he looks the value.

On to the UAE Derby and Thunder Snow will need to be a very, very good horse to win from stall 13. We already know he is a very good horse but there is enough against him to suggest he won’t achieve that extra very here. The dirt didn’t seem too much of an issue when he won the UAE 2000 Guineas on his reappearance, but that was a nine-runner race and this will be a different kettle of fish. Bee Jersey has the best part of six lengths to find with him, and indeed he has a similar distance to find with Fawree, but I am quite happy to believe he can. Firstly, Bee Jersey has only had three starts and can/will still improve, while he made a big move at halfway in that Guineas and it left him empty for the finish. He was also drawn in stall nine of nine on that occasion and is in seven now, so at the very least should bridge the gap.

Zarak looks banker material in the Dubai Turf such was the impression he made when landing the Dubai Millennium Stakes during the Carnival. He was still someway short of fitness that day, both in appearance and at the suggestion of his trainer, yet he won on the bridle beating Earnshaw by a length and three quarters, that horse getting to within a length and a half of Decorated Knight in the Jebel Hatta. His form behind Almanzor last season is top drawer stuff and he very much strikes as a horse that is about to come of age.

One more selection and that is Jack Hobbs in the Dubai Sheema Classic who, in a similar vein, has form behind Almanzor and strikes as the type to fulfil all his potential as a five-year-old. No horse has impressed more in appearance than Jack Hobbs, very much confirming the opinion of John Ferguson when he bought the horse, that he would be one that blossomed with time under his belt. That time was rather enforced following injury, but it should prove to be a blessing in disguise and this long-striding sort should be well suited by the Meydan track.

Stephen Molyneux's Dubai World Cup bet selections: 

8:50am (ET) Meydan: Big Orange

9.25am (ET) Meydan: Bee Jersey

11:30am (ET) Meydan: Zarak

12:05pm (ET) Meydan: Jack Hobbs



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From Dubai Racing Club:

Arrogate (USA) - Powered down the Meydan stretch before dawn in what trainer Bob Baffert said was an approximate 800m breeze, going at an easy clip under exercise rider Dana Barnes before exiting the track in big, springing strides and with his ears pricked.

Baffert said he did not have a stopwatch on the colt but probably went in about 50 seconds for the distance, just enough of a move to sharpen him for Saturday.

“He’s handling everything really well,” Baffert said of how Arrogate has responded to the long journey from his base in California and the adjustment to the Meydan quarantine stabling and the racetrack surface.

“He looks good to me.” Baffert said Arrogate will walk in the stable area on Tuesday morning and return to train on the main track on Wednesday.

While the only trainer not employed by Godolphin to win more than one Dubai World Cup, Baffert is keen to win more. “I’ve never won it here (at Meydan), and it’s totally different. I really liked that old track (Nad Al Sheba), but this is totally different (with) tighter turns. You need a lot of racing luck to get away from the gate. It becomes a jockey’s race.

“And you never know until they start turning for home – is the horse going to show up? As a trainer, you’re just hoping that at the quarter pole, they’re moving.”

Baffert said all the signs are positive but he pointed out that there is added pressure. "Because I brought this great horse over here and I don’t want to mess it up. It’s still a horse race, and when it’s a major race, I go into it focused. I don’t take anything for granted.

He also made a special point of saying it is a “greatest honour — like being inducted into an international hall of fame” to be associated with Juddmonte Farms owner Prince Khalid Abdullah.

“He’s been a pleasure to work with,” Baffert said. “I can’t believe they had a horse like Frankel, the best horse they’ve ever seen in Europe, and then they get a horse like Arrogate. (Prince Khalid) is doing something right. I’m just glad to be part of it. And I’m counting on Arrogate to get it done” and win the Dubai World Cup.

Hoppertunity (USA) - Arrived at the main track just after 7am. He picked up a gallop on the backstretch and accelerated around the far turn and down the stretch, going about 800m to tune up for Saturday’s race.

“He felt great,” exercise rider Dana Barnes said after the brief drill.

“Hoppertunity has been training better than he ever has, and he really loves it here,” said trainer Bob Baffert, while comparing the six-year-old horse to the arcade game character Pac-Man. “He just keeps coming and gobbling up ground and getting checks, and you never know—one day he could get there (to win).”

Keen Ice (USA)—Now trained by Todd Pletcher, who sent the five-year-old out on Monday to gallop approximately 2200m under exercise rider Nick Bush. Pletcher’s assistant Ginny DePasquale said: “We’re very pleased with him,” she said. “Mentally, he’s completely changed.”

Neolithic (USA) - Galloped about 2200m and continued to appear alert and eager in his exercise.

“He’s been on his toes ever since he arrived,” said Ginny DePasquale, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “It seems like he’s adapted unbelievably well.” DePasquale said all three of Pletcher’s trainees that have traveled to the UAE for the Dubai World Cup Carnival will continue to gallop during the week and will not have any speed drills.

Gun Runner (USA) - Breezed 800m in 49.4 seconds on Monday morning just after 5am at Meydan. Exercise rider Carlos Rosas was aboard and assistant trainer Scott Blasi accompanied the pair to and from the racetrack aboard the stable pony. 

Rosas, who exercised 2008 Dubai World Cup winner Curlin (USA) for trainer Steve Asmussen, said: “He’s little but he’s all heart. He can really run.”

Special Fighter (IRE) – Jockey Fernando Jara sad: “Obviously he was fourth in the race last year, having won the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 on Super Saturday, but did not run again until that same race this year after a slightly troubled preparation.

“He will have needed that run quite badly so we had to be delighted he was second and he is certainly fitter now. It is a tough race, as you would expect, but it is great to be involved with a horse who has a chance of a big run.”

Furia Cruzada (CHI) - Trainer Erwan Charpy said: “We are delighted to be running in the Dubai World Cup and it is very rare for a filly or mare to do so but she is a very good performer who deserves her chance as she has done nothing wrong.

“She won the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 on her debut for us and was a bit unlucky on Super Saturday but was making up ground at the line and should run a big race.

“The likes of Arrogate will obviously be hard to beat but we are very pleased with her.”

Mubtaahij (IRE) - Trainer Mike de Kock said: “He won the UAE Derby two years ago and was second in the big race itself last year so conditions are clearly not an issue.

“We were very pleased with his comeback run when he was giving a lot of weight to some very good horses. Ideally we would have preferred two runs before Saturday but it was not feasible the way things panned out.

“His preparation at home has been very good and we are expecting another big run but Arrogate is obviously a genuine contender and the one we all have to beat.”

Long River (USA) – Trainer Salem bin Ghadayer said: “We always knew he had the ability to win a big race so we were not overly surprised he won the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 on Super Saturday.

“He remains in great form but we know Saturday is going to be a much bigger test.”

Gold Dream (JPN) - The Group 1 February Stakes winner had a light work over Meydan’s dirt course early Monday morning in preparation under groom Hiroya Kinoshita, who said: "He was a little tired when he arrived but as of today he is back to normal. He cantered a lap and a half today and will gallop on Wednesday."

Meydan Overview

News that had become more likely with the passing of time broke this week when it was announced that Arrogate would in fact make the trip to Meydan for the Dubai World Cup. A good thing, right? Well, yes in that it is important that the second richest race in the world attracts the best horses - and there is no doubt Arrogate is that on dirt at the moment - but as a spectacle, is the race now going to be hideously one-sided? Probably. That even factors in Mike de Kock's Mubtaahij losing little in defeat when prepping last week. He finished second to Etijaah, giving that one 15lbs. De Kock was doing cartwheels out of Meydan afterwards, but not before he had another little dig at the dirt surface. “I didn’t want him to run again before the Dubai World Cup as I don’t want him to visit that track more than he has to,” the trainer remarked. Work that one out for yourself.

Super Saturday is unlikely to unearth a credible challenger to Arrogate, with the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, which is a Group One, being the official prep. Furia Cruzada and Second Summer are renewing rivalry from the second round, the latter fully expected to reverse form given he should have won last time. Special Fighter is back to defend his crown, although he has not been seen since finishing fourth to California Chrome last March. He also hails from a stable in turmoil in recent weeks, after Musabah Al Mheiri was banned for 12 months for cobalt use. Special Fighter would be a fairytale winner of sorts for Maria Ritchie, who has taken over the reins at the yard, but his absence is an obvious concern.  Then there is Lani, who won a bad UAE Derby last year and has since looked fried after an American campaign. Godolphin have rolled the dirt dice one last time, Move Up arriving on the up but completely unproven on the surface. Second Summer is the deserving favourite and gets the vote from these quarters.

A competitive Al Bastakiya kicks things off and the clear temptation is to oppose Fawree, who will have to break from stall 12. Concerns over his temperament have been well voiced by De Kock, but so far he has behaved impeccably on the racecourse, albeit only winning a maiden last time at the expense of Bee Jersey. Fawree was beaten by Capezzano on his debut but looks more progressive than that one, particularly as the latter has shown a tendency to pull and the longer trip is a worry. There are interesting newcomers in the form of Zumurudee and Thegreatcollection but with all of these stepping into the unknown stamina-wise, it looks a race to leave alone. 

The betting for the Mahab Al Shimaal is dominated once again by Muarrab, who hasn’t looked himself this season. A more aggressive ride last time may have seen him account for Cool Cowboy with only a neck separating them at the finish but an aggressive ride saw him beaten by Reynaldothewizard the time beforehand, so there is no middle ground with him at the moment. Reynaldothewizard has been kept fresher than that pair and, with the heart perhaps ruling the head, I would just favour him again. 

Postponed is arguably the star attraction on the whole card as he preps again for the Dubai Sheema Classic in the Dubai City Of Gold, the six-year-old looking in good form as he breezed clear of his work companion King Bolete on Wednesday morning. His long odds-on status is fully justified and there seems little point in trying to oppose him, even if the Godolphin pair of Prize Money and Emotionless are fully up to speed and this will be their cup finals. 

The Burj Nahaar is probably the weakest of the races on the card with Le Bernardin heading the market despite a poor draw in stall 10. He impressed in the first round of the Al Maktoum Challenge but broke from stall one then, while stalls six and nine have been enough of an excuse for him not to win previously this term. Stormardal is the one for me, despite having had a setback that has ruled him out of the entire Carnival thus far. Prior to Christmas he looked a much improved performer and is a horse with an excellent record fresh. He has now won his last three, listing defeats (emphatic ones) over Heavy Metal and Nathr in that time and from stall one he can get a perfect ground-saving trip under Adrie de Vries and earn his spot in the Godolphin Mile. 

The Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint is a typically competitive affair, and many connections are no doubt relieved that Ertijaal stayed at home. In Jungle Cat and Baccarat, Charlie Appleby has a strong hand but they are priced accordingly. Fityaan is possibly the value given he tends to pop up when least expected, and won this last year at 50-1 although that is hardly sound reasoning for a bet. Talking of Ertijaal, the De Kock-trained version does go in the finale, the Group One Jebel Hatta. Not out since finishing fifth to Light The Lights on the opening night in January, we still haven’t seen the best of him in Dubai. However, the absence hardly suggests things have run smoothly in the interim. Roger Charlton's Decorated Knight is favourite and very much going the right way. In all likelihood this does not require a massive amount more despite it being a top-level race compared with the Listed race he won last time. For the same reasoning, Promising Run and Earnshaw firmly enter calculations. 

One that needs an even bigger step up, but with grounds for believing he can, is Folkswood and he looks the value. He got a perfect ride when beating Elleval in handicap company, but the time compares well to what Promising Run achieved over the same course and distance earlier in the Carnival with Folkswood carrying significantly more weight. Stall 12 need not be an issue as William Buick is likely to have him well-positioned in a race that lacks too much pace. Time and time again we see the benefit of thriving horses at the Carnival doing well when perhaps ratings suggest they may have a bit to find.

Stephen Molyneux's Super Saturday bet selections:

08:45am (ET) Meydan: Stormardal

09.55am (ET) Meydan: Second Summer

10.30am (ET) Meydan: Folkswood