The 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