The beginning of spring brings quite a few exciting horse racing events, including the much-anticipated Dubai World Cup card. This year, 19 U.S.-trained horses shipped over to take part in a card that has more than $31 million in purses on offer in addition to a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve for the United Arab Emitrates Derby winner.
In 2016 and 2017, horses who competed in the Dubai World Cup — 2016 winner California Chrome and 2017 runner-up Gun Runner — went on to win the Eclipse Award as U.S. Horse of the Year and, with what looks to be an open older male division at this point this year, it could again be the case this year.
With a variety of both U.S.-based runners and international horses who have run in the United States, in addition to some horses who may make for strong competition on Saturday, here is a list of some of the key horses you should know running in Dubai this Saturday.
$12 million Dubai World Cup
Last year’s Kentucky Derby third-place finisher, Audible has been lightly raced since that start but finished first or second in his first two starts back after a six-month break. He’s coming into the Dubai World Cup off a fifth-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup where he finished one spot in front of fellow World Cup runner Gunnevera. Todd Pletcher is very selective of the horses he sends to Dubai, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this guy.
Possibly the richest horse in the world in current times not to win a Grade 1, Gunnevera has earned more than $4.3 million and finished well in many of the biggest races. He’s looking to avenge a bad finish here last year when injuring a hoof in the race. Gunnevera often shows up in the biggest races, so he’s one you can never count out.
Thunder Snow has proved he loves Dubai — four wins and three seconds in seven starts — and that he’s a top-class router. Thunder Snow has won on Dubai World Cup night the last two years, first in the 2017 UAE Derby before registering his biggest victory last year when he won the Dubai World Cup by 5 ¾ lengths over West Coast. After finishing third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, Thunder Snow returned to Meydan for his first seasonal appearance this year when he finished second in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3, the same race in which he finished second last year.
Pegasus World Cup runner-up Seeking the Soul is an interesting horse. He really matured as a late 4-year-old and won the Clark Handicap that year over a good field. Last year, he was a bit of a quiet achiever, finishing in the top three in four of six starts, including second to City of Light in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile – the same horse he finished second to in the Pegasus. Distance is a bit of a question for Seeking the Soul, he’s only run farther than 1 1/8 miles once in his life when he was 12th in the 2016 Belmont Stakes, but that was only his fourth career start.
Yoshida is one of those rare American horses who has won a Grade 1 race on dirt and turf but choses to take the dirt route here. The winner of the 2018 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, he beat both Gunnevera and Seeking the Soul that day and finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to end the year. He finished sixth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Stakes to start 2019 and returns to dirt to contest this race.
$2.5 Million UAE Derby
Gray Magician already has one point on the Kentucky Derby trail after finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in January but that won’t be near enough to get him into the first jewel of the U.S. Triple crown, so he’ll try his luck in Dubai. The Graydar colt comes into this race after finishing second in the Miracle Wood Stakes in February and will be facing the added test of stepping up in distance for this race. While the UAE Derby doesn’t have a strong record as far as producing Kentucky Derby winners, its past five winners have gone on to at least place in a Grade 1 with Lani finishing third in the 2016 Belmont Stakes.
Second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last October, Plus Que Parfait hasn’t found the same level of success this year with his best finish being a fifth in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes. Trainer Brendan Walsh moved him to Florida after a 13th-place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford, and its possible that training move plus a trip to Dubai might be just what he needs. He should be able to easily go the distance of the race with Point of Entry as his sire and Breeders’ Cup Classic victor Awesome Again as his broodmare sire.
Stubbins is an interesting prospect for the UAE Derby, winning his last three starts, including a stakes race by eight lengths. As is usually the case with Kentucky Derby hopefuls, the distance is the question with this Morning Line colt never having raced farther than one mile, but he does have at least some distance breeding with Tiznow as his grandsire and both his half-siblings placing at 1 ½ miles. If his connections want to find out if he’ll handle the distance, this is the place to do it as the longest of the Kentucky Derby preps. His trainer, Doug O’Neill, knows how to produce a Kentucky Derby winner with two winners this decade.
$6 million Dubai Sheema Classic
Japan often sends a strong hand to Dubai and this year is no different. They have three in this race, headlined by 2017 Japanese Derby winner Rey de Oro. The 5-year-old has won seven of his 12 starts and only finished off the board twice in his career. He was fourth in this race last year and won’t be seeing any of the horses who finished ahead of him in that edition, though it definitely is not an easy race.
While Pegasus World Cup Turf winner Bricks and Mortar stayed in the U.S., Pegasus runner-up Magic Wand is here to win her share of $6 million after taking home nearly $800,000 at Gulfstream. The Grade 2-winning Irish-based filly is an underrated Aidan O’Brien trainee who has finished second in three Group 1s but has lost those three by a combined margin of less than four lengths. She has a spotty record at this distance, winning a race and running second multiple times but also throwing in absolute clunkers a few times as well.
$6 Million Dubai Turf
All eyes will be on Almond Eye in this race. The 4-year-old filly won Japan’s Filly Triple Crown last year and closed out the season with a stakes-record-setting victory in the Japan Cup against older horses. She hasn’t raced since that victory but she is on a similar path to the one Gentildonna followed when finishing second to St Nicholas Abbey in the 2013 Dubai Sheema Classic as a 4-year-old.
Justify may be enjoying life as a stallion these days, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t represented here. His breeders, John and Tanya Gunther, won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace with Without Parole only days after Justify won the Triple Crown, and Without Parole will represent them in a major race here. The Frankel colt had a tough second half of the year after winning the first four starts of his career but should be well-suited here. While he didn’t handle going a little more than 1 ¼ miles well, 1 1/8 miles shouldn’t be an issue for him.
Vivlos is a familiar face on Dubai World Cup night and one that will again be seen this year. The Japanese mare won the 2017 edition of this race and finished second to Benbatl last year. Vivlos has an interesting story behind her coming into this race. While it was planned that she would retire and be bred earlier this year, her connections decided to take one final shot at this race. Owned by former Seattle Mariners pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki, she will most likely be retired after this race.
$2.5 Million Dubai Golden Shaheen
Won by Mind Your Biscuits the past two years and U.S.-trained horses three of the last four, the U.S. has five runners in the field. One of those entries is Imperial Hint, who won four of his six races last year and has hit the board in the last two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. This is his first trip to Dubai but one he should be well-suited for as one of the top sprinters in the U.S.
A Kentucky Derby runner last year, Promises Fulfilled has found his niche sprinting. The colt won three sprint races after the Derby last year and was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to end his season. The Shackleford colt is making his first start of the year here but he doesn’t seem to be a horse who needs a race to get into gear, winning both his 2- and 3-year-old debuts. This is a tough assignment and he’ll be facing many familiar contenders, but he should be stronger than he was as a 3-year-old, which bodes well for him.
X Y Jet may be the unluckiest horse to run on Dubai World Cup night history. The gelding came to this race in 2016 and was second beaten only a neck before coming back in 2018 and losing by a head to Mind Your Biscuits. He won his prep race for the trip to Dubai by 7 ¾ lengths and trainer Jorge Navarro says he loves the track and the atmosphere, so third time may be the charm for the gray gelding.
$2 Million Al Quoz Sprint
Outside of dirt races, turf sprinting is arguably the United States’ strongest division when it comes to international competition, but the country is still looking for its first win in this race. The main threat to stop that victory from happening this year is Godolphin’s Blue Point, who is stronger than ever if his two starts at Meydan this year are any proof. Already a Group 1 winner with a win at Royal Ascot last year, Blue Point has made easy work of the sprinters he’s faced in Dubai. He romped by five lengths in February’s Meydan Sprint Sponsored by Gulf News in his first start back since late August. His winning margin was cut down to three lengths when stretching out to the six-furlong distance of this race in the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint in March, but that was still a dominant victory for a turf sprint race.
The winner of his last two starts in graded stakes company, Caribou Club brings good form into this race. Last out, he beat fellow runner Stormy Liberal and Conquest Tsunami, who finished third in this race last year but didn’t ship over this year, showing he has the ability to compete against top turf sprinters. This is a step up in competition, but if he can give a good showing here he’ll take home decent prize money and open up more race opportunities for himself in the states and abroad.
Peter Miller has two in here with Belvoir Bay and Stormy Liberal. While Belvoir Bay has proved to be the current queen of turf sprinting in California, it is very hard to look past the two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner. Stormy Liberal has experience in Dubai, finishing second in this race last year by just a half-length to Jungle Cat and won four of his six starts post Dubai as well. Blue Point looks to be hard to beat here, but Stormy Liberal is coming into the race in good form and has proved he can handle international runners.
$1.5 Million Godolphin Mile
A U.S.-based horses hasn’t won this race since Two Step Salsa in 2009, but two major trainers have sent contenders here. A winner of six of his eight starts, Todd Pletcher-trained Coal Front has won his last two starts and has four wins in graded stakes races. Pletcher doesn’t send horses to Dubai unless he thinks he has a strong chance to win, so Coal Front is one to keep an eye on here.
Calumet Farm and Kiaran McLaughlin team up here with True Timber, who has been close in stakes races but hasn’t yet won one. While on the surface, True Timber looks like he’s up against it here, he did finish second by less than a length to Patternrecognition in the Cigar Mile Presented by NYRA Bets in December to prove he can run well in Grade 1 races and handle a mile even though he hasn’t yet won at the distance in his two tries.
$1.5 Million Dubai Gold Cup
Godolphin’s 2018 Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter makes his first start since his signature win in this race. While some horses in the field may be questionable at two miles, Cross Counter is not one of them. He’s proving to be a high-quality stayer, winning five of eight starts with two seconds. He’s always been a good horse — winning his first two starts as a 2- and 3-year-old — but should be even stronger here as a 4-year-old. He’ll be one you definitely don’t want to forget in this race.
Horses don’t have many chances to go two miles in the U.S., let alone for $1.5 million, so trainer John Sadler has taken the opportunity to send Platinum Warrior over for the race. Spending the first year and a half of his life racing in Ireland before coming over to the U.S., Platinum Warrior ran at 1 ½ miles in the Irish Derby last year but that is as far as he’s tried. This trip is an unknown for him but he is a group/graded stakes winner in both Ireland and the U.S. at a mile and a quarter, so he does have at least some stamina, but two miles will be new territory for him.