THERE is $30 million on offer across the eight thoroughbred races at Meydan today, culminating in the $12 million Dubai World Cup which is due off at 4.30pm GMT.
There’s just two Irish runners on the card and both are 8/1 shots with solid chances of reaching the frame. Baron Samedi represents Joseph O’Brien in the Gold Cup (12.55pm) and the Ado McGuinness-trained A Case Of You goes in the Al Quoz Sprint (1.35pm).
The big storyline this year is the strength of the Japanese. Having won four races on the Saudi Cup card last month, the Japanese have a whopping 22 representatives at this evening’s fixture.
And what of the home defence from Godolphin? After mopping up week after week at the Carnival, the boys in blue will find things much harder today. Having said that, Charlie Appleby looks likely to have two or three winners for Sheikh Mohammed’s operation – Manobo, Man Of Promise and Yibir are strong favourites.
There’s also a high-quality American contingent. Pantomime villain Bob Baffert has the favourite for the UAE Derby and has a very strong World Cup contender in Country Grammer. However, it is the former Baffert trainee Life Is Good who will start at odds-on for the big race. Throw in the rock-solid pair Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon, and we look sure to be entertained.
12.20 Godolphin Mile (Group 2) (Dirt) 1m
The locally trained Al Nefud is favourite, based on his second to US raider Hot Rod Charlie last month. A low draw will help Tadhg O’Shea’s mount. Stable companion Secret Ambition won this last year but that was a weak race.
Godolphin’s Storm Damage is worth opposing, having never raced on dirt before. Overall, the local horses are not great and it can pay to side with the Japanese and American runners. Steve Asmussen runs two solid contenders in Snapper Sinclair (fourth last year) and New York Derby winner Bankit.
Full Flat is a fascinating runner from Japan. He defeated Mishriff in the Saudi Derby two years ago but has been off the track since that summer. His compatriot Soliste Thunder has much more recent Group 1 form in Japan and, despite a bad draw, looks worth a bet.
SELECTION: SOLISTE THUNDER
Next Best: Al Ferud
12.55 Dubai Gold Cup (Group 2) (Turf) 2m
This looks a straight match between Godolphin’s Manobo and Japan’s Stay Foolish. Manobo (by Sea The Stars) is unbeaten in five lifetime starts and was super-impressive in the trial here last month (set course record).
The extra two furlongs won’t be a problem for him. Stay Foolish was getting 5lb from runner-up Sonnyboyliston when winning the valuable 15-furlong handicap in Saudi last month. He may try to make all and should confirm the form with fourth home Baron Samedi.
Next Best: Stay Foolish
1.35 Al Quoz Sprint (Group 1) (Turf) 6f
Man Of Promise struggled in this race last year but looks a different beast now and surely only has to repeat his performance in last month’s trial to win this.
Irish raider A Case Of You couldn’t lay a glove on the Godolphin horse last time but he did finish clear of the remainder and can hopefully win a share of the pot.
Haydock Sprint winner Emaraaty Ana was bitterly disappointing in the trial. He should love the fast ground but the surface won’t be ideal for Godolphin’s Creative Force. French flyer Suesa must be respected. She acts on any ground and deserves some luck, having had a bad draw in both the Nunthorpe and Abbaye.
SELECTION: MAN OF PROMISE
Next Best: Suesa
2.10 UAE Derby (Group 2) (Dirt) 1m 1f 110yds
Here’s a teaser. If this race produces a stretch duel between a Bob Baffert horse and a Russian runner, who are you cheering for? Azure Coast represents Russia here and helpfully carries the Russian colours just in case you might miss the recent UAE 2000 Guineas winner.
Baffert’s hope Pinehurst is far more likely to be involve din the finish, having just held off the Japanese colt Sekifu in the Saudi Derby last month. This race is a furlong further but how many times have you questioned the stamina of a Baffert trailblazer only to see them grind it out to the winning line?
The other Japanese colt Combustion is closely matched with Sekifu and these three looks a class above the rest. Hopefully we’ll see some of the graduates from this week’s Dubai Breeze Up Sale in this race next year.
Next Best: Sekifu
2.45 Dubai Golden Shaheen (Group 1) (Dirt) 6f
Dr Schivel is one of the best sprinters in America and cannot be opposed. He was only beaten by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and was found to have a high temperature after a disappointing run in December. Fellow American challenger Drain The Clock is more of a seven-furlong performer but he too looks in a different league to the local speedsters who take turns beating each other. Japan’s Red Le Zele finished second in this race last year and can again reach the frame.
SELECTION: DR SCHIVEL
Next Best: Drain The Clock
3.20 Dubai Turf (Group 1) (Turf) 1m 1f
You could argue this is the best race of the day. From America comes dual Pegasus Turf winner Colonel Liam, but since when is American turf form good enough outside the US? Of the two Japan runners, Schnell Meister looks best. This Kingman colt is up there with the best Japanese milers and that should be good enough. There’s plenty of other storylines to consider. Last year’s winner Lord North may not be the force of old but he’s not a beaten docket either. Mohaafeth is the enigma. A steamer for the Derby last year only to be withdrawn when the ground went soft, he won at Royal Ascot but started to show wayward tendencies even then and lost his way afterwards. Over the winter he’s had a descended testicle removed from his scrotum and connections are keeping the faith. Can he do it for Sheikh Hamdan who died at this time last year?
Saffron Beach is another to throw into the mix. Jane Chapple-Hyam’s filly likes fast ground and goes well fresh. If she is in the same form as when winning the Sun Chariot last October she must be a player.
SELECTION: SCHNELL MEISTER
Next Best: Saffron Beach
3.55 Dubai Sheema Classic (Group 1) (Turf) 1m 4f
Glory Vase, winner of the Hong Kong Vase last December, gets the vote in a classy contest. The seven-year-old has run outside of Japan three times, all at Sha Tin, winning twice and losing out by less than a length to the champion Loves Only You on the other occasion. Pyledriver finished second to the selection in Hong Kong but ran way below his best in Saudi last month and, even with Frankie Dettori in the saddle, is hard to fancy until he is back at his beloved Ascot.
William Haggas runs both Alenquer and Dubai Honour, two Group 2 winners who possibly prefer a bit of ease but greatly feared nonetheless. Alenquer in particular looks sure to win a Group 1 race ove a mile and a half this season.
Hukum is another who prefers cut in the ground. He did well to win his trial here on fast ground but this looks too hot for him. A similar comment applies to Japan’s Authority, who won a Group 3 race nicely on the Saudi Cup card but it wasn’t a deep race.
SELECTION: GLORY VASE
Next Best: Alenquer
4.30 Dubai World Cup (Group 1) (Dirt) 1m 2f
Life Is Good looked monstrous in the Pegasus Gold Cup. Who would have thought any horse on the planet could make Knicks Go look so ordinary? To cap it all, Irad Ortiz’s mount has the number one draw here so there should be no excuses. Country Grammer finished second in the Saudi Cup, a race where the pace horses were run down late by the unconsidered Emblem Road.
Hot Rod Charlie is a model of consistency but he might have been flattered by his easy prep win here last month and he is a bad price at 3/1. On overall form, he has nothing in hand of Country Grammer and Midnight Bourbon.
Keep an eye on Real World. His turf form from last year looks better all the time. He didn’t handle the dirt in Saudi and he won’t handle it here either, having run moderately on this very track four times before bolting up on his turf debut in the Royal Hunt Cup. He could easily pop up at a price in the Lockinge or Queen Anne if surviving this ordeal.
SELECTION: LIFE IS GOOD
Next Best: Country Grammer