In front of the gigantic futuristic Meydan grandstand the Dubai World Cup will be the spectacular conclusion to the richest race meeting in the world on Saturday (30 March).
The 2000m G1 dirt battle has delivered a few shock results over the years. However, two established stars have been attracting most attention this year, namely last year's winner Thunder Snow and North America, beaten over 50 lengths in 2018 but exceptional when on his game including in two power-packed 2019 Meydan G2 victories.
Saeed bin Suroor won this huge prize for the eighth time when Thunder Snow – also brilliant on turf – blitzed to the front from a wide gate and left his rivals floundering last year.
The Godolphin trainer was keeping his own counsel earlier this week but the vibe around the track suggests Christophe Soumillon's mount will be much sharper than when he returned from a four month break earlier this month. In that G1 – the Al Maktoum Challenge R3 – he was unable to keep up with the punishing fractions set by the battle hardened Capezzano, one of Saturday's serious rivals.
Meanwhile North America, a huge seven-year-old who has raced just 17 times, really needs to break sharply – something he failed to do last year – but if he flies the gates he has a ruthless dirt grabbing stride that can bully his rivals into submission.
Trainer Satish Seemar said: “North America's stride is about one and a half times longer than other horses. I'll be telling Richard (Mullen) to let him do what he does best and if he pops out fast don't stop him.”
North America also drew well, landing in the three post at Wednesday's post position draw, while Thunder Snow drew an unfavorable outside post (12).
America's World Cup candidates don't appear as strong as usual. However, they have plenty of live opportunities, especially in a G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m, dirt) that also features Hong Kong's Fight Hero.
The big four US challengers for the Golden Shaheen are Roy H, X Y Jet, Imperial Hint and Promises Fulfilled but Roy H's extrovert trainer Peter Miller has no doubts about the US pecking order, though he sounds a little concerned also.
“He's beaten these horses on numerous occasions and if he runs his race he's simply better than them…but it's a big if.”
Last November at Churchill Downs Roy H brilliantly retained the Breeders' Cup Sprint crown he won at Del Mar in 2017 but Miller is aware that Roy H wasn't at his peak when third to fellow US invader Mind Your Biscuits and X Y Jet in this race last year.
“We've travelled half-way around the world and it's not a home game so it'll be no cinch,” added Californian-based Miller.
An interesting feature of this event is that there is tremendous early speed and this could open the door to a closer such as the Doug Watson-trained Drafted, tactics that have secured the local hope G3 victories on his last two starts.
Following the Golden Shaheen is the Dubai Turf which is widely considered to feature the biggest star of the whole meeting, the Japanese filly Almond Eye. She won the Japanese Fillies' Triple Crown last year before her memorable Japan Cup victory, covering the 2400m in a record-breaking 2m 20.6s.
Christophe Lemaire – partner for her G1 winning spree – sounds as though he can't wait to renew acquaintance with Almond Eye, a sure favorite for the G1 1800m contest which also features one of Hong Kong's leading hopes in the Caspar Fownes-trained Southern Legend.
Frenchman Lemaire said: “She's as good as a horse can be. For now I can't see a weak point and of course we have a lot of expectations for Saturday. The drop back to 1800m is no concern at all; she has the speed to follow any pace.”
The ace rider – who has been Japan's champion jockey for the last two seasons – added: “I've watched her work at Meydan by video and for now there has been no bad news – she is healthy and happy.”
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