With the richest night in horse racing coming up this Saturday, March 26, Geoffrey Riddle gives his analysis for each of the 12 horses participating in the Dubai World Cup, the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) main event.
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Gate 1: Keen Ice
Currently his only real claim to fame is that he beat Triple Crown winner American Pharoah at Saratoga in August after the US champion got caught up in a speed duel with Godolphin’s Frosted. He was desperately slow during the early stages when seventh in the Al Maktoum Challenge on Super Saturday and will need the World Cup to be run at a frenetic pace, and his blinkers to work, if he is to pick up the stragglers at the end.
Gate 2: Mshawish
This will be the fifth time Mshawish has raced at Meydan but his first time on the dirt surface after his conversion from decent turf performer top Group 1-winning dirt runner. Mshawish won the Donn Handicap in February, a race traditionally used by previous American World Cup runners.
Gate 3: Gun Pit
A real looker by Darley stallion Dubawi, the Hong Kong raider finished a creditable second to Special Fighter in the Al Maktoum Challenge. Trainer Caspar Fownes believes that the five year old will finish in the top five, and there is no reason to think he will not run to form.
Gate 4: Mubtaahij
A deeply impressive runaway winner of the UAE Derby 12 months ago, Mike de Kock has made no secret that Saturday’s race has been the target ever since he crossed the line eight lengths clear of Maftool. He was fifth on his reappearance in February and was too far back during the early stages of the Al Maktoum Challenge before finishing fourth.
Gate 5: Special Fighter
It was his victory in China last spring that led trainer Musabah Al Muhairi to think Special Fighter was a top-level performer. The five year old has done little to dispel that thinking this season with two good wins, but against such a hot field he surely lacks the class to secure a podium finish.
Gate 6: Candy Boy
Candy Boy was fourth in the world’s most valuable race last season but then fractured a splint bone and has been off ever since. He has been off the track for 364 days therefore, and looks massively up against it. Owned by Chechen Republic president Ramzan Kadyrov.
Gate 7: Vadamos
It is folly to ever write off legendary French trainer Andre Fabre but there is no proof that Vadamos will go on the dirt surface or that he is even good enough to make an impression. The five year old has never won a Group 1 race, and it is likely to remain that way.
Gate 8: Hokko Tarumae
The Japanese challenger will be running in the Dubai World Cup for the third time. He was fifth 12 months ago and was last to African Story in 2014 when the race was staged on Tapeta.
Gate 9: Frosted
Godolphin’s only runner has been imported from the United States and has been based at Charlie Appleby’s Marmoon Stables where there is a dirt training surface. Frosted was an impressive winner of the second round of the Al Maktoum Challenge in February and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin won the World Cup with Invasor in 2007.
Gate 10: Hoppertunity
Bob Baffert is another trainer who knows what it takes to win the World Cup, having struck with Silver Charm and Captain Steve. Hoppertunity warmed up for Dubai with a gutsy win in the San Antonio Stakes last month, when he nailed Imperative by a nose on the line. A hold-up horse, he could have the race run to suit.
Gate 11: California Chrome
The 2014 American Horse of the Year has had a trouble-free preparation in contrast to the ill-thought campaign of last season. California Chrome ran a huge race last year when he chased a furious early pace set by Hokko Tarumae and was one of the few horses who clung on at the end. He has been dealt no favours by his wide draw, however.
Gate 12: Teletext
The last time Teletext ran at Meydan, he was seventh in a moderate turf handicap for French trainer Pascal Bary. He has since been transferred to Saudi Arabian trainer Sami Al Harabi but it is a stretch of the imagination to see him taking a hand from the widest draw of all.
The Dubai World Cup revolves around how fast a pace Hokko Tarumae will set this year, if indeed jockey Hideaki Miyuki intends to do so from Gate 8. Hokko Tarumae could be pressed for the lead by Special Fighter, as the tactic worked so well in victory on Super Saturday.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has confirmed that Frosted will be ridden aggressively by William Buick, while Mshawish and Frankie Dettori will press behind the leader from their inside draw in Stall 2.
Victor Espinoza faces a decision whether to take a pull with the intention of trying to settle in mid-pack on the favourite California Chrome, or, which is more likely, brave racing wide with a clear sight of the leaders as he feels he has the horse underneath him to last home.
It then leaves Mubtaahij, Hoppertunity and Keen Ice to remain close enough to pounce, but not too close that their petrol tanks empty when a big effort is needed in the home straight.
Frosted showed last season that he had the athletic ability to go hoof-to-hoof with American Pharoah for all but the dying stages of a race. With a little more restraint he can last home in what looks a brutal World Cup and just hold off the late thrust of Mubtaahij and the wide challenge of California Chrome.
3. California Chrome.
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