Simon Clare is expecting a Grey day in Dubai
It’s been twenty years since the Dubai World Cup exploded into life with the charismatic Cigar becoming the first name on what is now a distinguished roll of honour. Much has changed since then. The supporting races have improved in value and quality, the quaint Nad Al Sheba was knocked down and replaced by the immense Meydan racecourse, and the racetrack changed first from dirt to tapeta and now back to dirt. What has never changed is the complex challenge the meeting poses us punters as we try to assess form from all corners of the globe as well as second-guessing the fitness of horses at different stages of their season. This year’s 20th renewal of the meeting looks even more challenging than ever.
The Dubai World Cup on paper should be a straightforward race to work out. California Chrome should win. He’s the best horse in the race. He ran a great prep race finishing second to Shared Belief, the best dirt horse in the world, and he’s ridden by a brilliant American jockey in Victor Espinoza. Yet there are plenty of doubters. They point to his trainer never having travelled a horse outside the US before. They argue that California Chrome is unproven on the unusual, unique new Meydan dirt surface. They highlight the depth of the opposition with the progressive Lea trained by World Cup winning trainer, Bill Mott, the local hope and reigning champion, African Story, and two top class Japanese horses in Epiphaneia and Hokko Tarumae, all primed for the event.
Suddenly the race doesn’t look so straightforward. But I’m still thinking clearly. California Chrome is a top class horse. Not only did he win the first two legs of the Triple Crown early last summer, he then came back to form in the Autumn with a huge run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His prep run was another great run, and he has drawn a perfect post position in nine. I think California Chrome should be odds-on and I think he’ll win.
My view on the Dubai Turf, formerly known as The Dubai Duty Free, is just as clear-cut. The Grey Gatsby is comfortably the highest rated horse in the race. And he’s being ridden by the best Turf flat jockey in the world. Hard to oppose you’d think. Yet he isn’t even the favourite. All week the money has poured in for the French horse, Solow. His trainer, Freddie Head, has proven himself as a trainer that can win big International races and he has been incredibly bullish in the media about his horse. But that won’t make him run faster.
The doubters are out in force to oppose The Grey Gatsby. It’s his first run of the season and it’s really cold in Yorkshire so he won’t be ready is one of the doubts. Kevin Ryan has never proved that he can travel a horse to win a big prize, is another doubt. He worked badly at Southwell a few weeks ago is a third doubt doing the rounds. They all seem wafer thin to me. Kevin Ryan is an excellent trainer who gets his horses very fit and wins lots of races first time out. He took The Grey Gatsby to France and won the French Derby and he took him to Ireland and beat Australia in the Irish Champion Stakes. Kevin Ryan is very bullish that he has his horse fit and ready to run his best race and if he’s right then the Grey Gatsby will win. Having Ryan Moore on board is a huge asset. Incredibly you can back the best horse ridden by the best jockey in the race at around 3/1. He’s my best bet on the night.
The rest of the card gets harder. The Sheema Classic is a fascinating race. Graham Motion is a brilliant trainer and it would be foolish to assume that it is simply the more relaxed race-day medication rules in America that have reformed Main Sequence. Motion has proved himself a top class trainer of turf horses in America for many years, and showed he knows what it takes to travel a horse to Dubai when winning the Dubai World Cup with Animal Kingdom. Main Sequence must be respected. And if you fancy Main Sequence you have to fancy Flintshire. He has been a model of consistency finishing second in the Arc, second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and then winning in Hong Kong. He’s a late maturing type that could keep improving with age.
I have major doubts about Designs Of Rome being good enough and staying well enough in this top class race. Harp Star is another I’m keen to oppose. She was 6th in the Arc, 5th in the Japan Cup and only 5th in her prep in a Group 2. Is that form good enough to beat a Breeders Cup Turf winner, in Main Sequence and a Hong Kong Cup winner, in Flintshire? Yes, she’s now got Ryan Moore on board but he isn’t exactly oozing confidence in her.
No, the more I look at this race the more I’m convinced that we will see a repeat of the Breeders’ Cup Turf finish but this time on neutral territory Flintshire will avenge his defeat by Main Sequence and come home in front.
See it’s not that complicated after all. California Chrome, The Grey Gatsby and Flintshire are the best horses in the three big races and all should win at generous odds.
The rest of the card is however far tougher. In the Al Quoz Sprint I think the Hong Kong speedster Peniaphobia will get a perfect tow into the race drawn high behind Caspian Prince and Distinctiv Passion and can pounce in the last 100 yards. In the Golden Shaheen I really like Salutos Amigos. The American sprinter ran a decent race in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint but is in even better form now and looks primed to win this.
In the Gold Cup I hope and think Brown Panther can land the prize for Michael Owen and Tom Dascombe. He’s the best horse in the race and will love galloping round this big track compared to the tight turns at Santa Anita. Ryan Moore is very keen on Golden Barrows in the UAE Derby and that’s good enough for me, and Tamarkuz is a good thing in the Godolphin Mile. It now seems so simple.