Dubai World Cup day: Friday roundup from Meydan

Dubai World Cup day: Friday roundup from Meydan

Dubai World Cup (G1), 1 1/4 miles

It may seem that the whole of Kazakhstan, population 20 million, is behind Kabirkhan’s unlikely bid for World Cup glory, but there is one Kazakh who will be doing everything in his power to shatter his country’s dreams.

That man is Bauyrzhan Murzabayev, the Kazakh prodigy who like Kabirkhan has risen from the stables dotted around the provincial Almaty Racecourse to tackle one of the world’s great races.

However, while Murzabayev is parochial about his home country, he is also not too disappointed about his opportunity to play the spoiler.

“I left Kazakhstan just over 10 years ago,” he said. “I know that this horse Kabirkhan is running but he is now locally trained and the stable jockey will be riding him, so I am focused on my horse and I wouldn’t change him at all.

“Dura Erede, I won a Grade 1 in Japan on him when he was a two-year-old. He then finished third behind Ushba Tesoro and Wilson Tesoro in the Tokyo Daishoten last year. His preparation has been good in the mornings, while I have also been trying to prepare after the winter. I rode one race each at Meydan and Jebel Ali last month just to keep my eye in, but I have been riding a little bit in Japan too.”

Dura Erede finished almost six lengths behind Derma Sotogake in last year’s UAE Derby (G2). Murzabayev, who cast his eye over Dura Erede on Friday morning, was hoping for an outside draw to give the four-year-old his best opportunity to close that gap, but instead came up with gate three in the 12-horse field.

“I will try to go forward because he doesn’t like too much kickback,” he said. “I was hoping to be wider out. Still, I will try to be in the front line or if the pace is fast then just behind the pace.”

Saudi Arabia managed to finish third in last year’s Dubai World Cup with 2022 Saudi Cup (G1) winner Emblem Road. This year, it is American Grade 1 winner Defunded who will fly their flag at Meydan Racecourse.

“It is an honour to represent Saudi Arabia on a global stage,” said trainer Abdulaziz Khalid Mishref. “Although he is not one of the leading hopes in this field, it wouldn’t surprise me if he won the race.

“At the draw, I wanted to avoid the extremes with him – nothing too far inside or outside. I was hoping for something between three and ten so I am happy with gate nine, that gives us options.”

Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), 1 1/2 miles, turf

No horse has ever managed to win the Dubai Sheema Classic more than once, let alone in non-consecutive years. That is the task that awaits Shahryar, the 2022 winner aiming to wrest back his crown after finishing fifth last year.

Throat surgery following a poor run in August has seen him bounce back to something near his best, finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) behind Saturday’s rival Auguste Rodin before a decent two-length fifth to Dubai Turf contender Do Deuce in the Arima Kinen (G1), within sight of Stars On Earth and Justin Palace.

“This is a great race and it is getting more popular all the time,” said trainer Hideaki Fujiwara. “The best of Japan is here and some of the world’s top horses are here too. I am hoping Japanese racing fans can get behind us as we aim for our second win.

“I am most excited about taking on Auguste Rodin again. Obviously, both Shahryar and Auguste Rodin are sons of Deep Impact so I’m looking forward to their battle again.”

Of the 10 Group 1 winners in Saturday’s race, perhaps the most unheralded of the bunch is Henk Grewe-trained Sisfahan.

Sisfahan took out the Deutsches Derby (G1) in 2021 and has been Group 1-placed on three other occasions in his native Germany in a career that has taken him to the United States, Italy, France and Saudi Arabia.

The six-year-old makes his second appearance on Dubai World Cup night, having finished seventh in last year’s Dubai Gold Cup, and comes off a third in the traditional lead-up, the Dubai City Of Gold (G2) at the course and distance.

“He is feeling good in himself but it is a very tough race,” said Grewe. “If we can get some prizemoney, we will be very happy.”

Junko has arrived at Meydan this year with a very different profile to the horse that ran sixth in the 2023 Dubai Turf, having flourished for the step up to 2400m.

When Junko took the Hong Kong Vase (G1) last December, adding to his maiden top-level victory in the Grosser Preis von Bayern (G1) the month before, Andre Fabre was bridging a gap of nine years without French-trained success at the Hong Kong International Races, stretching back to his own win in the same race with Flintshire in 2014.

Junko was far from fully wound up when finishing second to the unexposed and improving Dolayli in his Sheema prep on the Chantilly Polytrack, and Fabre was pleased with what he saw on Friday at Meydan’s Tapeta training track

“I’m very happy with Junko,” said Fabre. “The race is very difficult but he’s in good shape and he’s got some experience.”

Repeating the routine that served Junko so well in Hong Kong, the trio of Fabre runners breezed on the main turf track on Wednesday, though none was asked for any serious effort.

“All the work was done before they left but he (Junko) was good on the turf, which they irrigate well. His race in Chantilly was to bring him on,” said Fabre.

Dubai Turf (G1), 1 1/8 miles, turf

When Caspar Fownes last brought a horse to the Dubai Turf, Southern Legend in 2019, he ran into a Japanese superstar four-year-old filly in Almond Eye.

Five years on, the prospect of a similar roadblock was one of many reasons that prompted the Hong Kong horseman to run his charge Straight Arron in this year’s Dubai Turf rather than the longer Sheema Classic, even though he is a Group 3 winner over 2400m.

“We did receive an invite for both this race and the Sheema Classic,” Fownes said. “We know he can go further but I just didn’t want to go to the longer trip here. I think he can run it but he is that bit sharper, it makes me think that he will be better suited with the long straight here at the 1800m. It does already feel like the right decision when you see just how strong the Sheema is, it is quality from top to bottom.”

Fownes is under no illusions though that the Dubai Turf is any easier but he hopes that Straight Arron might be able to pick up prize money while also proving that he belongs among the world’s elite racehorses.

“He was a little bit down the first two days but he’s picked up nicely since,” said Fownes. “He was back to his full feed earlier this week and so things are certainly on the up. It’s great to be here and it’s a chance to see where he stands against some of the best. We haven’t set our sights too high in that we know where we are in the pecking order, but we also wouldn’t travel for no reason.

“That’s why it’s good to bring them away because you know they’ve got the talent and the ability and it’s just a case of whether they can bring it in that jurisdiction. And sometimes, horses will blossom in their new environment and they can take a step forward – that’s what you’re always hoping for!”

Straight Arron enters off a consistent winter in Hong Kong in which his three starts at 2000 metres have yielded a win in the Jockey Club Cup (G2), a luckless fourth behind Romantic Warrior and Saturday’s rival Luxembourg in the Hong Kong Cup (G1) and a fourth in a muddling affair last time out in the Hong Kong Gold Cup (G1), four lengths shy of Romantic Warrior and another Dubai Turf opponent in Voyage Bubble.

“The last race (the Hong Kong Gold Cup) didn’t work out for him, the race before (the Centenary Vase (G3)) was outstanding with topweight of 135 pounds,” he said. “I think he deserves a shot here to see if he can run in the top five or six and if he does get the breaks, hopefully into the placings.”

Straight Arron will be partnered for the first time by Brenton Avdulla, with the Hong Kong-based Australian jockey making his Meydan debut earlier in the night aboard California Spangle.

Aiming to go one better than last year will be Danon Beluga, who sports first-time blinkers in the Dubai Turf for trainer Noriyuki Hori and jockey Joao Moreira.

“We gave him a slow gallop the other day over 800 metres,” Hori said. “It wasn’t fast but we had done all of our preparations with him in Japan. After that, we gave him gate practice in the blinkers. I wanted to put blinkers on just to sharpen him up as he hasn’t always been focused on the job at hand. We’ve seen the effect of the blinkers in training and I think they should help him.

“He is eating well, he is in good health and I think his mental and physical condition is as good as can be. It is his second trip to Dubai and all has gone well.”

Remarkably, four jockeys in their 50s will be looking for victory in Saturday’s Dubai Turf: Norihiro Yokoyama (56, Matenro Sky), Yutaka Take (55, Do Deuce), Adrie de Vries (54, Calif) and Frankie Dettori (53, Lord North).

Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), six furlongs

Which Mouheeb will turn up at Meydan on Saturday?

Will it be the Mouheeb who raced clear in the Al Shindagha Sprint (G3) in January? Or will it be the Mouheeb who finished down the track in last year’s Golden Shaheen?

Trainer Michael Costa is confident that he has done everything he can to ensure that it is the former who will appear against the world’s leading dirt sprinters on Saturday.

“It is easily the best we have had him from his work to his physical condition,” a bullish Costa said. “We couldn’t be more ready than we are now.”

When asked about drawing gate 13 of 14, Costa dipped into his childhood memories for a reference: “Hakuna matata! We’ve got no worries. We are ready.”

Opposing him will be Keiai Dorie, who enters off a midfield finish behind Saturday’s rival Remake in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3).

“He is progressing smoothly and seems to be breathing well,” said trainer Akira Murayama. “I don’t know how strong he can be against this field, but we are hopeful. Christophe Lemaire rode him in a gallop the other day and said he felt like he was more relaxed and in better condition than in Saudi Arabia. He has been here for a long time so that has helped him to settle in.”

Al Quoz Sprint (G1), six furlongs, turf

While Australia may not be represented in the Al Quoz Sprint this year, a race in which the country tasted success with Ortensia and Buffering and in which their hardy sprinter The Astrologist finished second last year, two Australian horsemen at different stages of their career will be hoping to take home the prize instead.

Australian Hall of Fame trainer John Size is renowned for his extraordinary success in Hong Kong that has seen him land 12 championships since moving to Sha Tin in 2001.

This year, the 69-year-old returns to Dubai with Sight Success, who finished fourth in last year’s Al Quoz Sprint. Ryan Moore, whose sole ride on the seven-year-old came at Meydan 12 months ago, is once again taking the mount with regular rider Brenton Avdulla instead on California Spangle.

“He has settled in much better this time given it is his second trip to Dubai,” said Size. “He’s a bit older, he’s more relaxed, and he settled in straight away. Being a familiar experience helped.

“It’s a hot race and they’re obviously all good horses. They are all capable and it just depends who adapts best on the day. I’m happy with my horse, he’s in very good condition and obviously it depends how the track is playing on the day but I’m comfortable with our draw, it should just allow us to follow the leaders.”

Another expatriate Australian making waves is Michael Costa, resident trainer at Jebel Ali Stables. Appointed by Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum two years ago, the 37-year-old leads the local trainers championship by two wins over Bhupat Seemar with three meetings remaining.

Costa will be represented in the sprint by noted five-furlong specialist Bilhayl, who returns to six furlongs for the first time in over a year. The trainer believes that the straight six furlongs is exactly what the six-year-old is after.

“He has been searching for the (six furlongs) on the turf so it is great that he finally gets it,” said Costa. “He will be overlooked compared to many of these other horses with bigger reputations but with the improvement he has made he will run a big race.”

Jamie Osborne bought proven Group 1 sprinter Emaraaty Ana out of the Kevin Ryan stable at the end of October and he has already had a fruitful time for his new trainer.

The eight-year-old finished fifth under Osborne’s daughter Saffie, the first woman to ride a winner at Meydan, in the Blue Point Sprint (G2) before he undertook the short trip across to Qatar last month to collect the Dukhan Sprint.

Emaraaty Ana has been building up steadily, mostly using the training track, under former top-class jump jockey Jimmy McCarthy.

“Obviously this is almost a home game for him as he’s been here nearly three months,” Osborne said. “When he arrived, I felt he didn’t look at his best but he’s thrived since he’s been here and as for his condition, I think he looks magnificent. I think and hope he’s stepped up from Doha and obviously he’s going to need to.

“Georgia King and Jimmy McCarthy have been here looking after him. Georgia went home and Jimmy has been coming out here for a number of years. He understands perfectly how to manage the horses here and both of them have done a fantastic job.”

UAE Derby (G2), 1 3/16 miles

Few UAE Derby contenders have had quite the hype surrounding them like Forever Young, especially after his against-all-odds victory in the Saudi Derby (G3) last time out.

Already, there is talk of the Yoshito Yahagi trainee becoming the first Japanese winner of the Kentucky Derby. However, that is all moot unless he can put his best foot forward in the UAE Derby, a race that will act as his only qualifying opportunity towards the Run for the Roses.

“This will be his fourth different track in his third country so early in his career, and yet he still remains unbeaten,” said raceday rider Ryusei Sakai. “He is an amazing horse, clearly he is very good, but this time around we need a result in order to make it to the Kentucky Derby.

“I feel a huge responsibility but the horse is well so we will try our best.”

As a racing fan, Matt Cutair, the managing partner of Adelphi Racing Club, had made one previous trip to Dubai in 2017, and he witnessed one of the greatest victories in the history of the Dubai World Cup when Arrogate overcame a brutally slow break to scoop the big prize.

Cutair, along with his partners Madaket Stables, Corns Racing Stable and On The Rise Stable, are back at Meydan with a runner of their own in the UAE Derby, a strapping grey colt Pandagate, who is ironically a son of the sadly departed Arrogate.

“The horse seems to be doing great,” said Cutair, “He worked on Tuesday and worked very well. We had him at the gates two days ago and he seemed to do that well. He’s a big horse and the gates are smaller here, so that’s something we want to make sure goes well. He’s going to have to step up to compete with these kinds of horses, but he couldn’t be doing better.”

Pandagate enters the Derby with two wins from three tries, including a five and a half length success in the Gander Stakes, restricted to horses bred in the state of New York, at Aqueduct late last month. Cutair believes that the extra furlong and a half of Saturday’s contest will suit Pandagate right down to the ground.

“(Trainer) Christophe (Clement) has always thought this is the kind of horse that wants to go as far as he can go,” Cutair said, “I’m sure that was part of the calculus in the decision to come here, being (one of the) longest possible options. He’s got a massive stride length and should enjoy the distance.”

For his part, Cutair is not looking past the Derby, which offers valuable points towards a berth in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

“Honestly, the Gander was the medium-term goal, with him being a New York-bred,” Cutair said. “That was the only thing we were really pointing to, but once he did that so impressively, this race got exciting.

“The fact that there is such a headline horse here in Forever Young kind of takes the pressure off, but he’s a nice horse and you can see him getting better as he goes. He deserves a shot.”

Dubai Gold Cup (G2), two miles, turf

Andre Fabre saddles Sober and Sevenna’s Knight and gave a positive bulletin on their chances after they shadowed Dubai Sheema Classic candidate Junko in a casual canter around the Tapeta training track on Friday.

Sober finished a distance second on his reappearance at Chantilly but the racing world has long come to recognise that Fabre pays little heed to the finishing position of his horses when they are given a prep run ahead of a major target.

Fabre said: “Obviously on the ratings (they both need to improve) but Sober has been gelded and he hadn’t run since Deauville so he really needed the run in Chantilly. I’m very happy with his condition, he’s a good horse.

“Sevenna’s Knight is a younger horse and he has a bright future, maybe in Australia at some point. He’s a late-maturing horse and he’s got a bit of class.”

Enemy is the representative of frequent Dubai campaigner Ian Williams. Last year’s eighth returns after an incredible effort in the Red Sea Turf Handicap (G3) in Saudi Arabia, where he was beaten a head by Tower Of London, but encounters different race conditions here.

“He has seemed to be in great shape out here but it’s a tough race, especially with the six-pound weight difference to the Red Sea Turf,” Williams said. “Nevertheless, I’m sure he’ll run his race.”

Mick Appleby had suffered a disappointment when Annaf, mostly likely his best chance of a Dubai winner in the Al Quoz Sprint, was scratched after picking up an illness on his way from the UK.

Roberto Escobarr had accompanied Annaf to Saudi Arabia last month but the dual Group 3 winner finished second-last, beaten a long way, in the Red Sea Turf Handicap.

“The ground was far too quick for him that day and it basically didn’t go to plan,” Appleby said. “Hopefully it will be a different story on Saturday and he might be able to nick a place in what is a very competitive race. From the videos I’ve been receiving, it all seems to have been going very well and he was good to go when he left here.”

He added of Group 2 sprint winner Annaf: “The reports have all been positive from the vets. It was just one of those things but we’re hopeful he’ll make a full recovery.”

Godolphin Mile (G2), one mile

Ahmad bin Harmash was hoping that his sprinter-miler Eastern World would qualify for the Golden Shaheen, a race in which he finished fifth in 2022, but he is looking on the bright side after ending up in the Godolphin Mile instead.

“It certainly wasn’t our plan to run here but we didn’t have a choice after not being able to get into the Golden Shaheen,” the local handler said. “The owner wanted to run in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint but I didn’t think we could have done both that and then come back to run on Dubai World Cup day. He needs to be kept fresh, which I think his record shows.

“He is doing very well and I think, now that he’s a seven-year-old, the mile might suit him better than the shorter trip. I think with draw one we can lead until Saudi Crown and Isolate get to us and then we keep tracking them and hope for a place.”

Dubai Kahayla Classic (G1), purebred Arabians, 1 1/4 miles

The final word ahead of the 2024 Dubai World Cup meeting goes to long-time local trainer Musabbeh al Mheiri, who saddles up the emerging Alarqam in the Kahayla Classic among five runners on the card.

“This is the best taking on the best and it is always an honour to be a part of it,” said al Mheiri.

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