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Hawk’s 2015 Dubai World Cup Night Analysis and Selections

March 28, 2015

The world’s richest race meeting, the Dubai World Cup, is upon us again, and all eyes will be on Meydan tonight as runners from all over the world converge.

It’s been a big week of doing form ahead of this all-important meeting, especially as Meydan makes the switch back from Tapeta to dirt.

I was privileged to join William Hill’s Luke Elder and Timeform’s Calum Madell to chat about the card on Wednesday night. Have a watch here:

 

I also wrote a story in my weekly blog for the South China Morning Post about how different punters across the world assess myriad global formlines ahead of the Dubai meeting, including a suggested bet for different totes. Have a read here.

Here are my selections (with short analysis) for tonight’s Dubai World Cup meeting (avoiding the first race, the Kahayla Classic for purebred Arabians):

Race 2 – GROUP 2 GODOLPHIN MILE (1600m)

Some quarters have tried to argue this is the strongest Godolphin Mile in years, but I think if you were to throw the last three winners in this race – Variety Club (2014), Soft Falling Rain (2013) or African Story (2012) – they would win easily. So it’s a race I’m not really too keen on.

TAMARKUZ has been simply outstanding, albeit against fairly weak fields, since stepping up to the mile on the Meydan dirt. To be fair, he’s drawn well at each start and has been able to jump out and dictate fairly comfortably. He’s drawn the inside again so should be able to jump out and lead once more, but he might face more pressure this time. Still, he’s the form horse, he’s proven and he is almost a selection by default.

Looking for dangers, the one I’d be keen to back is PRAYER FOR RELIEF, now with Mike De Kock after a storied American career. He has attracted the “non-winner” tag with plenty of seconds, thirds and fourths, but for the most part he comes from the strongest American formlines and he steps back in class here. The awkward draw, though, will make it difficult, hence why I don’t have him on top. Worth a play though if he remains around 12/1 or above.

At odds, could see GRAPHIC run a big race first time on dirt, while another first timer on dirt SLOANE AVENUE is bred to handle the surface and would be another higher up in my numbers if not for the awkward draw. Next best is the inconsistent American BRADESTER, while I could also have something small on former Australian galloper FREE WHEELING at gigantic odds.

1 – TAMARKUZ
8 – PRAYER FOR RELIEF
15 – GRAPHIC
9 – SLOANE AVENUE

 

Race 3 – GROUP 2 DUBAI GOLD CUP (3200m)

This looks an unpredictable race with a number of different formlines and a number of horses who look unlikely to stay the trip, so it’s a tough race to assess.

AHZEEMAH is a top horse on his day, but definitely mixes his form. He was too bad to be true in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy, beaten 50 lengths, and one must make a decision whether to take him on that run or not. I’ve decided to draw a line through it, and if he runs to his Goodwood Cup second or even his second in this race two years ago ¬– both behind Cavalryman – he will go very close to winning here. Expect a far better performance and at 8/1 he’s worth a throw at the stumps.

BROWN PANTHER has been one of the most consistent stayers over the last two seasons, winning the Goodwood Cup and the Irish St Leger and recording a number of placings. He returns first up off a rare flop in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but I think a mile and a half is too sharp for him these days. Back up to two miles here, he’ll roll forward and be in this for a long, long way.

The emerging talent in the race is French galloper BATHYRHON, a winner of the Prix Gladiateur and second in the Prix Du Cadran at the end of last year. He did run last of four in the Prix Kergorlay to Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist, but was only beaten three and a half lengths – less than Protectionist’s winning Melbourne Cup margin. Take into account he was in the worst ground on the inside and it wasn’t a terrible run by any means. It appears that firm ground is best for him, although he will never have struck ground as firm as he encounters here. He’s a definite chance.

Next best Nad Al Sheba Trophy first and third ALMOONQITH and STAR EMPIRE.

15 – AHZEEMAH
14 – BROWN PANTHER
8 – BATHYRHON
9 – ALMOONQITH

 

Race 4 – GROUP 2 UAE DERBY (1900m)

A race that can sometimes be quite disappointing, it looks a terrific edition this year and for the first time in a number of years it looks like it could be a solid Kentucky Derby lead-up race, if MUBTAAHIJ or MAFTOOL salute.

Those two come through the local lead-ups and have created quite the rivalry so far, but I’m looking outside of these, instead siding with Japanese three-year-old GOLDEN BAROWS. By American super sire Tapit, his win in the Hyacinth Stakes in Tokyo was electrifying, coming from a long way back to easily waltz by his rivals. There is some concern about his ability to stay the trip, and of course there’s the query about the deeper dirt surface, but I think ability wise he’ll prove hard to beat.

Mubtaahij does look the logical danger, having won the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial and the Al Bastakiya and having just gone down in a ding-dong battle with Maftool in the UAE 2000 Guineas itself. He is shaping as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender and does loom as the best of the locals here.

Next best are DEAR DOMUS, who was well beaten by Golden Barows in the Hyacinth Stakes but has the pedigree to suggest he’ll relish the step up in trip, and SIR FEVER, the Uruguayan Triple Crown champion who was easily defeated by Mubtaahij in the Al Bastakiya but gets blinkers on here and will improve.

I’m happy to take on Godolphin’s Maftool, with big concerns about his ability to stay a strong 1900m.

7 – GOLDEN BAROWS
1 – MUBTAAHIJ
10 – DEAR DOMUS
4 – SIR FEVER

 

Race 5 – GROUP 1 AL QUOZ SPRINT (1000m)

A ridiculously open race, with plenty of conflicting formlines and a number of chances.

Despite having some “bias”, so to speak, towards the Hong Kong horses, I’m not convinced our horses are well suited this year. I don’t think BUNDLE OF JOY is good enough, last year’s winner AMBER SKY is obviously good enough but has had a torrid season and may get involved in a speed battle with the likes of American speedster DISTINCTIV PASSION so is worth taking on, and as for PENIAPHOBIA…well, I think he’s potentially the best horse in the race but I’m not sure about him over five furlongs. I’m particularly concerned that he might get run off his feet in the middle stages and will struggle to pick up until the race is all over.

Still, I think Peniaphobia is a strong chance if all works out for him. He is under the odds now, though, so instead I’ll side with the very consistent AHTOUG. He finished second in both the Meydan Sprint and the Al Quoz Sprint last year, and is again coming off a second in the Meydan Sprint last time out. He’s drawn in the perfect spot to get a trail behind the speed and should be in the mix late.

We’ll go with Peniaphobia second ahead of VIA AFRICA, a South African Group 1 winner who was somewhat disappointing first-up in the Meydan Sprint. Still, it was her first run since May last year and I’m expecting her to have taken great improvement for the effort. Expect her to feature somewhere.

Next best MIRZA, who is a well-exposed eight-year-old but had some nice form towards the end of last season and can put in a big run at odds, and CASPAR NETSCHER.

13 – AHTOUG
16 – PENIAPHOBIA
4 – VIA AFRICA
8 – MIRZA

 

Race 6 – GROUP 1 GOLDEN SHAHEEN (1200m)

Back on dirt this time around, this is shaping up as a clash between the United States – who won seven of the final 10 runnings of the race at the old Nad Al Sheba course – and Hong Kong, which has unexpectedly emerged as a stronghold for dirt sprinters.

Perhaps it is my Hong Kong bias shining through, but I believe this is the best opportunity of the Bauhinia flag flying high tonight. And I do think RICH TAPESTRY looms as the one to beat. He finished second in this race last year to compatriot Sterling City, albeit on the Tapeta, but he then went to the United States where he won the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. That day, he beat SECRET CIRCLE on his home turf, and did it comfortably. He’s drawn to get the perfect run, he flies fresh (not uncommon for a bleeder like him) and his preparation has been alright. There was a slight hitch when he flew out to Dubai, losing a bit of weight and coming up slightly dehydrated, but he looks to have bounced back well and I expect him to feature heavily.

If LUCKY NINE was tackling this surface at his prime, I’d be extremely confident he would win. He has run on the dirt in Hong Kong twice, winning in Class 3 before backing up a week later to run second to Hong Kong Sprint runner-up Entrapment in Class 1. This was in 2010, though, but he simply hasn’t had the opportunity to run on it since. In that time, he’s won seven Group 1 races, he’s travelled all over the world, he ran third in the Golden Shaheen on the Tapeta, and now he returns to tackle the dirt. His form is mixed, but he was a strong third in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize last time out and that would make him competitive here. There’s been some concern about his high head carriage in trackwork during the week, but photos from his Hong Kong trackwork suggest this is fairly normal for him. If he can run to his best he will figure.

The American trio – Secret Circle, SALUTOS AMIGOS and BIG MACHER – form a formidable team, with 2013 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Secret Circle looking the best of them. I’m not convinced about the form around Salutos Amigos, while Big Macher is speedy but too inconsistent for mine. If there’s to be an upset it could come from a former American, COOL COWBOY.

Still, I’m happy to stick with the Hongkongers here.

4 – RICH TAPESTRY
8 – LUCKY NINE
7 – SECRET CIRCLE
5 – SALUTOS AMIGOS

 

Race 7 – GROUP 1 DUBAI TURF (1800m)

The less said about this race, the better. After last year’s top edition, with Just A Way blitzing Vercingetorix and the likes of Dank, MSHAWISH, Logotype, Tokei Halo, Blazing Speed and The Fugue behind, it’s quite amazing to see how far it has fallen this year. In fact, it’s hard to make a case for any of these, but there has to be a winner.

By default, I’ve ended up with THE GREY GATSBY. He was one of the top European three-year-olds last year, winning the Prix du Jockey Club and the Irish Champion Stakes, and on ratings is clearly the top ranked horse. And while the trip may be too short for him and he might not have the race run to suit, he finds himself on top just by being the best horse. As you can tell, I’m very enthusiastic about him and the race in general…

EURO CHARLINE does interest me, although I doubt she’s good enough to win. She’s the epitome of globalisation – as I said in my SCMP blog, The Griffin, “by an Irish-bred French Group One-winning sire, she’s owned by America’s Team Valor, trained by Marco Botti – English-based but a member of an Italian training dynasty – and will be ridden by Hong Kong-based Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira.” She improved at the back end of her three-year-old season before injury curtailed an American campaign, but if she returns even stronger she could figure at odds.

SOLOW has been well backed into favouritism, but I remain unconvinced by his form. He’s been very good in France but has beaten very little and I think he’s now under the odds. With that in mind, happy to bet around him.

Next best Balanchine winner CLADOCERA, who reminds me a bit of 2013 winner Sajjhaa, and Mackinnon Stakes third FARRAAJ.

6 – THE GREY GATSBY
1 – EURO CHARLINE
10 – SOLOW
8 – CLADOCERA

 

Race 8 – GROUP 1 SHEEMA CLASSIC (2410m)

From the most disappointing race of the night, we go to the strongest and most fascinating race of the night. The quality of horseflesh is superb, and it is made fascinating by a completely perplexing speed map. It’s almost impossible to figure out where the speed will come from, and so there must be some expectation that there will be a couple of surprises when they settle down – maybe DESIGNS ON ROME will find himself closer. I expect the two French gallopers, DOLNIYA and FLINTSHIRE, to be handy too, which will play to both of them.

While the man on the street might believe Japanese filly HARP STAR will need a solid tempo to unleash her blistering turn of foot, I think a soft tempo wouldn’t work against her as it would allow her to remain in touch with the leaders. She is the only horse in the race, for mine, with push-button acceleration and if she can remain in touch, I think she’s a huge hope. Tempo and poor rides hindered her in the Arc and the Japan Cup, while she settled closer and struggled in the lead-up race, the Kyoto Kinen. Still, Gentildonna was able to improve off an average run to win last year and I think Harp Star is in the same mould. I’m expecting a big performance.

I think DESIGNS ON ROME is the major danger. He’s been more dour this season, but he’s still won his last three – the Hong Kong Cup, the Centenary Vase and the Hong Kong Gold Cup. He does take a long time to wind up, but there is the possibility he will settle closer under Joao Moreira which might be his best chance of saluting. Some have raised concerns about his ability to stay the 12 furlongs, but the one time he tried it he was at the end of a long season, coming off two gutbusting efforts, and the way the race was run didn’t suit whatsoever. I have no doubts. He’s a big chance.

The way the race will be run will probably suit Dolniya, who beat Flintshire in a prep race on the Chantilly polytrack at the start of March. She looks an improved mare heading into her four-year-old season and I think she’s still quite untapped. Purely for tactical reasons, she goes in.

I’m not convinced about the Breeders’ Cup Turf form, so I rate Flintshire and MAIN SEQUENCE below the others. Flintshire had the perfect run in an Arc in which many had torrid trips or were unsuited, and the Hong Kong Vase he won was ordinary. He’s very one-paced and that will play against him here. That said, I have him ahead of Main Sequence because Flintshire is likely to have the advantage of settling handier and getting the first run on him. As for Main Sequence, his form improved dramatically when he went across to the United States after his form tapered off in the UK. The reasons for that are many and varied – he struck firmer tracks, he was gelded, he raced on lasix, the American turf stayers are poor. And while he has improved, I want to see him take that form elsewhere. For mine, he must be risked.

9 – HARP STAR
7 – DESIGNS ON ROME
2 – DOLNIYA
4 – FLINTSHIRE

 

Race 9 – GROUP 1 DUBAI WORLD CUP (2000m)

The world’s richest race at US$10 million, it hasn’t attracted quite the field that was touted a few weeks back with key defectors including Breeders’ Cup Classic quinella Bayern and Toast Of New York, the world’s highest rated horse so far in 2015 Shared Belief and Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist. Still, it’s an interesting race and it does look a good move to head back to dirt from the old Tapeta track.

And it is fitting that one of the world’s most popular horses, CALIFORNIA CHROME, looks set to take the World Cup. I’m far from a Chromie, but in this race he looks well suited. He’s the class dirt runner, he’s drawn to take advantage and his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes wins – even his San Antonio second and his Breeders’ Cup Classic third – are far superior to anything produced by the rest of this field, with the exception of EPIPHANEIA…but more about that later. I expect California Chrome to salute here, trumping the decision to return to dirt.

If there’s an upset it could come from HOKKO TARUMAE. The Japanese dirt star finished last on the Tapeta last year but it’s a completely different ball game this time around. Not only does he appear more comfortable on the dirt, but he also has gone to a new level since with strong wins in the Champions Cup (the old Japan Cup Dirt) and the Tokyo Daishoten. He’ll be in front for a long way and looks the most likely fly in the ointment.

Next best LEA, who has stamina queries at the 10 furlongs but will be aiming to give trainer Bill Mott a second World Cup winner after the first victor Cigar, and former American CANDY BOY, now owned by Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov and trained by Doug Watson.

The horse I’m very keen to take on is EPIPHANEIA – I am a massive fan of the horse, but I don’t believe this race is suitable whatsoever. These days, the mile and a quarter looks too short for him and he would have been much better suited in the Sheema Classic – where he would have been if the owners didn’t also have Harp Star. I remain unconvinced that he will relish the dirt – his pedigree stats aren’t strong for the dirt and his action doesn’t look suited to dirt – so he’s a big one to take on, despite the fact I believe he’s the best horse in the race.

9 – CALIFORNIA CHROME
2 – HOKKO TARUMAE
5 – LEA
6 – CANDY BOY

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