One of the richest nights of racing on the global calendar, the Dubai World Cup card always attracts some of the biggest names from all over the world.
Canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dubai World Cup meeting is running for the 25th time on Saturday with more than 100 horses shipping to the United Arab Emirates to join the Dubai-based horses on the card. Many U.S. horses will be in Dubai for the powerhouse racecard, including four U.S.-based Dubai World Cup runners leading the charge.
Overall, American trainers have sent over 15 horses to Dubai for the day’s eight Thoroughbred races, but earning a victory will be anything but easy for U.S. runners. Let’s take a look at some of the horses with U.S. connections – both U.S.-based and international – that fans should know before tuning into the March 27 event.
$12-million, Group 1 Dubai World Cup
Celebrating its 25th running this year, the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup has attracted horses from all over the world vying for the winner’s share of the $12-million purse.
Jesus’ Team is one of those horses you can expect to finish in the top three nearly every time he runs with the 4-year-old colt hitting the board in 11 of his 14 starts. The colt was last seen finishing second to Knicks Go in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes – a repeat of his finish behind that horse in the Grade 1 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile two starts before. If you watched the Triple Crown trail last year, you definitely saw Jesus’ Team – he was third behind Swiss Skydiver and Authentic in the Preakness Stakes.
Shipping over to Dubai as the most likely favorite for the Dubai World Cup is Godolphin homebred Mystic Guide. The American-based runner won last year’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes against a field that includes fellow Dubai World Cup runner Jesus’ Team. He ended his 3-year-old season with a close second to Happy Saver in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup before kicking off 2021 with a dominant win in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap. The 4-year-old will be making only his second start in Grade/Group 1 company here, but he has shown the talent up to this point to be a threat at Meydan.
Fan-favorite Sleepy Eyes Todd was fifth in the Saudi Cup most recently after finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup in January. A winner of two graded stakes last year, the 5-year-old Paddy O’Prado horse has the distinction of being placed in a Derby as well – he finished second in the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby in 2019 behind Owendale.
If you recognize Title Ready’s name, it’s very likely because he’s been around for a while! The 6-year-old made a brief appearance on the Kentucky Derby trail in 2018 when finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and has raced against mostly stakes competition since that run. Seventh in last year’s Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, Title Ready earned his first graded stakes win two months ago with a victory in the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes at the Fair Grounds and gave his connections the confidence to try this race.
$750,000, Group 2 United Arab Emirates Derby
A race that awards the winner 100 points toward qualifying for the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, the UAE Derby has seen every winner of its race since 2012 line up for the first jewel of the Triple Crown. This year a field of 14 was entered for the UAE Derby, including two from the United States though only 13 of the entrants are eligible for the Kentucky Derby.
Last weekend, the Doug O’Neill barn saw Hot Rod Charlie win the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby and this weekend they’re trying to take another key prep race in the UAE Derby with Ambivalent. Spending most of his 2-year-old season in stakes races, including a pair of thirds, the Constitution colt broke his maiden last month by 1 ½ lengths in a turf race at Santa Anita. That victory was enough to convince his connections to head to Dubai where he’ll be looking for his first stakes victory in his fifth stakes attempt.
Racing at Laurel Park for all-but one of his four starts, Lugamo won two of his races by a combined 10 ¼ lengths with all those starts coming at two. The colt ended last year with a third in the James F. Lewis III Stakes and has steadily been working his way toward getting ready for Dubai ever since. The colt will be taking his first official step on the Kentucky Derby trail here as he looks to follow in his sire, Chitu’s, footsteps. Trained by Bob Baffert, Chitu won the 2014 Sunland Derby and finished ninth behind California Chrome in that year’s Kentucky Derby.
A $400,000 purchase last year at the OBS 2-year-old sale, the U.S.-bred Mouheeb won the Group 3 United Arab Emirates Two Thousand Guineas Sponsored by Hamdan bin Mohammed Cruise Terminal last out and is looking to complete the double here. If he wins both races, he’ll be the seventh horse to pull it off and the first since Thunder Snow in 2017.
Canadian owner-breeder Charles Fipke decided to send Speight’spercomete straight to Dubai to start his career and is hoping the colt can break his maiden here. Speight’spercomete has been close to making himself a leading 3-year-old hope in Dubai his last two starts, finishing second behind Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old El Patriota — who was born in August 2017 and thus is the only horse running in the UAE Derby not eligible for the Kentucky Derby — in the Al Bastakiya Trial Presented by Longines and behind fellow U.S.-bred UAE Derby entry Panadol in the Al Bastakiya Sponsored by Arabian Adventures last out.
$5-million, Group 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic
Last year’s Eclipse Award winner as champion turf male, Channel Maker has long been a major player on the U.S. turf scene, but this winter he’s spent most of his time abroad. After his third in the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf in November, Channel Maker received a small break before shipping to Saudi Arabia for the Neom Turf Cup. He looked like he may take home top prize in that race until the final furlong when True Self passed him to win by 1 ¼ lengths. The good news for Channel Maker is that his second start of the year has traditionally been better than his first – the bad news is that it’s not until about his third race that he truly kicks into gear for the season.
A possible contender for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic in the fall is last month’s Saudi Cup winner Mishriff. Already winning a $20 million race on the dirt this year and second in the Saudi Derby last year, the French classic winner moves back to turf to race for $5 million in the Dubai Sheema Classic on Saturday. His connections have already committed to a European turf campaign this summer but haven’t said yet if he’ll go on to the Breeders’ Cup.
Breeders’ Cup Turf fifth place finisher Mogul didn’t perform as well as expected when the second betting choice at Keeneland in November, but he put that disappointing finish behind him in December. The Galileo colt easily won the $2.58-million Longines Hong Kong Vase the following month before taking his winter break. Trainer Aidan O’Brien has multiple wins in most of the big turf races around the world, but the Dubai Sheema Classic isn’t one of them. The Irish trainer is looking to win for just the second time in the race after his 2013 victory with St Nicholas Abbey.
$1.5-million, Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen
After finishing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2019, Japanese sprinter Matera Sky was originally planning on going to the race again in 2020 but was pulled out of consideration when his jockey had to miss the race because of quarantine restrictions. Instead, Matera Sky stayed at home the same weekend and finished second. Shipping to the Middle East for the rich winter races, Matera Sky had another heart-breaking second-place finish by a neck in the Saudi Arabian Airlines Riyadh Dirt Sprint in February after finishing second by a head in the race last year. While he wasn’t able to race at Meydan in 2020 because of the Dubai World Cup cancelation, Matera Sky does have experience in the Golden Shaheen – he finished fifth to Mind Your Biscuits in 2018 and was second by 1 ½ lengths to X Y Jet in 2019.
Doug O’Neill-trained Wildman Jack looks to become the fifth United States-based winner in the last six editions of the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen. U.S. horses also won most runnings of the race from 2001 to 2010. Wildman Jack is very familiar with Meydan after spending last winter there and winning the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint Sponsored By Arabian Adventures as a prep for World Cup night before it was canceled. Based in Southern California, Wildman Jack performed well on that circuit the rest of the year before running seventh in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Racing in the Grade 3 Palos Verdes on dirt two months ago, Wildman Jack convinced his connections to go for Dubai Golden Shaheen on dirt instead of the turf race on the card by winning the Palo Verdes by 4 ¼ lengths.
Yaupon won his first four starts as a 3-year-old last year, and impressed with open-length victories in the Grade 2 Amsterdam and Grade 3 Chick Lang Stakes in the summer and fall. The inexperienced colt was eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to end his year and hasn’t raced since then, although he has been working steadily at the Fair Grounds. Yaupon is headed to Dubai after registering a couple of bullets (fastest workout of the day breezing that distance at the track) over the last month, and trainer Steve Asmussen knows how to get horses ready for Dubai … the Asmussen trainee Curlin won the Dubai World Cup by 7 ¾ lengths in 2008.
Steve Asmussen will have a second runner in this race with multiple graded stakes-placed Jalen Journey, who is coming into the race off of back-to-back wins. He’s joined by Pelican Stakes winner Zenden as horses rounding out the American contingent.
$1-million, Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint
Cowan is taking a big step up in class here in facing a group of experienced older horses as a 3-year-old – a rare attempt for an American 3-year-old racehorse this time of year. Cowan has been all about the second-place finishes in his last five starts, including the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint last November. He’d spent his last three starts on the Kentucky Derby trail and finished second by three-quarters of a length behind Pink Kamehameha in the Al Rajhi Bank Saudi Derby last out with that horse headed to the UAE Derby later on this card.
A trio of second-place finishes ushers Extravagant Kid into this year’s Al Quoz Sprint. A winner of 14 of his 49 career starts, Extravagant Kid isn’t a stranger to the runner-up position, he has finished in the position 16 times. The seconds include his two starts before last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, where he broke that streak by finishing fourth behind Glass Slippers, beaten by only a length.
After True Valour had spent most of his career running at a mile or longer, he changed barns and Dubai World Cup-winning trainer Graham Motion cut him back to sprint distances late in 2020. The 7-year-old showed it was the perfect move when hitting the board in every start after a string of unplaced performances at the longer distances. He won only one of those three starts, True Valour but was a close second in the Grade 2 Joe Hernandez Stakes on Jan. 1 to punch his ticket to Dubai for the Al Quoz Sprint.
$750,000, Group 2 Godolphin Mile
One of three U.S.-based horses in the Godolphin Mile is Avant Garde, who shipped to Dubai after finishing second to Fearless in the Grade 2 WinStar Gulfstream Park Mile Stakes to kick off 2021. Avant Garde has only run in four stakes races in his career and has hit the board in all but one of them, though this will be the toughest test he’s faced yet.
Doug O’Neill is sending a big squad to Dubai and 6-year-old Parsimony joined his stablemates on the plane for the trip. One of the horses O’Neill had based in Dubai last year, Parsimony won the Curlin Stakes Sponsored by Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum City District One at Meydan but never really bounced back to his winning ways upon return to the U.S. Parsimony was third in the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes as his best finish in the two stakes he ran after Dubai but seems to be rounding back into form with a pair of seconds at Santa Anita in allowance-optional claiming races in December and January.
Fan-favorite Snapper Sinclair has been a mainstay on the stakes scene since winning the Fasig-Tipton Turf Showcase Juvenile Stakes in 2017 as a 2-year-old. He even made a brief, two-race appearance on the Kentucky Derby trail in 2018. He has never won a graded stakes — though he’s come close multiple times — and looks to change up his luck here. He won his 2021 debut Feb. 4 at Oaklawn Park, where he beat a few horses who have also done well in stakes race, and was second in December’s Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap, so he’s coming into this race in good shape.
$4-million, Group 1 Dubai Turf
Last seen finishing fourth, by 2 ¾ lengths, in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, Lord North is kicking his season off in Dubai in only his second trip out of England. After performing well as a 2- and 3-year-old, Lord North came alive last year racing exclusively in group stakes company as he won the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot before finishing third behind Ghaiyyath in the Group 1 Juddmonte International two starts before the Breeders’ Cup.
Lord Glitters, a 2019 TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile participant, has been on an absolute tear at Meydan this winter with three starts already under his belt. In two of those races he’s visited the winner’s circle, and Lord Glitters earned his second career Group 1 win during Meydan’s “Super Saturday” earlier this month. Holding everyone in suspense until the very end of the race, the 8-year-old gelding rallied powerfully late to win the Jebel Hatta Sponsored by Emirates Airline by a half-length. He’ll be looking to be the first Jebel Hatta winner to win the Dubai Turf in the same year since Sajjhaa in 2013 with Team Valor’s Ipi Tombe the only other horse to win both when pulling off the feat in 2003.
$750,000, Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup
One of only two races without a U.S.-based representative, the Dubai Gold Cup does feature a U.S. race winner in Spanish Mission. The now 5-year-old was a U.S. visitor in 2019 as a 3-year-old when he won the inaugural Jockey Club Derby Invitational Stakes at Belmont Park. Owned by the U.S.-based Team Valor International and Gary Barber, Spanish Mission won two of his six starts in 2020, including the Group 2 Bet365 Doncaster Cup, and is familiar with Meydan after finishing sixth in a Group 3 race at the track during last year’s carnival. Bred in the U.S., Spanish Mission was last seen in Saudi Arabia when finishing second to Gifts of Gold in the Red Sea Turf Handicap.