2023 United Arab Emirates Derby at a Glance
The richest night of racing on the global calendar, the Dubai World Cup card attracts some of the biggest names from all over the world.
The past two years, the Dubai World Cup has seen runners go on to win the United States’ Horse of the Year title and with two 2017 Eclipse champions in the headline race on Saturday, it’s possible it could be a third year running. But the Dubai World Cup isn’t the only big race on the card, with a spot in the Kentucky Derby up for grabs in the desert as well as some familiar names – both U.S.-based and abroad – appearing on the card.
So without further ado, here are a few horses fans should know before turning on the races on Saturday.
$10 million Dubai World Cup
Last year’s champion older dirt female and Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Forever Unbridled will be gunning for history here. If she can win the race, she’ll be the first filly or mare to accomplish a feat that mares such as three-time champion Royal Delta have tried before. But win or lose, this is the swan song for the 6-year-old, who will be bred to 2004 Dubai World Cup runner-up Medaglia d’Oro when she returns from the desert.
Dubai loves Mubtaahij and Mubtaahij loves Dubai. The 2015 UAE Derby winner returns to the familiar sights of Meydan this week, a track that he’s raced at 10 times with four wins and three other placings. Now with Bob Baffert, it could be argued he is making his return in the best form of his career, as he won his first Grade 1 race last fall and has hit the board in three out of four races since then – including the Santa Anita Handicap last out.
Last year’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic is trying something new on Saturday when he tries dirt for the first time for this race. He’s been busy adding air miles to his card since the Breeders’ Cup, finishing second to Highland Reel in the Hong Kong Vase in December before returning to his home base in France where he won his season debut by 1 ¾ lengths on the Polytrack three weeks ago.
Last year’s UAE Derby winner is better known to U.S. fans as the horse who turned into a rodeo bronc at the 2017 Kentucky Derby but Thunder Snow has accomplished a lot since that blip in his career. Second in an Irish classic race weeks after his Kentucky trip, he went on to place in three other Grade 1 events and even won one in July. This year, he’s focused on the dirt in Dubai where he was second in the Al Maktoum Challenge Rounds 1 and 3 but won the second. Thunder Snow loves Dubai dirt so don’t count him out just because of Kentucky Derby memories.
Last year’s champion 3-year-old colt West Coast is looking to win the second richest race in the world on Saturday after finishing second to Gun Runner (who was ironically second in this race last year) in the Pegasus World Cup two months ago. West Coast appears to be one of the top active older males – if not the top active older male – in the U.S. and looks to solidify his place at the top of the pile with a victory here.
$2 million UAE Derby
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn is making a surface switch here in an effort to get to the Kentucky Derby. Beholder’s younger half-brother has already given a non-turf surface a try this year, earning points on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby earlier this month in the Patton Stakes in Ireland on all-weather but the true test comes Saturday when he races on real dirt for the first time.
An interesting addition to the UAE Derby is the filly Rayya, who was born in the U.S. and sold last year for $190,000 in Florida before heading to Dubai. She’s never been worse than second in four career starts and won the UAE Oaks by 3 ¾ lengths earlier this month. She’s never faced males before and it’s questionable she’d run in the Kentucky Derby even if she won here but she obviously loves the dirt, and who doesn’t like watching the fillies (potentially) beat the boys?
The only U.S.-based horse to ship to Dubai for this race, Reride has already tried the Kentucky Derby trail in the U.S., finishing sixth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November but he’s won both stakes races he’s run in since then. He’s in tough here but trainer Steve Asmussen has experience training a winner in Dubai – Curlin won the Dubai World Cup for the trainer in 2008.
$6 million Dubai Sheema Classic
Possibly best known as the younger brother of Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Highland Reel, Idaho looks to go better than his brother’s record in this race on Saturday. Idaho has traveled all over the world, from France to the U.S. to Japan, but it’s been a while since he won with his last victory coming in a Grade 2 at Royal Ascot last year. It’s a tough ask for him but if he does win, he’ll be the second winner in the race for Aidan O’Brien, who won in 2013 with the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner St Nicholas Abbey.
Last year’s Northern Dancer Turf Stakes runner-up Hawkbill already has a win in Meydan this year, winning the Dubai City of Gold Stakes on March 10. He’s proven to be a very consistent horse, finishing in the top three in 14 of his 19 starts and always running his race. He’s a Grade 1 winner and has the talent and the experience to win this race, so don’t be surprised if he’s led into the winner’s enclosure on Saturday.
$6 million Dubai Turf
Lancaster Bomber has been to the United States enough times that he’s almost an honorary citizen. Unfortunately for him he’s finished second every time – including in two Breeders’ Cup races - which is common for him with five seconds in 15 career starts. He’s been to Dubai before, finishing fourth in the UAE Derby last year but has developed into a stronger horse since then and is coming back fresh after having a small break after a trip to Hong Kong in December.
The 2016 winner of this race, Real Steel returns to try and take back his crown this year. He only ran three times last year, with one win, and hasn’t run since late October so his fitness may be a bit of a concern here, as he came into the 2016 race with a run under his belt but he’ll be a danger here no matter what.
Last year’s winner, Vivlos won’t be an easy filly to beat on Saturday. She hasn’t quite run up to par in her last two starts with two off-the-board finishes, but she’s thrown in a few lackluster performances in her career and always bounced back with a win. You can be sure her connections will have her in top shape for this assignment and she obviously likes the Meydan turf so this is quite possibly her bounce-back race.
$2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen
Last year’s winner and fan favorite Mind Your Biscuits is back for another go and may be in even better form than he was last year. He’s finished second in his last two outings – including a Grade 1 – and was third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint before that with four on-the-board finishes from five starts since last year’s trip to Meydan. All reports from Dubai right now are good and the horse loves this track so he’s got a big chance to blow up Twitter after a win on Saturday night.
Add Roy H to the list of Breeders’ Cup winners joining the party in Dubai this weekend. Last year’s champion male sprinter has won six of his last seven starts and comes into this race off three straight wins. This is a race that has been won by Americans two of the last three years and while last year’s winner is in here as well, Roy H looks like the horse to beat.
The last time X Y Jet was in Dubai, he was an underdog but that doesn’t look to be the case here. He finished second by only a neck in the 2016 edition of this race but hasn’t seen much racing action since then with an injury derailing his campaign in 2017. But when he returned last December off a 13-month break, he looked better than ever and has won three straight stakes races in that time frame by 13 combined lengths.
$1 million Al Quoz Sprint
One of five 2017 Breeders’ Cup winners to take on the Dubai World Cup card, Stormy Liberal has seen the world since his Turf Sprint victory in November. In December he traveled to Hong Kong for the Hong Kong Sprint (where he finished 11th) and is coming into this race off a nice second-place finish in the Daytona Stakes last out. He struggled in Hong Kong but has beat some of the best turf sprinters in the world before so he fits in well here.
Thought to be lost in the San Luis Rey fire in December, the fact that Conquest Tsunami has made it to Dubai is a miracle in itself. But even more impressive is that he comes into this race on a two-race winning streak, including a victory last out against Stormy Liberal. Once on the Kentucky Derby trail, Conquest Tsunami has found his niche in turf sprints and will be the story of the night if he wins.
$1 million Godolphin Mile
Chad Brown trainee Economic Model hopes to be the first U.S.-based horse since Diamond Stripes in 2008 to win this race. A Grade 1-placed horse in the King’s Bishop Stakes as a 3-year-old, this may be a bit of a step up for him with one of his last two victories coming in an allowance race but he does come to Dubai with a recent victory under his belt in the Hal’s Hope, a race both Lea and Mshawish won before good races in Dubai.
The winner of this race last year, Second Summer originally started his career in the United States where he made three stakes appearances, even winning the 2016 Californian Stakes. He had a good carnival last year before his victory with a second in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 but comes into this race a bit off form. He came into the Godolphin Mile last year with a seventh-place finish the race before so don’t let his recent finishes make you write him completely off.
$1 million Dubai Gold Cup
The sole U.S. representative in the Dubai Gold Cup is an interesting one in Run Time. A 5-year-old, he won the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens Stakes in December only four starts after breaking his maiden but followed that up with a 10th in the Mac Diarmida Stakes. This race may be too big of a step up for him but he obviously needs a lot of distance, which is hard to find in America and this race is run at two miles so it could be right in his wheelhouse. There will be some surprised people if he does win, but anything can happen in racing.
There may not be a more fittingly named horse running in Dubai on Saturday than Sheikhzayedroad. The 9-year-old gelding, who won the 2014 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes is very familiar with Meydan, running there 11 times, and he returns again this year. His only run over the track in 2018 was a third in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy on March 1 but he was third in this race last year and reports are that the longer he’s been in Dubai, the better he’s looked.
All eyes will be on Vazirabad in this race with the gelding being the only horse to win it twice. He loves winning it by a neck, as the last two years have demonstrated, so don’t expect a flashy 10-length victory but he is coming back into it on the same “finish second the race before” pattern as last year and truly looks like the horse to beat. A dark gray in the Aga Khan silks, look for him to be flying from the rear of the field down the stretch, the same way of running that has won him the race the last two years.