Using History to Handicap the 2019 UAE Derby

Gambling
Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

Historically speaking, what does it take to win the $2.5 million UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai?

This 1 3/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve prep race typically pits high-class international challengers against a competitive group of local runners, with the winner’s share of the purse plus 100 Kentucky Derby qualification points on the line.

You might expect a race like this to produce a wide variety of results, but actually, the race tends to follow rather predictable patterns, and genuine upset victories are uncommon. Analyzing the recent history of the UAE Derby can provide several guidelines for sorting through the contenders, so if you’re planning to play the race this weekend, here are some tips and ideas to keep in mind while handicapping….

Any Running Style Can Succeed

Since Meydan switched from a synthetic course to a dirt track in 2015, a variety of running styles have proven successful in the UAE Derby. Last year, Mendelssohn won in gate-to-wire fashion on a day when the rail was fast and speed horses were dominating (as has been typical of Meydan in recent years), but Thunder Snow (2017) and Mubtaahij (2015) both won after tracking the early pace, and Lani (2016) prevailed with a big rally from behind.

Three Trainers Tend to Dominate

The UAE Derby has been run 19 times, but only five trainers have ever prevailed in the race. Saeed bin Suroor, longtime trainer for Godolphin Racing, has scored eight wins, while Mike de Kock of South Africa has claimed six victories and Ireland’s Aidan O’Brien has won three. Any runner representing these highly successful conditioners warrants extra attention.

U.S. Shippers Have Historically Struggled

Horses based in the United States have struggled to contend in the UAE Derby, though of course few make the trip each year and those that do tend to be among the lower-ranked 3-year-olds in the United States. Occasionally they do hit the board—Reride (third in 2018) and Master Plan (third in 2017) being examples—but to date, no U.S.-based runner has won the UAE Derby.

A Local Prep Run Isn’t Critical

It might seem as though a prep run over the dirt track at Meydan would be beneficial to UAE Derby contenders, but actually, a previous run over the track hasn’t been a critical factor in recent years. Five of the last seven winners (Daddy Long Legs, Lines of Battle, Toast of New York, Lani, and Mendelssohn) were making their Meydan debut in the UAE Derby, demonstrating that if you have the right horse, a proven affinity for the track doesn’t matter.

Locals Should Be Winners, Shippers Can Be Losers

Since the level of competition among 3-year-olds in Dubai isn’t as high as in other parts of the world, if you’re going to back one of the local runners in the UAE Derby, it’s wise to choose a horse that won its last race, suggesting that they’re among the best of the local lot. The last five locally-based UAE Derby winners all entered the race off of victories.

In contrast, you can be more forgiving of international shippers who lost their last race, since they were likely competing against tougher competition. Three of the last five international winners of the UAE Derby were beaten in their prep race.

Year

Winner

Home Country

Previous Race

2018

Mendelssohn

Ireland

1st Patton Stakes

2017

Thunder Snow

Dubai

1st UAE 2,000 Guineas

2016

Lani

Japan

5th Hyacinth Stakes

2015

Mubtaahij

Dubai

1st Al Bastakiya Stakes

2014

Toast of New York

England

1st Class 5 Novice Race

2013

Lines of Battle

Ireland

7th Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf

2012

Daddy Long Legs

Ireland

12th Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

2011

Khawlah (filly)

Dubai

1st UAE Oaks

2010

Musir

Dubai

1st UAE 2,000 Guineas

2009

Regal Ransom

Dubai

2nd UAE 2,000 Guineas

Conclusions

Among the locals, the filly Divine Image seems to have emerged as the best of the lot, having defeated many of her expected UAE Derby rivals by 7 ¼ lengths in the Al Bastakiya Stakes over this track and distance on March 9. If anyone is going to give her a fight, it could be Jahbath, who will make his dirt debut after rattling off four straight victories over all-weather tracks in England for trainer William Haggas.

Meanwhile, Aidan O’Brien will seek his fourth UAE Derby win since 2012 with Van Beethoven, a Group 2 winner in Ireland who will need to step up his game after finishing fourth in the Patton Stakes over the all-weather track at Dundalk earlier this month. A wildcard is the Japanese shipper Derma Louvre, who won three of his five starts as a 2-year-old before finishing a disappointing third as the favorite in the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse last month. Can he follow in the footsteps of fellow Japanese shipper Lani and rebound from a Hyacinth defeat to upset the UAE Derby?

We’ll have more analysis of the UAE Derby later this week once the field has been finalized and the post positions have been drawn. In the meantime, have fun pondering history!

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